TORONTO — Russell Westbrook came into this All-Star Game dancing.
Westbrook is known for his intensity and a scowl on the court, seeing him smile during a regular season game is like seeing a unicorn. Sunday night he walked onto the All-Star stage in Toronto and danced his way past Drake with a big smile on his face.
“I just wanted to go out there and enjoy my time, dance a little bit, smile,” Westbrook said. “I know a lot of people don’t see me smile a lot during the season, so I like to smile a little bit during the All-Star have fun.”
He kept smiling all-night long on his way to 31 points, eight rebounds, five assists, all of which earned him back-to-back All-Star Game MVP Awards.
Westbrook is the first back-to-back All-Star Game MVP since Hall of Famer Bob Pettit in 1958-59.
“Any time you can be able to be in the history books, it always means something to me, man,” Westbrook said. “I’m just thankful to be able to play the game of basketball and be in a game like this is something that, like I said before, I never take for granted.”
Westbrook did attack the rim and had the kind of monster dunks we expect from him, but he went Stephen Curry for a night, too — he took 17 threes. Westbrook was just going hard in a game that often lacked that intensity.
“Yeah, man, that’s the only way I know how to go,” Westbrook said.
This award is the latest step in a long road back Westbrook — he had multiple knee surgeries for injuries that doomed Thunder playoff runs just a few years back. Westbrook is arguably the most explosive player in the league, large parts of his game are based on that athleticism, and the injuries made some wonder if he could continue in that style. Despite the surgeries, he never lost that explosiveness — and his game kept growing and evolving.
“I don’t believe he had surgery, personally,” LeBron James said with a laugh. “It was just like, you know what, I’m just going to take a little bit of time off. No, but it’s been incredible, man. Just like you said, to have three knee surgeries and he hasn’t really lost — he hasn’t lost. He’s actually gained a step or two or three. He’s one of the most athletic guys that our league has seen and obviously in today’s game as well. He’s a phenomenal talent. You don’t come across these guys that often and in our sport.”
He’s right, we don’t get to see guys like Westbrook often. Which is why it is so much fun to watch him play.
And to see him smile while he does it occasionally.