OKLAHOMA CITY -- Kevin Durant was reaching to cover Russell Westbrook's microphone before he could even start to speak.
"He's an idiot," Durant said of Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who had excluded Westbrook from his list of NBA "superstars" prior to his team's season-ending Game 5 defeat. The question about it had been directed at Westbrook, but Durant's answer stood for both of them.
That's just how it works in Oklahoma City. Durant and Westbrook share every postseason podium, fielding questions in solidarity. Sometimes, they'll answer for each other. Sometimes, they'll riff off each other, like their back-and-forth dismissal of a pregame dance "controversy" in Game 2 of the same series. But they always sit next to each other at every playoff game, win or lose, masterpiece or misery, no matter what.
"He's always going to have my back and I'll always have his," Westbrook said.
It's a bond they've shared for eight years. But it also could, for the first time, have an end in sight.
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When the Seattle Supersonics selected Russell Westbrook No. 4 overall in the 2008 NBA Draft, Kevin Durant met him backstage. Months later, the two 20-year-olds found themselves relocating to Oklahoma City, tasked with leading a new franchise in a first-time NBA city. Since that moment, a relationship has grown that stands apart even from the natural brotherhood that teammates share.
"I see him more than I see my family, and vice versa," Durant said. "It's a special bond we have and we continue to keep growing as players."
Durant was a star before he arrived in the NBA, dominating college basketball at Texas and winning Rookie of the Year his inaugural season in Seattle. When Westbrook arrived the next year, expectations for him weren't quite as lofty, and he easily exceeded them anyway. By the 2010 season, the NBA was realizing the powerhouse forming in Oklahoma City. In 2011, Durant made his second-straight All-NBA first team, while Westbrook was named to the second team.
It hasn't always been a perfect partnership. Durant and Westbrook argue with each other, sometimes on live television. They each can be guilty of taking too many shots or forcing them in frustration, disrupting equilibrium. Months before reaching the 2011 Western Conference Finals, there were even rumors Durant wanted to meet with the Thunder executives about concerns he had with Westbrook, a meeting that never took place. But in the end, they both realized something about each other.
"They understand they need each other," Serge Ibaka told SB Nation. "So that's why it works."
Most team executives say continuity is essential for building competitive rosters. In reality, no one has the patience. Only five current head coaches were hired prior to 2013. Rosters churn constantly -- if not year to year, then over the course of two or three. Durant is one of 11 players who has spent at least nine seasons with his current franchise. Westbrook has played eight. Their tenure stands out given the nature of the modern NBA.
Even in those rare instances -- Kobe Bryant's 20 years in Los Angeles, or Dirk Nowitzki's 18 in Dallas -- there's no superstar counterpart. In fact, there's almost no precedent of two teammates, top-five in the NBA or damn close, staying together this long since the start of the century. Players who arrive in Oklahoma City quickly realize just that. Randy Foye did, despite joining the Thunder just months ago at the trade deadline.
"They've been together, you've got to think about, from draft day. KD was already in the league and he still went to see Russ be drafted," Foye told SB Nation. "You've got to think about (how) they've been here every step of the way, from the organization of the team not being so well, to building it all the way up to them being in the Finals."
Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were never top-10 players next to Tim Duncan. Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant combusted after a few years. LeBron James went home once Dwyane Wade started to decline. If two members of the title-winning Boston squad were top-10 players, it was only for a brief period before they aged past their primes.
Durant and Westbrook, though, have been going strong for eight seasons now. They know starting their careers together and becoming stars like they did isn't normal for the NBA.
"The common history of being together from the start of this team, they understand the value of that," said Nick Collison, who has been with the Thunder since 2003, even longer than Westbrook and Durant. "They know that they need each other to do well, and that's how they approach it."
Eight years is a long time. This summer, with his free agency looming, it will be Durant's decision whether it will go longer.
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Durant and Westbrook chatted quietly before a first-round game in Dallas. The next round in San Antonio, they wore headphones, not talking at all. Either way, home or road, their lockers always sit next to each other. Their podium appearances are always shared. They work out together each morning, "racing" to the Thunder practice facility sometimes before the sun's up to share the gym before scheduled practice begins. There isn't much conversation -- Durant and Westbrook have their own routines -- but there's a bond in the silence.
"The media sees, what the fans maybe see, you might see one percent of their relationship," Foye said. "Team, family, we see the other 99 percent. Even the team doesn't see it all."
In his recently released album Views, Drake raps the line, "Shout out to KD, we relate, we get the same attention." For Drake, his genre's biggest star, to empathize with Durant and subsequently Westbrook says a lot. They both share similar tastes for fashion, hip hop, even acting. But they also share superstardom, reaching the same level of fame as multi-platinum rappers.
One of the more ridiculous claims around the dredges of the Internet is that Durant's relationship with Westbrook has soured. It's because Westbrook doesn't pass the ball enough, the theory goes. It latches onto on-camera "evidence" that appears a couple times each year, but it's also completely make believe.
"We don't like each other because he shot more?" Durant told The Oklahoman last year. "That don't make no sense. And it's really disrespectful to me or to us because you think I'm that selfish of a person? I don't like this guy because he shoots more than me? That's disrespectful to me. Because if I'm a friend, I'm genuine. I'm there. No matter what. Good days, bad days, more shots. I'm a real friend."
Westbrook is the louder of the two -- in the locker room, on the court, with his wardrobe. But while Durant isn't as vocal, he still speaks up when needed, especially as a locker room leader.
"They've got great symmetry," Ibaka said. "[Durant] is very nice and, you know, he's so cool. The other guy, Russell, sometimes the way he plays, his energy, his vibe, can sometimes be aggressive. But Kevin's nice, so he can take that."
It's a yin-and-yang pairing on the court. Off it, the two get along in the same ways.
"Me and Russ have grown up since we were (20) years old," Durant said.
"He's like my brother," Westbrook said.
Before the playoff podiums and the 2012 Finals run, before they both suffered major knee injuries and missed entire seasons rehabbing, before the triple-doubles and the 50-point games, before Westbrook glided through walls for Mountain Dew and Durant scolded you for downloading Doodle Jump, before their relationship became what it is today, Durant and Westbrook were just two kids trying to learn how to make basketball their lives. Even though it's a real possibility this summer, it's hard to imagine them apart.
"This is a special place (and) they're two special players," Foye said, before pausing briefly to consider what he was about to say. "I think they're going to be playing together for a long time."
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Durant returns to the locker room first when it opens to the media after the Thunder's Game 6 win against San Antonio. He and Westbrook had combined for 65 points in the series-clinching win, a series very few people predicted them to win when it began.
Westbrook arrives at his locker a couple beats later, both players meticulously dressing for their postgame press conference, the one they always share. The two talk back and forth the entire time -- Westbrook quoting Will Smith, Durant asking if Westbrook's all-black attire (zebra-print shoes aside) meant he's going to a funeral.
"You ready?" they're asked. Durant nods and walks out of the room, headed to the press conference next door. He doesn't realize Westbrook had lagged behind until he reaches the door.
Durant pauses. Leaning against the wall, he waits for Westbrook to meet him.
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