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Russell Westbrook: The Art of War

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“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” ~ Sun Tzu, The Art Of War

When Kevin Durant announced to the globe that he was turning his back on the only franchise he’d known, the speculation began immediately. The question was not if, but when Russell Westbrook would follow — either Thunder general manager Sam Presti would move the five time all star for whatever he could, or Oklahoma would wave goodbye to the last of its relevance when Russell headed off for greener pastures of free agency in 2018.

But Russell Westbrook, as he’s done his whole career, shocked the world. Exactly a month after Durant’s infamous Player’s Tribune article, here was Westbrook, beaming from ear-to-ear, signing up for two more years in Thunder blue and white.

In the darkest hour of the transplanted franchise, Westbrook was the rock, the hope that fans could cling to. It was widely thought that while Durant was Oklahoma City’s best player, it was Westbrook that was the heart and soul of the team; the very thought of losing both was too much to bear.

Loyalty is something I stand by,” explained Westbrook after signing the extension, the inference pounding loud and clear.

And even those who weren’t Thunder fans, the thought of Westbrook, angry and unfettered, rampaging across the league was a decadent delight. We’d seen his onslaught while Durant was sidelined two years ago; what dizzying heights would the combustible guard touch this season?

“Move swift as the Wind and closely-formed as the Wood. Attack like the Fire and be still as the Mountain.” ~ Sun Tzu

By the fourth game of the season, the league was already on notice: Westbrook overpowered the Phoenix Suns with a 51 point triple double; more insane than the 51-13-10 was the 44 shots it took Russ to get there.

Who the hell takes 44 shots?

How the hell can you get your mind around a 50 point triple double?

Russell Westbrook did. Never before has the league seen anything like him.

And now here he is, fourth quarter, staring down the mighty Clippers. Los Angeles were a well oiled machine; the Thunder a cadre of mismatched parts. But as the game winds down, Westbrook turns up: he drains jumper after cold-blooded pull up jumper in the final minutes to snatch a victory in Los Angeles. His final line is a microcosm: his 35 points led all scorers, but he jacked up seven threes, missing them all. Every one of his 6 rebounds and 5 assists were vital, just as his many of his 10 turnovers were the result of cringe inducing gaffes. But the Thunder won, running their record to 4-0.

Westbrook was the lone commander, and the Thunder faithful needed him to win, so they won.

Welcome to the Westbrook experience.

“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.” ~ Sun Tzu

The scowl hasn’t left his brow.

It’s never easy, right?

6-1 became 8-6. The cheers turn to murmurs. The feel good story became a somber reality.

Doesn’t make anyone better.

Not a true point guard.

Too wild.

Look at his efficiency.

For the past eight years, Westbrook has absorbed the slings and arrows from critics. This year, it’s no different.

But it IS different.

It’s no secret that OKC had its problems late in games last year; as the head of the snake, Westbrook took the brunt of the criticism. This season, he’s flipped that trend. Through 19 games, Westbrook is leading the NBA in fourth quarter scoring with 10, pouring in a full third of his 31 points per game in the final frame. And while the first 36 minutes of the game are a mystery box (he’s a 43.5% shooter for his career, making a paltry 30.3% from downtown), he’s been locked in during winning time: Westbrook is shooting 47%, including 40.5% from three.

But it’s more than just numbers. It’s the roar from the throat of the Chesapeake Energy Arena when he bulls through the lane and finishes over a seven footer. It’s the crackling energy that builds as he rockets down court, a one man fast break, attacking the rim with blood in his eye and bad intentions. It’s the thrill of knowing he can clank three pointers all night, but have the guts to stare down his defender and drill their soul out as the clock winds down, as he did against the Wizards and again versus the Hawks.

“Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley.” ~ Sun Tzu

8-6 has become 14-8, and game by game, the growth of players like Victor Oladipo and Joffrey Lauvergne is readily apparent. A mark of a contender is a top 10 offense and defense; over the last 10 games, the Thunder stand 10th in offensive rating (107.1) and 9th in defensive rating (102.9). It’d be foolish to label this year’s team as contenders, but simply fitting that profile has to be a point of pride for OKC.

In the age of analytics, where player tracking data and shot charts can break the game down to the millisecond, Westbrook’s voraciously high octane, high volume style is an anachronism, a blur of an homage to Iverson and Kobe with the fro. No one else plays so hard, so fast, so relentlessly. Westbrook is first or second in the league in shots per game, turnovers, assists, free throw attempts, assist percentage, player efficiency, and, of course, triple doubles. The 6’4” point guard is 7th in total rebounds, grabbing more per game than Kevin Love, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Demarcus Cousins.

Hmmmm.

Can he maintain this breakneck pace? Will Westbrook’s body stand up to the punishment of 82 games? History says no, that no mere mortal can push their engine into the red non-stop without consequence. The enormity of the numbers Westbrook puts up nightly — 31 points, 10.9 rebounds, 11 assists, 5.6 turnovers — would be ESPN headline worthy for anyone else in the league for one game. The fact that he’s doing it nightly is hard to wrap one’s head around.

But watch Westbrook catapult himself skyward and rip a rebound away from Porzingis, or hear the roar as he detonates to the rim with a game-winning left handed dunk, and you start to wonder if he actually IS human.

