We all laughed when Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said Russell Westbrook was “an AIl-Star but not a superstar.”
Cuban was not wrong then, nor is he now.
He made those comments in April 2016 before Game 5 of the Mavs/Thunder playoff series. The comments are just as relevant today.
Refresher: Cuban was asked if then-Thunder forward Kevin Durant was worthy of being named first-team All-NBA. Cuban said, “I think he’s better than that. He’s a Top 3 player. He’s a superstar. They’re lucky to have him. They’ve got one superstar, he plays like it, and he’s good.”
Cuban went on to define a superstar: “Russell’s certainly an All-Star, but I consider Durant a superstar. You look at Dirk (Nowitzki) all those years to now, he carries teams to 50 wins. To me, that’s (what makes a superstar) … when you by yourself … it wasn’t until we got J-Kidd (Jason Kidd) that we had another Hall of Famer. So, to go the 15 years where Dirk won 50, that’s a superstar. There’s only a few guys that you put them on any team and they’ll win 50 games. To me that’s the definition of a superstar.”
About a year later, when Westbrook was doing his best Oscar Robertson impression, Cuban changed his mind when he told ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, “If he’s not a superstar, he’s the closest thing to it.”
Statistically, Westbrook is a superstar. Anyone who can register a triple double as often as Westbrook is a statistical aberration worthy of suffocating checks. And this is where numbers are insufficient evaluators: watch the Thunder play.
Cuban was right the first time. Westbrook is fun to watch, and OKC is lucky to have kept him in this mercenary AAU climate of NBA basketball, but he’s just that - an All-Star with an attitude that has a small place in the NBA.
The Thunder are going exactly where they are with him, which is to be an NBA first round exit team. Even with Paul George. Westbrook is currently in the process of being evicted in the first round again, because Damian Lillard is emasculating the NBA’s “next question” tough guy.
Because he is Westbrook, he’s generated a lot of looks this postseason for his play (not good), and his behavior (unprofessional). After a Game 3 win, Westbrook sat at the podium for the postgame press conference and just ignored the soft question asked by Daily Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel.
Specifically, Westbrook said, “Next question.”
The exchange generated ample responses from the media, which predictably was not flattering.
Even Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr weighed in, telling Ethan Strauss of The Athletic that the “next question” shtick is dangerous for the NBA. Dangerous is a bit heavy, provided it’s only a small number that pulls this lame stunt.
Westbrook’s routine with Tramel is not new, and while it’s boring it is also harmless. And necessary. And it’s something the Thunder should have addressed with their big money player.
Bad guys and villains have a place in sports. We need them for the story. Westbrook isn’t a bad guy for blowing off a reporter, but this routine qualifies as “bad boy” or anti-establishment, which consumers love, even if it’s an act.
Westbrook isn’t a bad guy, and he is worth the price of a ticket; he is not committing a crime, nor is he crossing a moral line. He’s merely enjoying a silly power game with a local columnist over what appears to be not much of anything.
What he does not know is that this is not a good look, and he won’t know that until he is much older and can see how dumb he was.
Westbrook merely comes off as immature and unprofessional. Most likely because that’s what he is.
Because Russell Westbrook is what Mark Cuban said he is a few years ago: An All-Star.