We don’t know whether Russell Westbrook will be the 2017 NBA MVP, but he’s going to average a triple-double for the year, which is something few thought would ever happen again. Over the past decade, Westbrook has helped bring the novelty stat back into vogue.
Beyond the triple-double pursuit, Westbrook has been part of the centerpiece storyline for the season. After Kevin Durant left the Thunder as a free agent in the summer and Westbrook extended his contract while remaining conspicuously silent, we knew he’d be the player to watch. He exceeded even the highest expectations set for him. He has been as entertaining and awe-striking as any player in memory. (That’s why he’s my MVP pick.)
But beneath the numbers and beyond the highlights, there’s also something inspirational about Westbrook’s whole personality and attitude. It can be summed up in his personal motto: Why not?
This clip, via ESPN’s Royce Young, provides a window into what I’m talking about:
Westbrook on if he ever thought in previous years that it was possible for someone to average a triple-double: pic.twitter.com/KAZFaJAwRX— Royce Young (@royceyoung) April 4, 2017
Asked if he had thought a triple-season was possible — not for himself, but for any NBA player — a couple of years ago, Westbrook responded:
“I would say ‘Why not?’ That’s my motto. That’s what I believe. ... I never know what’s possible. I don’t know what’s not possible. I don’t know what people can and can’t do. I don’t limit myself. I just say ‘Why not?’ and continue to play. That’s my motto and I stand behind it.”
This is years’ worth of aspirational messaging distilled into two tidy words. All those PSAs about reaching for the stars, about being all that you can be, about refusing to put limits on what you can do or who you can become: It’s all there.
It’s also on trend in modern psychology. Carol Dweck has sold something like two million copies of her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success since it was released in 2006. Superstar NBA coach Brad Stevens is an acolyte. Teachers and school districts everywhere have adopted its principles. (Talk to a group of educators for 10 minutes, and I bet Mindset or one of its tenets comes up.)
Dweck’s research finds that success in any area of life can be hugely influenced by a person’s mindset around the potential for growth in that area. For example, if a 7-footer who shoots 50 percent from the line believes it’s possible to become a better free-throw shooter, he stands a better chance of becoming a better free-throw shooter than the 7-footer who believes it’s unlikely or impossible.
The 7-footer with the growth mindset will work hard to improve, setting attainable goals and pursuing them vigorously. The 7-footer with the fixed mindset will more likely focus on what he can already do well to prove his worth in spite of the poor shooting.
This is, of course, intuitive and hardly seems groundbreaking. Belief in yourself and hard work pay off. Duh.
The magic happens when you apply it to all aspects of your life and apply it to your expectations of your kids, your students, your players, your employees. (Yes, I’m a fan of Mindset, if you can’t already tell.)
As Stevens told Paul Flannery, the key is in focusing on your effort and growth, not merely proving your worth. Growth is more important than accomplishment. It’s all about believing you can improve, creating a plan to improve, and doing it.
Being perfect or being the best isn’t important. Improving yourself is the key. (Dweck doesn’t ignore the environmental factors like debilitating poverty or physical limitations — those, of course, matter a great deal. Adopting a growth mindset is about affecting what you can control.)
Westbrook’s two-word personal motto is a distillation of this philosophy.
Is a triple-double season possible? Why not? What actually limits the possibility of accomplishing that for a player of Westbrook’s physical caliber? Only a lack of imagination and a lack of verve. Westbrook lacks neither, and here we are. Westbrook is going to average a triple-double for the season.
Westbrook would have been absolved of blame if the Thunder puttered to .500, and he had a rage-ridden, high-scoring season. Instead, Oklahoma City is 11 games above .500, and Westbrook is making history. Westbrook won’t put limits on himself. That makes him great, and it makes him an inspiration to all who want to improve themselves.