Not everyone has seen The Wire. I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to watch the best non-Simpsons show of all time, but I’m sure there are some perfectly good reasons out there. If you’re a basketball fan, this poses a problem. It feels like everyone is making The Wire analogies with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
All season, Bill Simmons has been writing that the Durant-Westbrook situation mirrors that of Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell. In this version, Russell is jealous of Durant’s position as boss, and he believes it’s his time for the throne. Yesterday, Andrew Sharp wrote that Durant is Avon and Westbrook is Bodie Broadus. He argues that, like Bodie, Westbrook wants to be a good a soldier, but is too impulsive for his own good.
Both of these arguments make an assumption that I don’t agree with: Kevin Durant is Avon Barksdale. He’s not. It’s an easy comparison because he’s the leader of the team, but Durant is nothing like Avon. Avon Barksdale is full of violence and vanity. Durant isn’t, just like Jeff Green isn’t D’Angelo Barksdale, Serge Ibaka isn’t Slim Charles, James Harden isn’t Wee-Bey, and Kendrick Perkins isn’t Dennis “Cutty” Wise. If one half of the analogy doesn’t fit, the whole thing breaks down.
If Kevin Durant is any fictional character, he’s Sheriff Woody from Toy Story. Russell Westbrook emulates Buzz Lightyear—fresh out of the box—more than anyone from HBO’s fictionalized Baltimore. To round out the analogy, Kendrick Perkins is Rex, Serge Ibaka is Slinky Dog, and Z-Bo is Lotso.
Woody is the leader of Andy’s toys. He’s goodhearted, fair, and always looking out for the toys around him. All the other toys agree, because everyone knows he’s a once-in-a-generation great toy, and they can count on him. Buzz Lightyear, Andy’s birthday present, overshadows him. Buzz is a great toy in his own right, but the thing is, he doesn’t know he’s a toy. He thinks he can actually fly, that the blinking red light on his wrist is really a laser, and that he has to reconnect with Interstellar Space Command so he can go on his next mission.
Woody is resentful of Buzz because he’s shiny and new, and Buzz sees Woody as an obstacle he has to get past to get back into outer space. Eventually the toys are able to put aside their differences and unite against an existential threat, but Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook aren’t there yet.
Russell Westbrook doesn’t realize he’s not a space ranger. While he can fly, his laser isn’t all that accurate. He burst onto the scene this year, his game so explosive that at times it overshadowed Durant’s more low-key, efficient, consistent brilliance. Durant—always looking out for his team—was a good sport about it, keeping quiet, at least until Monday night.
Durant’s “Why didn’t he get me the f**king ball?” outburst was the first time I can remember seeing the nice-to-the-point-of-caricature Durant lose his composure. Like Woody, Durant’s the “fastest draw” in the West, but he was standing around watching Russell Westbrook zip around in outer space. At points, it felt like Westbrook was dribbling out the shot clock with the assumption that taking a bad long jumper with three seconds left was somehow better than taking a bad long jumper with 17 left.
In Henry Abbott’s article about Westbrook for TrueHoop, David Thorpe said, “The good news is that experience is a good teacher. If Russell Westbrook watches the tape of the last 20 minutes of Game 4, he’ll be able to make the corrections.” He could have said the same thing about Games Four or Five of the Nuggets series, but Westbrook hasn’t made the corrections yet.
Before Buzz Lightyear sees his own commercial, realizes he’s a toy, and accepts his place in the world, he’s completely oblivious no matter what anyone says. The same goes for Westbrook. After each Buzz Lightyear game, people assume Russell Westbrook will watch tape, “get it,” and realize who he is and who is playing with. At this point, we want him to “get it” so bad we’re almost willing it to happen, and it could tonight, but Westbrook’s ball dominance feels like a problem that’s only going to get fixed after he realizes it derailed the Thunder’s quest to go to the Finals. And beyond!