Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook still have brotherly love
May 28, 2014 § Leave a comment
On the day that Kevin Durant re-established his reputation as one of the likable athletes in all of professional sports, when he gave the MVP speech to end all MVP speeches Tuesday and made mothers everywhere dry their eyes with his heartwarming message, the skepticism that has always surrounded him and Russell Westbrook was still there.
It’s always there when it comes to Durant and his co-star, of course, that question about whether they’re truly as simpatico as they say and whether their personalities and playing styles truly fit.
So as Durant fought back tears and thanked everyone from coach Scott Brooks to the veteran players to all the young guys who sat on stage inside this Edmond, Okla., facility, there was one question on everyone’s mind in a jam-packed room that was getting more tense by the second: Did he forget about Westbrook?
And then, it came, in the most heartfelt of ways.
“I could speak all night about Russell,” Durant began. “An emotional guy who would run through a wall for me. There are days when I want to just tackle you and tell you to snap out of it sometimes. I know there’s days you want to do the same with me. I love you man. A lot of people put unfair criticism on you as a player, and I’m the first to have your back through it all. Just stay the person you are. Everybody loves you here. I love you.”
It was no accident that Durant and Westbrook were better than ever one night later, when they nearly pulled off the unprecedented feat of having two triple-doubles in the same playoff game. With the 112-101 win vs. the Los Angeles Clippers, the Western Conference Semifinals series is tied 1-1.
Speech was ‘perfect time’
There was a cathartic component to Durant’s words, a relief that came with their relationship getting that kind of emotional exposure and his polarizing co-star hearing this meaningful message.
For six seasons — from Westbrook’s arrival as the fourth overall pick out of UCLA in 2008 when they were tabbed this generation’s version of Shaq and Kobe to now — Durant has told anyone who would listen that they were wrong about Westbrook. He said there was no friction between them. But he had never told him like this.
“Never, never, never,” Durant told USA TODAY Sports when asked if he had ever told Westbrook how he felt. “That was the first time I really got to speak from the heart, you know what I’m saying? I felt that it was just the perfect time. You have that sense of ‘Yeah, that guy, that guy right there, he’s down for me. That guy loves me.’ You know what I mean? And I know we both feel that way about each other without even saying nothing, but to tell somebody in front of everybody with tears coming down your eyes? There’s just something special about that.
“He’s human, man. Everybody makes mistakes, but everybody needs to feel like they’re loved. Not liked — or like, I wish this person would say something good about me — but they want to feel warmth, you know what I mean? Comfort.”
The night before Westbrook’s 31-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist and three-steal performance that prompted TNT analyst Kenny Smith to predict that Westbrook would win an MVP award within the next two years, Durant had told the world that he was “an MVP-caliber player.”
Durant detailed how they had tried to outwork each other all these years, how Durant was always so incensed when he would pull up to the training facility parking lot only to discover that Westbrook was already there.
And then, Westbrook — who worked his way back from three knee surgeries in a span of eight months and returned Feb. 20 after the latest setback cost him 27 games — played that MVP part as if his health was never an issue to begin with. His Game 2 performance was proof of that. His whole electric, eccentric arsenal on was display as he convulsed and converted throughout the night. For as transcendent as Clippers point guard Chris Paul was in his Game 1 performance, Westbrook looked just as ready to lead the Thunder to the Western Conference finals with the way he dominated Game 2.
Durant’s speech, make no mistake, played a part here.
“It’s easy for me to just talk about a person and just say, ‘I love this guy, he’s the best person, the best teammate,'” Durant said. “But I wanted it to be authentic and real. You know, there are some days when we don’t like each other. That’s just normal with relationships you have. I’m sure if anybody has a brother or a cousin or somebody you’re close with, you have good and bad days, and that’s how our relationship is. But through all that, it’s love.
“I think that with a person like Russell, it just seems like everybody is always on top of him. I feel that he deserves that love, because you can tell he’s one of those guys that likes to feel that love.”
Bond always has been there
Thunder coach Scott Brooks told USA TODAY Sports, “It’s something that I’ve seen for the last six years. They’ve grown up a lot, and just like every close family, they’re brothers. They’ve had their heated discussions. They’ve had their very competitive moments in practice. I’ve put them in those positions, one on one. I’ve put them on opposite teams, because I knew that they would continue to push each other to (new) levels … They have a bond and a trust in one another, and a belief in one another, that the stuff that’s out there can’t penetrate.”
Westbrook had listened intently as Durant told the world how he felt about him, a subtle smile and a look of peace upon his face. When the speech was over, there were no words exchanged between the two. And as Durant saw it, there was no need.
“When you look somebody in the eye, you can tell that you have that connection with them,” he said. “That’s what we had.”