Russell Westbrook is worth cheering for.
He’s worthy of your boos, too.
The guy shaped Oklahoma City basketball, was an MVP, dynamic and special.
He also was petty, selfish, a petulant child at times and a boat anchor on a ship that should have sailed much more smoothly.
Both can be true.
So tonight, when Russ and the Rockets come back to Oklahoma City for the first time since Westbrook wore Thunder blue, it’s OK to recognize both the greatness and the not-so-great.
It’s totally understandable to have mixed feelings and emotions – to want Westbrook to be well and to want the Thunder to win. To want Westbrook to go 6-for-26, manage 14 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, and to take a horrible shot in the closing seconds that costs the Rockets the game.
All of that is in play.
So, here’s what happens tonight: Before tipoff, whether you’re at home on the couch or up in Loud City, soak in the nostalgia of the Westbrook who delighted with his skill and intensity. The same Westbrook who stayed after Kevin Durant bolted. The same Westbrook ho signed an extension, who piled up triple-doubles and led the Thunder the playoff, carrying the team on his shoulders while he represented Oklahoma City, holding grudges and snarling all the way. Think of the times he played hurt and played well, winning games by himself, fueled only by revenge and intensity.
Remember all of that. And when they play that tribute video before the game, you know it’s gonna be great. It’ll be perfect, so cheer madly. Cheer through the single tear that’s for all those triple-doubles and his community service. Cheer for the video that certainly will highlight Russ, OKC, the fans, the Peake and all the interactions between Westbrook and the team and city. All of the things that meant so much to you while you watched him for the better part of a decade.
And when the lights come on, the players take the floor, all the hugs are hugged and all the highs are fived, the ball will go up and things need to change. Think of it as a moving on. Now’s the time. It’s closure to the past. An opening to the future.
Remember this: Remember how the Thunder organization changed when Durant left and Westbrook stayed – not just the wins and the losses – for the worse, pandering to Westbrook through his brooding and his moody attitude. How the team went from “All for one” to “In Russ We Trust,” and how he held an entire franchise hostage.
Boo Westbrook after he misses his first of many jumpers tonight, or turns the ball over and makes you think of those playoff losses where Russ showed his refusal to evolve as a player. Think of when his attitude cost the Thunder a series against Utah. Think of his skill being passed by Ricky Rubio. Be upset when Russ makes an ill-advised 3-pointer, or barks at a referee, churning up fake drama like a B List soap opera.
It’s OK to remember he was once benched in the playoffs for Eric Maynor because he couldn’t control his emotions. It’s OK to remember Westbrook effectively neutered Billy Donovan as a coach, Victor Oladipo, Kevin Martin and countless others as players.
It’s OK to want Westbrook to struggle and miss shots with Houston. It should feel good to see him turn the ball over or brick a free throw. After all, it was Westbrook, when things got tough and there wasn’t a new contract to sign, a new max extension to take and when it looked like the Thunder were going to have rebuild again after Paul George forced his way out of town, who did the same. He left you. He left us. He wanted out of OKC.
The game is going on, you’re into it. Get mad and project it. Question the “loyalty,” he was credited with for signing for the most money he could get, while eroding the stats of Steven Adams and leeching rebounds from teammates who parted down the lane so Westbrook could gather his valuable rebounds.
Be amazed once more by the triple-double Westbrook will certainly gather tonight. Wring your hands together cursing Westbrook’s remarkable ability, his combination of speed and size and be mad when shows that killer smile, flashing it perfectly after a call goes his way.
Then, after the Thunder win tonight, when Westbrook turns the ball over, misses a shot or runs the wrong play, be thankful he played here in Oklahoma City.
And cheer that he’s gone.