Russell Westbrook Fires Back at Stephen A. Smith for Downplaying His Accomplishments

In Wednesday’s Hot Clicks: Russell Westbrook’s response to Stephen A. Smith’s criticism, some college pro day highlights and more.
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“I was a champion once I made it to the NBA.”

After a slow start to the season, Russell Westbrook has been on a tear lately. Over his last 20 games, he’s averaging 24.6 points, 11.7 assists and 11.1 rebounds. Over his last three games, he’s averaging a ridiculous 25.6 points, 16.0 rebounds and 15.0 assists. The only other player to have a three-game stretch averaging at least 25, 15 and 15 is Wilt Chamberlain.

On Monday, Westbrook recorded the first 35-point, 20-assist triple double in the history of the NBA. It was a reminder of what Westbrook, even in his current diminished state, is capable of. But for Stephen A. Smith, it was a reminder of what Westbrook hasn’t been capable of: winning a championship.

Appearing on First Take on Tuesday morning, Smith said he doesn’t care about Westbrook’s unprecedented triple double because he’s never won a title.

“Westbrook’s numbers last night mean absolutely nothing to me because, even though that’s great numbers, that’s what Westbrook can do. We all know this,” Smith said. “He’s a former league MVP. He’s the most athletic point guard we have ever seen in NBA history.”

But, Smith said, Westbrook’s teams haven’t won when it counts the most: “It’s the same stuff every year.”

Smith’s argument isn’t worth paying too much attention to. It’s a classic example of the “ringz culture” that places an outsize emphasis on winning championships and diminishes the individual accomplishments of great players who didn’t have the right supporting cast at the right time.

But the comments didn’t sit well with Westbrook (or his wife, Nina). Russ responded to Stephen A.’s criticism after Tuesday night’s loss to the Hornets.

Westbrook mentioned how the narratives constructed by media members can have a profound effect on a player’s career, even when they don’t know much about the player’s life off the court. He also explained that he doesn’t have the same obsession with championships that other observers might. He’s proud of himself for making it out of his old neighborhood and to the NBA, regardless of whether he has lifted the Larry O’Brien trophy.

It’s worth reading the whole thing, so I’ll drop it in full here. (Thanks to NBC Sports Washington and The Athletic’s Fred Katz for transcribing it.)

“That’s how my life’s been since Day 1. I’ve been playing basketball for my whole life. Like my wife mentioned [on Instagram], it’s important that you don’t let people deter you from your goal, deter you from your plan, deter you from the things you have destined in this world. A prime example is I watch these college games and these kids and these announcers, man, they get on the TV and say anything about a kid. They don’t know him, they don’t know his family, they don’t know where he’s from. They don’t know his struggles, they don’t know his pain; they don’t know anything about the kid. But one thing said on TV can determine how you perceive this kid on TV, which will allow him to be able to reach his goals, which will allow him to not be able to get drafted, which will allow him to not take care of his family, which will now not create generational wealth, which now makes our people and the minorities, underserved communities—this is way bigger than basketball.

“I sit back, I don’t say much. I don’t like to go back and forth about people. But one thing I won’t allow to happen anymore is let people create narratives and constantly talking s--- for no reason about me because I lay it on the line every night. And I use my platform to be able to help people all across the world. Nobody can take that away from me. I’ve been blessed to be able to have a platform to do it. A championship won’t change my life. I’m happy. I was a champion once I made it to the NBA. I grew up in the streets. I’m a champion. I don’t have to be an NBA champion.

“My legacy, like I’ve mentioned before, is not based on what I do on this court. I’m not going to play basketball my whole life. My legacy is what I do off the floor, how many people I’m able to impact and inspire along my journey. That’s how I keep my head down and keep it pushing because it’s very important that you don’t let the negativity seep in. It’s been like that my whole career, honestly. There’s no other player that takes heat that I take constantly. But it’s a positive, I’m doing something right if people are talking about me. That’s how I feel and I put my best foot forward, stay prayful [sic], keep my family close and keep it like that.”

Smith’s typical rabble-rousing didn’t merit a response that thoughtful, but I’m glad Westbrook gave it. It’s a far more healthy way to think about a player’s career than how much jewelry they’ve collected. 

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