“Russell Westbrook!” Silver proudly proclaimed, officially naming the Oklahoma City Thunder guard the Most Valuable Player for the 2016-2017 season. Not many were surprised with the winner, which was decided months before the first-ever NBA Awards show.
For some, Westbrook had the MVP award locked down when—as the season progressed—he became less and less a starting point guard for the Thunder and more a six-foot-three Xenomorph hunting for human flesh. Others guessed earlier, around August, when Westbrook signed a three-year contract with OKC worth $86 million.
For one Westbrook fan, the MVP trophy became Westbrook’s on July 4, 2017, the day Kevin Durant announced he would be leaving OKC.
“I remember that night. One Sunday night, got home at 11:30 and saw the news online,” Julo de Guzman, a Westbrook fan since Day One, told BuhayBasket.
The news broke on The Players’ Tribune, through a Durant-penned piece called “My Next Chapter.” In the 350-word article, Durant, almost painstakingly, explained his decision to leave Oklahoma City to play for the Golden State Warriors, a team that just eliminated them from the playoffs.
Durant’s departure “stung for a while,” de Guzman said, but the pain was quickly replaced by faint chants of “MVP!” for the lone OKC hero. “He will come out of his shell and grow as a player,” de Guzman said, predicting a monster first season from Westbrook in the post-Durant era. But he wasn’t able to predict this: Westbrook’s 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists per game, becoming just the second player in NBA history to average a triple double for the entire season.
Westbrook was on a mission, simply put. Watching the 2016-2017 Westbrook highlight reel felt like watching an extended fight sequence: every pull-up jumper felt like a spinning back kick; every dunk a diving headbutt. Watching his interviews all season long was cringe-worthy, particularly when he was asked about Durant. Yet on Monday night as Westbrook received the trophy, all the aggression and pettiness that were recurring themes in his MVP run had faded away, and replaced by humility, gratitude, and tears.
This was because he succeeded in his mission. He was named MVP, getting 69 out of a possible 101 first-place votes. He made history, breaking Oscar Robertson’s single-season record of 41 triple doubles. He got to get onstage and thank his teammates, his fans, and his family. He got Adam Silver to hold his trophy.
Westbrook was properly motivated in the 2016-2017, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t find new motivation to fuel the fire next season. One of his biggest fans is betting on it.
“You don’t want to see how he reacts when people jump ship. Oh man, it’s going to be scary.”
[Westbrook GIF by Gem Llave; video from YouTube; Westbrook photo from NBA]