Russell Westbrook doesn’t steal scenes, he steals screenplays

Russell Westbrook

Zero. In set theory, Zero represents the cardinality, the first and only probable quantity of the null set. It’s the number around which all amounts, positive and negative, are based.

You don’t cloak yourself zero without first cloaking yourself in hubris. (See: Arenas, Gilbert)

Russell Westbrook seeks the spotlight like a summer moth seeks a bug zapper, and it’s magnetism increases as the glow intensifies: Westbrook attempted 17.0 FG per game in the regular season, 20.2 in the first-round, now 24.5 this round against Memphis.

Westbrook’s performance in Game 4 was anything but zero, unless you count the placeholder in the ones column, flanking a “4.”As in the 40 points he put up leading the Thunder to a 133-123 triple-overtime win. And from listening to media deride him, you’d swear the Thunder lost by at least that much.

An eclectic, swirling, cacophonous mess, Westbrook’s basketball stylings – similar in scope to his pal and fellow game-breaker Derrick Rose – would be welcomed, even appreciated, if not for one slight point of contention: The best pure scorer in the game, Kevin Durant – a luxury for which any point guard would pine – looms out on the wing.

In comedy, there exists a concept of “Double Act,” a pairing which mines their uneven relationship between two partners for humor. Usually of the same gender, age, ethnic origin and profession, but of drastically different personalities or behavior. You’re familiar with them: Abbott and Costello, Akroyd and Belushi, Jay and Silent Bob, Patrick and Olbermann before Keith became a sanctimonious prick.

In each case, one of the duo, the straight man or “feed” is reasonable, inquisitive and deadpan, while the other, the funny man or “comic” cracks wise in unhinged, demonstrative fashion.

When the Double Act works, it works because the discordant personalities allow the relationship to breathe, to open up, to build upon each other’s delineated roles. And, as an audience, you begin expect this and the smiles precede the jokes themselves.

But, what happens when the straight man one day steals material from his partner? Then, you get Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook’s pining desperately to prove he, too, can carry the show. If you caught any of his chaotic, unhinged electricity last night, you no longer doubt he can. Except, from what we now know, Durant still supercedes, and with our minds hard-wired, new information is nudged aside to conform with our initial perceptions.

If halfway through Blues Brothers, Akroyd and Belushi swapped dialogue, the move would jar our brains. If Spade started screaming incoherently and running into buildings midway through Tommy Boy, we’d be mildly perturbed. “But, but, Chris Farley should be making me laugh He’s the funny one.”

Fittingly, Durant and Westbrook took the podium together, against the natural order of things. It looked awkward, seeing two men, side-by-side with mirrored assertive posture. Westbrook’s sheepish grin and deflecting cackle were the only difference between them.

Durant resigned himself, saying, “Some people are gonna be talking about this game a while,” deadpan, backpack sewn tightly where once he’d carry his team. Atlas sipped Gatorade.

Westbrook’s contrasting bluster aimed to reassure his audience, implying “Hey! We won, didn’t we?” with his mere vocal inflection and twitchy stage presence. You could tell if he’d lost, maybe the smile would vanish, but his unstable charisma would remain undaunted.

You can’t fault a man for trying to be the man, the focal point, the axis from which all points, positive and negative, are plotted. You want that man with the ball in his hands, directing to his whim, leading his team … except when it’s not his to lead.

Perhaps Westbrook’s too enamored with his own talent. Perhaps he’s properly enamored with his own talent. Perhaps he’s better than we given him credit. Whatever the case, no matter the level of success realized from here on out, this double act’s become unsustainable.  It’s a disjointed, self-indulgent cacophony fraying from creative friction, discordant egos and unchecked machismo … and it’s an enthralling masterpiece.

Westbrook, like his jersey number, plays the central role – the unknown quantity around which all known entities exist. Zero’s naturally unstable and unsustainable: add or subtract anything, and it no longer exists.

In comedy, that’s usually the straight man. The one listed first on the marquis. In his mind, though, the one above the title goes by another name:

The Hero.


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