Russell Westbrook became the first player since Tracy McGrady in 2003-04 to win the scoring title and miss the playoffs. He didn’t seem to care about his individual accomplishment when a reporter asked him what it meant to him:
Westbrook’s brusque reply:
“Sh**” “It doesn’t mean nothing. Good job. Hooray. I’m at home, watching other teams play. It doesn’t mean nothing.”
And then we celebrated him for giving the “right” answer…sort of, anyway. Most of the ESPN talk shows the following day were about whether or not Westbrook should be believed when he said he didn’t care.
Some said he should, others said he shouldn’t. What no one discussed though is what I think is the far more prevailing question, and that is, “Should he be allowed to be happy with what he had done?”
I mean think about this. He won the NBA scoring championship!!! I don’t know about you, but if I won the NBA scoring title, I’d be pretty darned happy about it. I’d be tweeting, “I won the scoring championship and you didn’t.”
I’d get t-shirts that said, “I’m the 2014-15 NBA Scoring Champion and You’re Not” with a little arrow pointing to the right. Then I’d buy one for all my teammates that said “I’m Not” with an arrow facing up. Then, I’d take a selfie with me wearing mine and Kevin Durant wearing his and post it to Instagram.
What Westbrook has done is an incredible personal accomplishment. How many people have come back from not one, not two, but three knee surgeries and won a scoring title? How many also had a broken hand that caused them to miss a month of the season? Or had a broken face—A BROKEN FACE for crying out loud!!!—in the same season.
He went through all that, had his two best teammates knocked out for the season, and still won the scoring title.
And not only that, he literally had unprecedented all-around numbers:
— Yaya Dubin (@JADubin5) April 16, 2015
And somehow we’ve gotten to this point that we’re not allowed to feel good about personal accomplishments in sports anymore. Derrick Rose’s MVP doesn’t mean anything because “he” lost to “LeBron James” in the Eastern Conference Finals. Durant’s MVP is just as hollow.
This whole narrative that personal accomplishments mean nothing unless they’re accompanied with championship rings is bogus. Are people really so simple as to not be able to have conflicting feelings about things? Can’t you feel good about what you did and still wish your team had done more?
Isn’t there room available for a world where Westbrook can say, “I feel really proud of what I’ve accomplished this year. I’m also proud of my teammates for fighting so hard to put us in playoff contention.
Sure, it’s discouraging that we came up short in the end. And yes, I wish that we had made it to the playoffs. But we gave it everything we had, and we just fell short.”
Is there really anyone who feels that the reason that the Thunder missed the playoffs was that Westbrook didn’t give enough effort? And if that’s not the reason, why can’t he feel good about what he accomplished.
I mean all he did was something that no one has ever done before. Do we really want to live in a world where, unless your company comes out on top, nothing you do matters?
I feel that organized sports are a great thing for everyone to be involved in on some level when you’re growing up. Kids should be raised playing them. So many of life’s lessons can be learned that way.
You get the benefits of learning how to be part of a team, how to work together for a common goal, how to take direction, how to push yourself and strive and thrive in hostile situations. It’s a very character-molding experience. Those are the “corporate” experiences.
But there are also the individual benefits where you can learn what’s in you and validate yourself—not because you won or lost, but because you learn to give everything you have. And there are certain moments, little demarcations, that you can say, “I did that” and just feel good about yourself.
I remember playing in my little 4th-grade, YMCA league in Grand Forks, North Dakota and I made a basket for the first time in a real game. I remember when, even though I was only five-feet tall in the ninth grade, jumping like I’d never jumped before and blocking the shot of a 6’4” guy from behind in 10th grade. I don’t know if we won those games, but I remember the things I did.
I was never a great athlete, but I have those little instances that I can feel good about.
I also remember drawing a charge when we were up by one with two seconds left. That won us a tournament in ninth grade. I remember the way the team celebrated, clapping me on the back as we went to the locker room. It was my moment in the sun. The previous memories don’t exclude that one.
Celebrating personal achievements and team achievements aren’t mutually exclusive. We can allow for nuance here.
I don’t want to live in a world where we tell our children that those personal things are worthless unless they win. And essentially, that’s what we’re doing when we paint a picture that says that Westbrook is doing something wrong if he says he’s happy about what really is an extraordinary personal accomplishment. I wish one reporter would have just said, “You know, it’s OK if it means something to you.”