With a 29 point, 17 assist, 12 rebound game Wednesday night, Russell Westbrook moved within two triple-doubles of tying Oscar Robertson’s all-time record of 181 — a stat that felt unbreakable just a decade ago. It’s a major accomplishment for the hard-charging 6’3″ guard out of Souther California.
Westbrook is also one of the most polarizing players in the NBA — he has legoins of critics that point to his inconsistent jumpshot, his ball-dominant style, his turnovers, and especially the fact he has never won a championship and they see his triple-double record as so many empty calories. Westbrook has certainly bounced around the NBA in recent years.
None other than Oscar Robertson himself has Westbrook’s back, especially on the championship front. Here is what he told Marc Stein of the New York Times:
“I think [criticism of not winning] happens with great basketball players, like Westbrook and myself. I was with Cincinnati for many years, but we never made any notable trades to get better players. If you look back through the history of basketball — and I always tell people this — every team that’s won a championship has made key trades. Boston got Bill Russell. Red Auerbach was very astute at getting older starters from other teams to play off the bench for him…
“I hope he gets it. I think he’s one of the elite guards in basketball, and I think it’s ridiculous that some sportswriters criticize him because he has not won a championship. Players don’t win championships by themselves. You’ve got to have good management. You need to get with the right group of players.
Robertson faced a lot of the same criticism as Westbrook — a good player who could put up numbers but didn’t know how to get his team to win because his Cincinati Royals kept losing to Russell’s Celtics or Wilt Chamberlain’s 76ers. Then Robertson got traded to Milwaukee and paired with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and helped lead the Bucks to their only title and the criticism faded.
It takes a lot of things to win a championship, and as Robertson noted at the top of the list is having enough talent on the team. Including this season, Westbrook has been on a lot of teams that were not winning the title no matter how well he played.
It also takes luck to win a ring — if Patrick Beverley doesn’t go crashing into Westbrook’s knee in the 2013 playoffs tearing his meniscus, that 60-win Thunder team might well have won a title. Westbook has been on a couple of unlucky contenders, but that’s basketball.
Westbrook’s teams have won nearly 75% of the games where he has racked up a triple-double over the years — these are not empty calories, they do help his teams win games. Westbrook plays with passion and fire, and we all wish more NBA players (or athletes in general) would play as hard as he does every night. Westbrook is relentless with his effort and athleticism.
Westbrook’s accomplishment should be celebrated — more players than ever may be getting triple-doubles in this supercharged statistical era, but that doesn’t make it easy. This is a 6’3″ guard averaging more than 10 rebounds a game, how many athletes in NBA history can do that?
Robertson is a big Westbrook fan. More of us should be.