OKLAHOMA CITY — One thing isn’t clear.
Did Russell Westbrook enter Tuesday night’s 119-103 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers targeting a 20-20-20 night, or did the significance of it occur to him in the moment, as he re-entered the game with 8:13 remaining in the fourth quarter?
At that time, Oklahoma City had already let a 16-point edge be cut to 12, and soon it would be only five. Also, Westbrook surely knew, he was four points, six rebounds and two assists away from the history he eventually made, finishing with 20 points, 21 assists and 20 rebounds.
Perhaps he didn’t have the landmark statistical line in mind from the get-go very early, after a quarter, when he’d yet to score but had already dished 10 helpers and grabbed seven boards.
What’s clear, however, is the history made, the inspiration to make it, be it from the start or eventually, and the heights to which Westbrook has again proven capable of taking his game.
Previously, only Wilt Chamberlain had put together such a performance, finishing with 22 points, 25 rebounds and 21 assists on Feb. 2, 1968, playing for the Philadelphia 76ers against the Detroit Pistons.
Chamberlain did it in 48 minutes of court time. Westbrook did it in 36:48, 57 fewer seconds than teammate Paul George played in the same game.
Dennis Scott, part of the “Players Only” TNT broadcast crew, stationed at center court, opposite the scorer’s table, repeated the words he heard Westbrook exclaiming after grabbing his 10th rebound with 40 seconds remaining.
“That’s what I do,” Scott said Westbrook said. Also, “That’s for Nipsey.”
“Nipsey” is Nipsey Hussle, the Los Angeles-based and Grammy-nominated rapper who had been killed by multiple gunshots two days earlier.
Hussle and Westbrook were close, both driven to give back to their communities.
Photos can be found of the two of them together, both wearing Why Not? Foundation bibs, which is the name of Westbrook’s charitable foundation.
After the game, still on the court, Westbrook explicitly invoked Hussle as his inspiration not to simply play well, but to have achieved the specific feat he achieved.
“That wasn’t for me, that was for my bro', man,” he said. “That was for Nipsey, man: 20 plus 20 plus 20. They know what that means.”
Twenty, added together three times, equals 60. Hussle had been a member of the Rollin’ 60s Neighborhood Crips, according to news reports before and after his death, though he had previously been working with community leaders to end gang violence.
It was entirely clear Westbrook was thinking about Hussle the moment he walked into Chesapeake Energy Arena Tuesday. Never one to make lazy fashion choices, he entered wearing white slacks and a blue T-Shirt with the word “Crenshaw” emblazoned across. Hussle hailed from the Crenshaw neighborhood in South Los Angeles.
In his locker room turn with the media, Westbrook saluted his teammates.
“They make my job very easy, and I try to do the same for them,” he said. “So, just thankful for [that] group of guys in the locker room to be on my side, to be sharing and encouraging, continuously putting out positive energy is always a great thing, especially inside of a team.”
Beginning the moment he achieved his history, the world began saluting Westbrook.
“Mad Respect @russwest44,” wrote Golden State guard Stephen Curry on Twitter..
“Russ will forever be one of the only dudes I look up to. Respect king!,” wrote Toronto Blue Jay pitcher Marcus Stroman.
Oklahoma City mayor David Holt also took to Twitter.
“Never ceases to amaze,” he wrote. “We are blessed to have you.”
The website basketball-reference.com used its Twitter feed to announce yet another historical feat of Westbrook’s.
His 20 rebounds made him only the third guard in NBA history to have multiple 20-board games. Fat Lever did it four times, and Jerry West and Westbrook have now done it twice.
The Thunder are still trying to put wins together, improve their playoff position in the Western Conference and find their game in time for the postseason.
If there has been any inner discord during their post All-Star break slide, it was not visible Tuesday.
When Westbrook grabbed the rebound that made history, the Oklahoma City bench erupted.
“It’s the heart. It’s the heart of him,” said George. “It’s the way he’s made up. It’s not many made like Russ.”