November 7, 2016, 9:40 am
One Big Thing: Former Family Feud
It feels like it’s been a minute or two since we had the last real personal rivalry in the NBA. There were some fun little things that popped up in the recent past- a Kobe vs. LeBron matchup that never really materialized in actual games, LeBron vs. various members of the Celtics, plus that time Gilbert Arenas took it upon himself to try and take down the Cavs. But really, the last it seems like the last true one on one rivalry was what- LeBron and Wade? Kobe and Shaq?
Fill in your own blanks- Russell Westbrook is out to make all that obsolete anyway.
Hook it straight to my veins.
The Thursday matchup between Oklahoma City and Golden State was appointment viewing for a litany of reasons. You don’t need me to rehash any of them. I mean, these guys got the Adele treatment. That alone should tell you everything. Just know it was a merciless, decisive win for the Warriors.
Some pregame fuel was doused on the fire when Westbrook showed up to Oracle in an ‘official photographer’ bib in an apparent shot at Durant. In terms of fashion it’s par for the course for Westbrook and his, shall we say questionable, outfit selection. Then again the man runs a fashion line and I have a solid three-hoodie rotation working, so maybe I’m chucking stones from my glass house.
Anyway, it seemed like people were grasping at straws to try and build this up more than it already had been. At first glance it’s a bit of a stretch to say that Westbrook went out of his way to slip in a shot at Durant, who happens to be a photography hobbyist. Is any hobby or personal interest on the table here? If Durant’s favorite color is green and Russ wears green socks, is that a shot too? What if Russ listens to KD’s favorite song before the game?
As time passed and more information leaked out, it is in fact shaping up like this ‘coincidence’ was far too coincidental to not be predetermined… if that makes sense. KD, on ‘assignment’ as a photographer for The Players’ Tribune, attended Super Bowl 50 with Steph Curry and it’s been said that this is where the foundation for his recruitment was laid.
I can get on board here. There’s some substance behind the choice and just enough pettiness to make me root hard for Westbrook. Neither I nor anybody else needed the extra incentive, mind you.
Westbrook is always going to look like the good guy here, even as the woefully overmatched Thunder continue to get obliterated by Golden State. I wish it weren’t this way, but it’s not really up to me. Spare me your angry tweets.
And when the Thunder get rocked? People just get madder at Durant! He’s the one who robbed us all of a budding longtime rivalry between OKC and Golden State. We should’ve had a good decade’s worth of classic playoff showdowns between the two and instead we got Thursday.
Westbrook is the public’s new underdog. It’s fantastic theater that only improves the more that each party pretends not to care. Everything he does can now be twisted into some super subtle jab at KD and it’s absolutely wonderful. Westbrook doesn’t even have to work for this anymore. Whatever he wears or says or Instagrams before their next matchup will be aimed at Durant regardless of intent. You can bet that someone will perform a deep dive on Durant’s personal history to connect dots that may or may not be on the same sheet to begin with.
For Durant it’s not so simple. He can’t really win in the court of public opinion (not that it matters a single iota) but it does seem like he and the Warriors are more easily bothered by that sort of thing than most.
If the Warriors win, it’s ‘well they should’ve won by more.’ If they romp, as they did on Thursday, it’s ‘well obviously they rolled, they should!’ If they lose, Durant gets eviscerated by everyone outside of Golden State.
Durant is punching down in this feud. Personally he can and probably will get the upper hand before too long. Championships count. But from a public perspective? He’s already toast.
All that is placed atop the innate human desire to see Westbrook go scorched earth on the entire league this season and beyond. So yeah, I’m pulling for Westbrook to land a big blow or two over the course of this thing. And yet Thursday was so much freakin’ fun.
I guarantee you there are people who are upset with Westbrook’s photography bib. Those people, in theory, would take the opposing side here. It’s just that the people likely to be offended by Russ’s stunt are the same who probably didn’t care much for Golden State to begin with.
The Warriors can play with a little edge once in a while except that manifests itself more as an unstoppable barrage than some rough screens and hard fouls. They won’t hesitate to pour it on either. There’s no mercy rule for this group and for as much as their score running and shimmy shaking tactics might rub a lot of old school viewers the wrong way, there’s something to be said about opponents simply playing better if they want to stop the bleeding. I assume OKC will come out a little better the next time these two face off.
We’ve come a long ways very quickly considering there were ‘no issues’ here, supposedly. I’ll admit I was skeptical about how much fun this would actually be considering the strength of the teams involved and the lengths to which each of the actors stressed that they were all good.
Any maybe Kevin Durant really is good. Maybe he doesn’t care anymore. That’s fine. A one way rivalry doesn’t seem all the interesting at first but it really does depend on whose side you’re on. And if Westbrook can drag Durant and the Warriors to legitimate personal animosity?