Five thoughts about the conga line of “national apologies” to Russell Westbrook and his Game 4 performance:
1. When you’re wrong, it’s always good to admit it and apologize.
Stephen A. Smith went first on Monday, apologizing for his criticism of Westbrook’s Game 2 performance, and specifically for his use of the word “pathetic.”
Magic Johnson followed Tuesday, before, during and presumably after Westbrook’s 43 points in Game 4 performance. “Maybe it was my fault judging him as a point guard because he’s a scoring point guard,” said Magic, who called Westbrook’s first-half Game 2 play the worst point guard play in NBA Finals history.
2. Obviously, both criticisms were way over the top.
Both got carried away, lost in the NBA Finals competition for a fresh, hard-hitting perspective. They’re bright, talented people who tried too hard and come off looking reckless and irresponsible.
Sound familiar? Do you see the irony? Westbrook gets ridiculed for making these kind of mistakes and misjudgments in the split-second context of championship basketball.
3. The way at least one of the apologies came about reminds us again how young Westbrook and the Thunder are.
Stephen A. apologized after he was approached by Westbrook’s parents, who apparently took issue with that word. Kind of refreshing. I don’t recall hearing about anything like this in a championship setting at a major league sporting event. If LeBron James’ mom is taking Skip Bayless to task, she still waiting for her apology.
Most players have family in the stands, but the Thunder extended family is more moms and dads than wives and children. This is one more way — and a good way — the atmosphere around the Thunder resembles that of a college team.
4. Westbrook, perhaps in part because of past over-the-top criticism, is getting the benefit of the doubt today.
Westbrook wasn’t aware of the situation when he fouled Mario Chalmers off a jump ball. The shot clock, which ticked down to 0.8 seconds before James Harden tied up Udonis Haslem, was by NBA rule reset to 5.0 seconds. Today the conga line is criticizing that rule. And it’s a bad rule. It’s a do-over for an offense that couldn’t get a shot off in 23.2 seconds. It penalizes the defense for playing good defense.
But that’s the rule, and Westbrook didn’t know it. I didn’t either, until our columnist Berry Tramel pointed out the shot clock that was on 0.8 now showed 5.0. Neither of us knew why. It’s the Thunder coaching staff’s job to know the rules and alert its players. Why that didn’t filter out to Westbrook requires more explanation.
But in the past Russ wouldn’t have gotten the benefit of the doubt. He would have been automatically assigned blame. Hasn’t happened this time.
5. Westbrook’s response to it all couldn’t have been better.
Minutes after one of the best NBA Finals performances in a losing effort, Westbrook was asked if he felt vindicated.
“Let me get this straight. What you guys say doesn’t make me happy, make me sad, doesn’t do anything. It’s all about my team and us winning a game.
“I don’t have a personal challenge against you guys, and it’s not me against the world. It’s not the world against me. It’s me and my teammates trying to win.”
Without a trace of petulance, Westbrook let us know he doesn’t care what we say. And he turned it back everything back to the team. For a player who always seems on edge in interview settings, Tuesday night was his finest moment — on and off the court.