The work is just beginning for Oklahoma City and its MVP – ESPN

 In Sports
NEW YORK — The last nominee to show up, Russell Westbrook turned the corner with his wife and rolled his eyes at the bank of waiting cameras and reporters.

With a simple white shirt, a gray tie, purple shades and jacket slung over his shoulder — Westbrook’s understated outfit was the biggest upset of the night — he glanced at the red carpet and shook his head. The man of the night skipped the cameras, the posing and the questions and headed inside.

2 Related

Despite his style and flash on the floor, Westbrook isn’t one for crowds, or the spotlight. But he couldn’t completely escape it, as about two hours later he walked onstage at the first ever NBA Awards show at Basketball City to accept the trophy for most valuable player. Westbrook grinned, and, breaking the standard, he was actually a little long-winded.

He thanked God, he thanked Thunder owner Clay Bennett, general manager Sam Presti and coach Billy Donovan. He thanked the film guys, the trainers, the support staff. He called his teammates who were in attendance — Enes Kanter, Andre Roberson, Taj Gibson, Victor Oladipo and Nick Collison — onstage.

Westbrook thanked the fans, his agent and, finally, his family.

“Without you guys, I don’t know where I would be,” Westbrook said. “I can’t be standing here without your support, your sacrifice. Starting with my parents.”

He fought back tears and pulled off the shades.

“I told myself I wasn’t going to cry,” he said. Then more tears came when he talked about his wife, Nina.

It was an emotional moment for Westbrook, a true achievement for one of the great underdog stories ever, and the cherry on top and a proper coronation for one of the most remarkable seasons in NBA history.

It was a plan enacted and executed. It started last August, with Westbrook signing an extension in the wake of Kevin Durant’s departure. He became the unofficial people’s champ, a player who went from polarizing to being cheered in road arenas across the league.

Before the season, Westbrook eyed the MVP. A plan was developed to aid his campaign — magazine cover stories, interviews. The kinds of things Westbrook had always resisted. That was part new role, taking on the sole front-facing franchise responsibility, but also to help build and keep momentum.

But for any of it to work, Westbrook had to make himself an actual candidate. He did that by making history, and capping it all off by a final two-week flurry of MVP moment after MVP moment.

It was a goal to win, and while Westbrook’s focus of course remained on the Thunder winning games, as he closed in on the MVP, he wanted it. In year one without Kevin Durant, Westbrook produced something memorable, something that will stand the test of sport history. It was a season that transcended the game. It was a total eclipse, something probably seen only once in a lifetime. Westbrook didn’t erase the pain and heartbreak of Durant’s leaving, but he did somehow make it seem less important. Which was maybe his greatest achievement of them all.

But with all of that done and the book finally closed on his 2016-17 season, hardware in hand, it’s the same two words Westbrook asked following the departure of his All-Star teammate: What’s next?

The irony for Westbrook is for the Thunder to get to where they want to go, he can’t ever have another season like this one.

For all the exhilarating one-man-banding and iconoclastic hero-balling — the things that won him his MVP — there’s ground to be gained. Westbrook needs to socialize the Thunder’s offense more. There has to be more diversity. There has to be less reliance on him, and a more distributed, balanced attack.

But this season was a process for Westbrook and the Thunder. It was born out of unexpected circumstances, and Westbrook spent the season adjusting, and learning.

Westbrook also suffocated his own roster at times. Some of the young players, Domantas Sabonis namely, didn’t progress throughout the season as anticipated. The Thunder are invested in their youth, both to develop internally to improve the team on the floor and also for potential external use, as in flipping them as assets in a blockbuster trade.

Recent Posts
Get Breaking News Delivered to Your Inbox
Join over 2.3 million subscribers. Get daily breaking news directly to your inbox as they happen.
Your Information will never be shared with any third party.
Get Latest News in Facebook
Never miss another breaking news. Click on the "LIKE" button below now!