Seeing Russell Westbrook return to Oklahoma City was one of the most special things I’ve seen between a player and their fans — actually just one of the most special things I’ve seen in sports.
As he went to the scorer’s table and prepped for the game, you could see him light up and the crowd begin to buzz. He charged to the corner of the baseline and roared at the crowd, and they roared back at him. It was his signature pre-game ritual back from his Thunder days. It was one he obviously looked forward to doing, and one that the crowd didn’t want to be denied.
Typically, when a player returns to his old stomping grounds with his new team, it’s all competitiveness and focus. They’ll wave at the crowd, salute, maybe let out a smile, but that’s it, and it’s what you’d expect. But before the game, and especially after the game, it was all love. It was love from the crowd, love from Russ, love given and received from the front office, players, and coaching staff.
It’s a staunch reminder that this team and this fan base backed him no matter what. Even when his team was the sixth seed; when he wasn’t the most efficient by #AnalyticsNBA standards; or was criticized by lots outside of OKC for stat-padding, they backed him, and they backed him vehemently.
It’s a staunch reminder that he was, and is, beloved greatly by a fan base that never took him for granted; that it absolutely killed them to see him leave and play for a rival team.
And now, here we are: nearly halfway into the season and there’s a large group of very vocal Houston Rockets fans that just refuse to get behind him. Granted, I don’t want to call this a majority, or even a large percentage, but it’s still enough to be upsetting (or maybe it is a lot of people, and I’m trying to make Rockets fans look better), and there are still plenty of popular media or social media presences that heavily criticize him — possibly a few writers of our own (I don’t actually have a name, I just know that it’s very possible because we love our opinions).
This is a very weird line to walk because you don’t have to love every player that’s on your favorite team. You shouldn’t avoid any sort of criticism, and you’re absolutely allowed to point out flaws in their game. But to that point, it doesn’t excuse a constant hate and badgering towards a player just because he’s an All-Star.
There’s also the weird element of some fans having been heavily critical of him in the past, and now you don’t want to be a flip-flopper. If this is you, keep in mind that you’re an adult and you shouldn’t care that people may be bothered that suddenly you’re a fan of a guy WHO’S NOW ON YOUR FAVORITE TEAM. Yes, we have always been critical of his game, but to act like there was never any merit to his MVP season, or that he’s not a good player in any aspect is disingenuous and says a lot about you as a basketball viewer. Get over your past feelings of him and just enjoy the game.
And if you don’t like his style of play, I get that, but maybe be as supportive of him during his good games as you can be critical during his bad. It’s a strange phenomenon to see Rockets/James Harden fans back their guy despite an entire country of people telling them that they shouldn’t because of his style of play, because of his shot selection, because of his postseason shortcomings, find it impossible to support another guy because of those very same things. If you can support Harden on nights when he’s 5/25 or has 10+ turnovers, you can find it in you to support Westbrook.
Lastly, it’s time to accept that he’s going to be a big part of this Rockets team for a while. With the amount of turnaround that this team gets when it comes to Harden’s second fiddle, it’s easy to get caught up in thinking Westbrook has one foot out the door. It’s easy to think that you can hate on him as much as you want because he’ll be gone soon. But that just doesn’t seem to be the case here. Unless Harden unexpectedly turns on his best friend, or he decides he wants to get out of here, Westbrook will most likely remain here for the rest of his contract. So, if you decide to whine his entire tenure with Houston, you’ll be unhappy for a while.
To recap, yes this is a lot of editorializing, yes this is my opinion, and yes it’s weird to tell some people to to like someone they have no real need to like, but really the hate on Westbrook has just gotten old, and it’s tiring. Stop being so angry. There is also an element of it just being sad that a player who’s giving it his absolute all, and is arguably the best player (at this point in time of his career) that Harden’s ever played with, not getting love from a fan base he’s wanting to win it all for. And, especially, after seeing the love Thunder fans gave him, he absolutely deserves it.
So, if you wanted an easy New Year’s resolution, or maybe just some more stuff you wanted to change about yourself, just give Westbrook a chance. I promise, if you’re not actively trying to hate him or find something wrong, you’ll appreciate Rockets games even more.