The flaws don’t hide from plain sight. He’ll routinely take quick jumpers early in the shot clock, or wild forays in the paint that don’t have a prayer, and you’ll wonder what kind of synaptic misfire could lead to such decisions. And some of his turnovers are similarly terribly; while the depth of turnovers isn’t necessarily egregious in light of his enormous usage

But for every bad shot, there’s a handful of uproarious slams or jaw-dropping how did he even finishes through contact. For every pass to the third row, there are laser accurate dimes to his roll man or cross court masterpieces to his shooters. If Steph Curry is a surgeon and Chris Paul is a technician, then Russell Westbrook is a performing artist whose medium is hand grenades and sledgehammers; he’s a contradiction of moving imagery that you either feel in your soul or you just don’t get.

For the Oklahoma City Thunder, everything changed on July 4th, 2016. The contender they had spent years honing was now a hardwood memory. James Harden, then Serge Ibaka, then finally, Kevin Durant. One by one, the stars winked out in Oklahoma. Yet, there’s Westbrook, the fiery sun god of the OKC universe, his kinetically charged gravity keeping his squad in orbit, the lone ronin with a homestead worth fighting for.

Trini born, South Carolina raised, James cut the teeth of his NBA fandom on smash-mouth '90s basketball and the brilliance of Sir Michael Jordan. Holas has lived all over the world, from Okinawa, Japan to Cornwall, England, but the fire inside for the NBA has never wavered. He reps the Celtics, but keeps tabs on all 30 teams faithfully. Give James a listen on his sodium-laced podcast The Away Team.

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Featured Article

Ride The Wave

Back in October the sky was the limit. LeBron had decided to move to LA and join the Lakers. Things were good then.

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Back in October the sky was the limit. LeBron had decided to move to LA and join the Lakers, drawing in a decent support team and a lot of talk that the West was looking incredibly dominant next to a “weaker” East. Things were good then.

Five months later and things couldn’t be farther from that idylistic picture. The East thrived without the King and GMs put together some of the most noteworthy teams in a while. And the Lakers? The Lakers currently sit in the 11th spot of the Western Conference with very little hope of making it to the playoffs. They’re a team that is constantly attacked for their lack of chemistry, skill, and effort. For the first time in a long time, LA became synonymous with “hopeless”.

This wasn’t the future we saw for the King.

On the heels of a night filled with one of his greatest achievements ever, the Lakers as a team walked away with a loss to the Denver Nuggets. A night that began on a high note went out on one that was equivalent to sour candy. Furthermore, a frustrated team left an arena, hopped on social media, and found a bevy of congrats for their star player, while enduring the storm that came with another Lakers loss.

It seems that James’ stardom has reached a tipping point, one that makes him a GM one moment, the King of the league the next, and finally the biggest point of contention within the locker room. The most notable thing is that it is clearly wearing him down. Chris Martin let us know that “nobody one said it was easy”, but you’ve got to ask yourself, does it have to be so hard?

The answer is unfortunately, yes. It’s always going to be this way, and there is no fighting the current, but there is beauty in riding the wave. Embracing that moment when the wave comes crashing down on you is important, because it’s always going to happen, but your attitude will always be remembered. LeBron rides high, and keeps things in the positive light for the media, but he’s got to realize that they are writing his story, and he doesn’t have to play into their’s. Ride the wave, and take the loss in stride with all the great that has come with it, but take the loss because your part of a team that is.

The wave has crashed down, but the current will bring another.

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Year 15 | A Mini Documentary

Year 15 of a legacy…

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What’s to come for the man on top, and what got him here?

It’s Year 15 of a man’s career, but it’s also Year 15 of a legacy…

Created by Tristan Laughton | Twitter: @Ctrice

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Editorial

Something Out of Nothing

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It’s March 2016, and I’m driving with Alan Shane Lewis to Montreal to meet with Marc Griffin and Phil Boileau. We’re meeting to speak about this exciting new idea I pitched to them. We were tired of spinning the wheels on our own individual internet shows, and I told them that it was time we stopped waiting for a network and became the network.

We spoke that weekend about creating a community of content creators that all loved ball and came together to make unique content with unique voices – voices we felt were never heard in the mainstream. This community was the base of Press and we’d continue to push forward from that spot. We spoke about some amazing show ideas, article ideas, social media plan. It was truly an exciting time, and still one of the best weekends of my life.

Two years later and that group is a lot smaller, and that idea is Press Basketball.

It caught fire at the beginning and we had people joining our bright shiny new plaything left, right, and center. It was exciting, but now I kind of realize that a lot of it was just that we were that “bright shiny new thing”.

We ended up with a lot of Press Basketball “members” but when I stepped back and looked at what was happening… it wasn’t what I’d imagined. The fire burned out. The idea was gone. We had just become another thing trying to stay alive, waiting for some deus ex machina to show up with money and make everything okay.

I’ve gone through most of my life making something out of nothing. It’s never easy, but when it happens it’s always worth it… ALWAYS. Press made me feel alive at a point. It was literally all I could think about, and while it still is on my mind, it doesn’t make me feel alive. This hurts more than I can ever explain.

Changes are coming my friends. We’re not laying down and dying, and if we do it’s not going to be like this.

The core of Press will be setting fire to a lot over the next few weeks and I personally can’t wait for this to start. From the ashes something new will rise (I watched a lot of XMEN growing up).

Stay tuned, because it’s not over.

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