The Washington Wizards have made the national spotlight this week, but it isn’t for their results on the court. Diamond Holton wrote yesterday that ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith criticized Russell Westbrook for not winning an NBA championship despite the fact that he now had the first 35 point and 20 assist triple-double in league history, saying that his numbers meant nothing in a still-too-rare Washington victory.
Since Westbrook has played alongside Kevin Durant and James Harden among others, AND the Wizards are well below .500 with him and Bradley Beal, Smith wasn’t impressed. Westbrook responded with the fact that “he’s a champion” for getting out of the streets of Los Angeles, his hometown.
Russell Westbrook on Stephen A. Smith— Hoop District (@Hoop_District) March 31, 2021
"One thing I won't allow to happen anymore is let people create narratives & constantly just talking shit for no reason about me because I lay it on the line every night and I use my platform to be able to help people all across the world." pic.twitter.com/8oJi0E4dwT
His wife, Nina, a former UCLA basketball player herself like Russell defended him and his character on social media.
I love everything about the Westbrooks pic.twitter.com/fRlOKc6RVq— Master (@MasterTes) March 31, 2021
So on Tuesday, Smith responded to both Russell’s and Nina’s pushback to his comments on “First Take” which you can see above.
In short, Smith appreciated Nina’s defense and Russell’s authenticity. However, he remained firm on his stance that Westbrook’s triple-double average this season (21.8 points, 10.6 assists, 10.3 rebounds per game) doesn’t matter because he has already put up these numbers on better performing teams and didn’t win an NBA championship on the Thunder with Durant in the 2011 NBA Finals or advanced past the first round of the NBA Playoffs after Durant left in 2016.
Where do I stand on this beef between Russell Westbrook and Smith? I think they’re both taking issue with what a “champion” is. Smith clearly takes the stance that a “champion” means NBA champion. His criticism of Westbrook is that the Wizards guard hasn’t won a ring yet, especially during his younger years when he had more talent around him. I don’t think anyone will blame Westbrook for not leading Washington to a championship this season — even Smith gave him slack there.
But regardless, Smith’s point is valid in that literal sense: Russell Westbrook doesn’t have an NBA championship. As for dogging on Russell this week, well, that’s his prerogative. And to a great degree, sports fans like it too. There’s a reason why Smith became ESPN’s highest-paid journalist in 2019 — he attracts attention with his takes, but he’s also their most authoritative anchor.
As for Westbrook, he views “champion” in a more general way. NBA players, even the 15th to 17th man on the roster, are some of the best in the world. They have all worked very hard to get to their current positions. Many players like Russell lived in lower-income communities and that comes with a whole set of more challenges, and overcoming them is a championship in and of itself. So I can understand why Westbrook takes issue with Smith’s consistent critiques, even if Smith made it clear that he never took issue with his personal character.
Where do you all stand on this topic of what makes a player a “champion?” Let us know in the comments below.