Imagine a noise. A noise so big and so booming and so massive and so thunderous that people don’t even bother to look to see what it is, they just run. They run, and they run faster than they’ve ever run before because they’re more afraid than they’ve ever been. Because the noise isn’t like any noise they’ve ever heard.
It’s a rumble, but more ominous. It’s a growl, but heavier. It sounds like a thing someone would include in a movie trailer about an alien invasion. It sounds like terror. It sounds like pain. It sounds like destruction. It sounds like bad intentions. And it is all around you. Everywhere. In every open space, no matter how big, and even in every tiny space, no matter how small. It’s there; booming; louder and louder and louder. It feels like it’s throbbing, pulsating; like it’s alive; like it’s pulverizing the universe all around you. And there is nothing you can do about it except wait for it to pulverize you, too.
Russell Westbrook has re-upped his contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and he is coming, and so is doom.
Imagine King Leonidas abandoned the Spartans and joined Xerxes’s army. Imagine Batman abandoned the citizens of Gotham and joined up with the Joker. Imagine Maximus left the gladiator camp to join up with Commodus. Imagine Optimus Prime left the Autobots and joined the Decepticons. Imagine Mufasa joined the hyenas. Imagine Neo joined the agents.
Imagine William Wallace was like, “Actually, I’ve always respected the English,” and then left Scotland for England. Imagine Father Merrin said, “Oh, wow, being possessed looks like so much fun,” and then he spotted up in the corner and waited for Regan to draw the defense to her so he could shoot a wide-open 3. Imagine John McClane was like, “Terrorism is actually pretty cool,” then called Hans Gruber on the walkie-talkie like, “What up? Let’s build, fam.”
Imagine Blade joined the vampires. Imagine Scotty joined with Nino Brown and the Cash Money Brothers. Imagine Bryan Mills joined the Albanians.
Kevin Durant has joined the Warriors, and he is coming, and so is doom.
Let’s say that Durant plays out the rest of his career with the Warriors — he’s there for, we’ll call it 10 years. And during that time they win three titles. Let’s also say that Westbrook plays for the same amount of time in OKC before retiring. The Thunder are always in the playoffs, but he never manages to chase down a ring. Which player is remembered more fondly?
Westbrook. His story is just more romantic. Even if staying was 100 percent a business decision, it looks a whole bunch like loyalty, and loyalty is an easy thing to understand and an even easier thing to lionize. The opposite of that goes for Durant: Even if leaving for Golden State was 100 percent a business decision, it looks a whole bunch like cowardice, and cowardice is an easy thing to label and an even easier thing to demonize.
Is that fair?
Probably. Or probably not. I don’t think it matters. Westbrook staying in OKC has created story lines for everyone to wander around in. That’s all that’s important here.
What do you mean?
Well, it already started out as a compelling case when Durant left, right? I mean, it was really an unprecedented thing. There have been instances in the NBA’s past when a championship-caliber superstar left a team during his prime (Shaq leaving Orlando in 1996, Wilt leaving the Warriors in 1965, LeBron leaving Cleveland in 2010, etc.). But there’s never been an instance when the superstar player who left was already on a team paired with one of the other five best players in the league. And there’s CERTAINLY never been an instance when the superstar player who left was already on a team paired with one of the other five best players in the league and ended up leaving to play for the team that had just beaten them in the playoffs.
But now you’ve got this new thing where Russell Westbrook staying in OKC makes it all even more perfectly dramatic. Because if he’d have left, too, then it’d have just been like, “Well, OKC imploded as a franchise,” and Durant would’ve eventually been forgiven. But Westbrook staying creates a precise line of demarcation. On one side is the guy who left, and on the other side is the guy who didn’t. Everything Durant does going forward will be tethered to that. Everything Westbrook does will be, too.
(A fun thing to think about: Russell Westbrook has always seemed a smart, insightful person, if guarded. I wonder if any part of his decision to stay in OKC can be attributed to him knowing that staying there would make things worse for Durant? I’ll bet at least a little bit of it did. Because he’s also always seemed like a petty person, which is one of my favorite things about him.)
What part of all of this is the most exciting?
Oh, man. The most exciting part of all of this is that when the Warriors are playing defense they switch on a large percentage of their screens, which means that we are basically guaranteed a moment during an OKC-GSW game when Kevin Durant will end up guarding Russell Westbrook and have to account for his sins. I can barely even manage to think about it without my heart climbing into my throat. I’m so fucking excited for it. It’s my most anticipated basketball moment of the past, say, at least half-dozen years.
What was the second-most anticipated basketball moment of the past half-dozen years?
I think maybe the closest one to it is LeBron having to go back and play that first game in Cleveland in 2010 after he left for Miami.
That’s a lot like this one.
Kind of, but this feels way more intense, or at least more personal. LeBron’s nemesis in his situation was metaphysical (LeBron vs. Having to at Least Look at the Ghost of His Own Failures). His other nemesis was the Cleveland crowd (LeBron vs. The Jeers). And his third nemesis was Mo Williams (GTFOH). Kevin Durant is going to have to face down those first two just like LeBron did, but first he’s going to have to face down Russy, who is like if that machete Jason Voorhees used to kill all of those teenagers were a human. I cannot wait.
What do you think is going to happen when Durant guards Westbrook?
I think that Russell Westbrook will see that Durant is guarding him and his chest will swell up so quickly and with so much disdain and contempt that he will burst into 1,000 pieces. There will just be chunks of Russell Westbrook everywhere.
Short of that, what I want to happen is I actually want Steph to be guarding Westbrook and Durant to be off on the other side of the court guarding Enes Kanter. Westbrook does that stutter-step move he likes, gets a shoulder in front of Steph, hyperdrives toward the rim, sees Durant slide over to help, then turns on the big engines. He jumps and Durant jumps and they meet at the rim and Westbrook dunks it with so much force that Durant bursts into 1,000 pieces. Then Russy scans the court, finds the chunk of flesh from KD’s leg where he got that goofy Tupac tattoo, then he runs over and picks it up and just fucking chucks it at where Joe Lacob is sitting.
What are the prop bet odds for the surprise shade that Russy lobs at Durant in their first matchup in OKC?
- -100: A reporter asks Westbrook if he’s feeling nervous about playing against Durant for the first time, and Westbrook makes an extremely agitated face as his response.
- +110: A reporter asks Westbrook if he’s feeling nervous about playing against Durant for the first time, and Westbrook responds, “Who?”
- +300: Westbrook shows up to the arena wearing a Kevin Durant Warriors jersey.
- +400: Westbrook shows up to the arena wearing a Kevin Durant Thunder jersey.
- +2,000: Westbrook removes the leg sleeve he wears on his left leg right before the game starts to reveal a giant Notorious B.I.G. tattoo he’s gotten.
So, big picture, how does all of this play out next season?
Exactly like it should. Durant and the Warriors will be the more successful team. Westbrook and the Thunder will be the more beloved.
Small picture, how does all of this play out next season?
Doom is coming.
An earlier version of this post incorrectly named the villains in the Transformers universe; the Autobots are the heroes, and the Decepticons are the villains.