The next two seasons will define the future of the Oklahoma City franchise, but Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the two alpha dogs who chose to walk down the same path together, illustrated their unique bond long before this critical stretch of road.
The NBA is a league where teams fight to land just one singular star. One man with the potential to change the future of a franchise, one player who transcends the boundaries what’s supposed to be possible. When Thunder general manager Sam Presti constructed the trade to send James Harden to the Houston Rockets, it left him with a roster that still included both Westbrook and Durant, two top 10 stars in a league that has plenty of other franchises struggling to obtain — and keep — just one.
Being wanted can be an extremely powerful thing. The psychological impact it can have on personalities, decision-making and relationships is real. The lure of being desired fulfills our craving for validation and companionship, while stroking our ego in the process. With Durant and Westbrook each unquestionably atop the peak of their positions while serving as strong ambassadors and representatives of the game, any team would be more than willing to welcome either to the fold.
If only it were that easy.
When Durant signed his extension to remain in Oklahoma City in the summer of 2010, Westbrook followed up about 18 months later by signing a new deal of his own. While some will be quick to point out that the Thunder would simply keep both as restricted free agency was on the horizon for each, superstars always have leverage in this league to drive decisions. If Durant or Westbrook had wanted out that badly, either could and would’ve found a way to secure their departure.
That didn’t happen, and despite seemingly everyone except those with Thunder ties attempting to drive a divide between two players Oklahoma City calls their own, both Durant and Westbrook still wear Thunder proudly across their chest.
How often do we get to see this type of story unfold? This type of greatness, in one place, at one time with the willingness and ability to work for and with one another? This is a unique moment in basketball history that the story of the game won’t be told without, and that calls for an appreciation that’s often missing.
At some point, we became obsessed with the idea of controversy. Whether debating Magic Johnson or LeBron James in his prime, whether an exhaustive head-to-toe breakdown of Michael Jordan vs. Kobe Bryant or even trying to decide if a hot dog is a sandwich — which it is not — there’s never a shortage of discussion points. Real, manufactured or completely contrived, we debate at length and argue subjective opinion as it if were scientific fact.
At another point, we began to prioritize the future over the present. Always attempting to move forward while trying to project the uncertain, we ask — and try to answer — questions with variables that have yet to be determined. How can Durant and Westbrook possibly flourish together with a first-year head coach? Will Durant leave for his hometown Washington Wizards in free agency? Will Westbrook bolt back to Los Angeles as a result? While the latter two questions are impossible to answer at this time despite everyone trying to do so, I’d ask Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson about Steve Kerr and the first one.
It wasn’t long ago that Oklahoma City’s title window was considered forever open with Durant and Westbrook on the roster. With youth, seemingly endless time and talent all on their side, many thought it was just a matter of picking the year when the Thunder would be crowned NBA champions. With Durant now closer to 30 than 21 and Westbrook right behind him, we’re still waiting to see the league’s best duo raise the Larry O’Brien Trophy in tandem.
Perhaps that’s why so many call for this to be the last chance. In an ADD generation where few have patience to invest the necessary time, maybe those calling for a divorce are tired of waiting for a movie that’ll never be released. Maybe there’s a new show in town that’s seen as a better experience or maybe some have simply lost interest completely.
If this is the last season we see Durant and Westbrook play alongside one another, something that cannot possibly be dissected or discussed with any kind of logic at this point, it makes even more sense that we spend the remaining time remembering their pairing.
Growing up and learning about basketball, I remember the stories that were passed onto me like they happened yesterday. I learned about what iconic coaches Pat Riley and Phil Jackson were like as players, the history of the Los Angeles Lakers looked like before the Showtime era and how Wes Unseld was the toughest big guy who stood under 6’10”. 2o years from now, I’m going to tell stories about being able to watch Durant and Westbrook work in tandem to achieve greatness — and how many rings they win together will have little to do with it.