It's tough to stand out when sharing a court with the best players in the world, but that's the thing with Russell Westbrook. He's maybe the only player in the NBA who can match LeBron James' explosiveness, Kobe Bryant's competitiveness and Stephen Curry's skill set. Westbrook might not always make the smartest plays on the court, but the ones he does make are generally plays only he can.
The All-Star Game Sunday night was a perfect example. Westbrook went for an insane 41 points in 25 minutes and 33 seconds of playing time off the bench, earning him the game's Most Valuable Player. He finished just one point shy of Wilt Chamberlain's 53-year-old 42-point All-Star Game scoring record that was set in 1962, instead becoming just the third player in NBA history to score 40 or more points in the contest, joining Chamberlain and Michael Jordan, who had 40 points in 1988.
"It's definitely an honor to be grouped with those two guys," Westbrook said, via Sports Illustrated, later adding, via The Oklahoman, "I missed about six or seven layups. I definitely could have had (the scoring record)."
That's what's so great about Westbrook. He'll pay homage to the game's great, but has no problem saying a record held by Wilt Chamberlain should now be his. Westbrook surely believes he's the best player in the NBA. Every now and then, he makes you think that perhaps, given the opportunity to be his team's primary option, he could be.
He scored an All-Star Game record 27 first-half points, which led to perhaps the greatest heat check in NBA history.
This was the heat check of all heat checks from Russell Westbrook https://t.co/rFd7XaP0kA— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) February 16, 2015
Only Russell Westbrook could turn a miss from a 41-point game into a highlight. That he paraded around after each make just added to the performance.
"He's unbelievable," LeBron James said about Westbrook after the game, via the Associated Press. "He's an unbelievable talent in our league. His motor, his athleticism, his demeanor, about how he approaches the game, it's all great. And it's great for our league. He showed that tonight, showcased it on a big stage."
When asked by Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report what advice he'd give Wesbtrook, James added: "Just be Russell Westbrook. Don't care what anybody else thinks."
Luckily for us, he never does. Sure, that can sometimes lead to some infuriating plays. But for the most part, Westbrook's stubborn belief in himself and his abilities is what makes him so great. It's certainly what led to the historic performance Sunday night and wonderful show, and it's why the rest of the Western Conference is praying the Thunder somehow fall short of the playoffs.