Ugh. Russell Westbrook has become a “guardian of the game” guy, and it couldn’t be more disappointing.
The Los Angeles Lakers were about to lose to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night, after surrendering a 26-point second-quarter lead. Forward Darius Bazley, one of 15 players on the Thunder that you’ve never heard of unless you’re a League Pass addict, fantasy basketball owner, or degenerate gambler, put an exclamation point on the comeback win by swiping a pass and throwing down a two-handed dunk with 1.5 seconds remaining.
It’s well known that in the NBA when the game is out of reach, the expectation is for the winning team to run out the clock once the trailing team stops intentionally fouling. Bazley got a little excited, which is reasonable. He’s 21-years-old and the Thunder were about to win their first game of the season against the NBA’s premier franchise. However, Westbrook, once the living embodiment of vibrance and youth, did not appreciate Bazley’s enthusiasm. He hustled after him, again, with time remaining on the clock, as opposed to taking the inbounds pass and ending the embarrassing loss, then scolded the young player for his audacity in taking the free points.
Westbrook was issued his second technical foul of the night and was ejected. After the game, he explained to the media why he felt it necessary to go after Bazley.
“How I play the game, I’m more old school,” Westbrook told the media. “When shit like that happens, I don’t let it slide. In the game of basketball, there’s certain things you just don’t do. The game was already over, and I didn’t like it. Simple as that.”
Old school? Yes, I’m sure in 1989, Charles Oakley and Rick Mahorn would’ve had no issues with you rocking the baby after dunking on them or flipping your 3-pointer back in the holster like a six-shooter. There is very little “old school” in anything about Westbrook, from his bumper-car with-a-V6-engine style of play to his eccentric taste in fashion. It’s one of the reasons why even when he jacks up four or five ill-advised 3-pointers in a loss, he still has a large number of supporters. He’s fun. Or at least he was.
The energy and the outfits are still there, but in recent years he’s been coming off more as a grump. Take, for example, in last year’s bubble, when he was on the Houston Rockets and got into it with Los Angeles Lakers guard Rajon Rondo’s brother. Family was allowed in the arena during the playoffs, and Rondo’s brother used this opportunity to call Westbrook trash. Westbrook immediately walked in his direction and yelled back. Rondo’s brother was ejected.
Following that game, Westbrook told the media he wasn’t mad about what Rondo’s brother said, he was mad because words were said period. The next season, Westbrook was on the Washington Wizards, Rondo was on the Atlanta Hawks, and in their first matchup there was tension. Westbrook’s night ended early, when he shoved Rondo early in the fourth quarter while going for a rebound. Westbrook was ejected. The Hawks were up 21.
His beefs in past years with current Minnesota Timberwolves guard Patrick Beverly and Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid were entertaining. These days, it seems like he’s angry with someone all of the time. This latest incident, spending one of the 15 technical fouls players can accrue in a season before suspension on an excited 21-year-old after his team’s first win of the season. Ugh.
Bazley isn’t the first young player to end a game that’s out of reach with a dunk. A teammate or coach likely would’ve told him later, that’s not behavior players in the NBA appreciate. Instead, Westbrook makes a giant scene and chalks it up to being “old school,” at 32 years old.
Come on Russ, don’t be this guy. You’ve been one of the most fun players in NBA history. In these later years of your career, don’t become Madison Bumgarner.