It was only warm-ups, but everything surrounding Westbrook in that moment seemed historic, and the misses struck me as a bad sign. I watched him shoot 11 times from the same spot and make only three. At one point, he missed five in a row. Russell Westbrook was cold. The cotton shot, at a very inconvenient moment, seemed to have turned to iron.
As season openers go, this game was unusually loaded with expectations. It was a sort of Independence Day: the first game of Westbrook’s professional career without Kevin Durant as his teammate. For eight seasons, Westbrook and Durant were one of the great inscrutable duos in all of sports, superstars with wildly opposing personalities and playing styles, overachieving together in Oklahoma City, one of the smallest markets in the N.B.A. Durant was basketball’s greatest prodigy since LeBron James, a mild-mannered, long-limbed scoring genius with a baby face and a golden jump shot. Westbrook was the scowling underdog on a never-ending mission to prove the entire universe wrong.On the scale of creative tension, Westbrook-Durant fell somewhere between Lennon-McCartney and Goofus-Gallant. They clashed and blended, encouraged and diminished one another, in ways that were hard to parse. Durant led the league in scoring; Westbrook led the league in turnovers. Durant was the metronome; Westbrook the guitar solo. Durant was the scenic cliff; Westbrook the waterfall raging primally over the top of it. Occasionally, TV cameras would catch the two of them squabbling during a timeout, but they always appeared at the media table together afterward to insist that they were friends and brothers. Durant once called Westbrook his “hype man” — the Flavor Flav to his Chuck D. The whole relationship was a puzzle. Were they real friends, work friends, secret rivals, frenemies, secret real-world frenemies? On sports TV, Westbrook and Durant inspired as much talking-head bloviation as a celebrity affair. The most surprising thing about the partnership, however, was how well it worked. Westbrook and Durant turned the Oklahoma City Thunder, against all odds, into one of the reigning powers in the N.B.A. In 2012, when both stars were still only 23 — an age at which most players are just beginning to find their footing — the Thunder made it all the way to the finals. In a six-year span, they reached the Western Conference finals four times. (It took major injuries to keep them out.) The only thing Durant and Westbrook never did together was win a championship. They came agonizingly close, including last season, when they held a 3-1 lead in the playoffs against the mighty Golden State Warriors. But they never could quite push over the top. Still, it seemed inevitable that their day would eventually come. Read Full Article (via The New York Times Magazine)