Russell Westbrook Credit: Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

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When Russell Westbrook grabbed the ball off the rim from a missed fadeaway jumper by Atlanta Hawks forward Danilo Gallinari on Monday night with 8:30 left on the game clock, he collected his 10th rebound. With that, Westbrook became the all-time career leader in triple-doubles with 182, surpassing Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson. Westbrook finished the night with 28 points, 21 assists, and 13 rebounds as he tried to not only break Robertson’s 47-year-old record, but also lead the Wizards to a comeback victory without their All-Star guard Bradley Beal, who was out due to a hamstring strain. 

The Wizards ultimately lost the game, 125-124, but Westbrook rallied the team from a 17-point deficit and even Hawks fans in Atlanta’s State Farm Arena cheered him on as he made history. For all of the criticism that Westbrook receives for not yet winning an NBA championship, the results of him being able to lead his teams to victory when he fills up the stat sheet emphasizes his value. His teams have a record of 136-46 when he records a triple-double and the Wizards are 21-15 when he reaches the illustrious mark.

“It’s just a blessing,” Westbrook told reporters after the game. “You put so much into the game. You put in so much time. You sacrifice so much. To be able to be mentioned with guys like Oscar and Magic [Johnson] and Jason Kidd, those guys, it’s something I never dreamed about as a young kid growing up in L.A. I’m truly grateful for moments like this. Normally I don’t like to pat myself on the back, but tonight I will, just because I’m so grateful for the ones before me and so blessed and thankful for the man above for allowing me to go out and do what I do. I take this job very seriously.”

What makes Westbrook’s accomplishment even more impressive is that he was able to do so after an extremely slow start to the season. Washington began the season 3-12 amid a rash of injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak that left the team unable to play a game for nearly two weeks. During that stretch, Westbrook struggled and did not look like the same player that made the All-NBA third team just last season. 

Westbrook only recently revealed that he was playing with a torn quad muscle to start the season, causing the lack the explosiveness and aggression of attacking the basket that NBA fans had grown accustomed to seeing. Once Westbrook was finally able to get healthy, he started playing better and so have the Wizards, who have gone 29-25 since their poor start. That stretch includes an eight-game win streak in the month of April, which was the franchise’s longest winning streak since Michael Jordan donned a Wizards uniform in the 2000-2001 season.

Westbrook has been a catalyst in the Wizards turning their season around as he has recorded a triple-double in 22 of his last 26 games and was named the most recent Eastern Conference Player of the Week by the league. As hot as the Wizards have gotten over the last two months of the season, it will still be difficult for them to overcome their slow start in hopes of achieving their preseason goal of at least making the playoffs. 

At 32-37, the Wizards find themselves in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, which would be just good enough to earn them a spot in the NBA’s new play-in tournament that allows for teams that place 7th to 10th in each conference the opportunity to play their way into the playoffs for the final two seeds. If the Wizards were to finish 10th, they would have to win two road games just to make it in the playoff bracket.

Whether the Wizards are able to make the postseason or not is still yet to be determined, but one thing that Wizards fans can be assured is that Westbrook will continue to leave it all on the line every possession and in the process, lift up his teammates’ level of play.

“I don’t think he gets enough credit for how cerebral he is. He sets up the bigs and sees the game like pieces on a chess board,” Wizards center Robin Lopez said when asked about Westbrook’s passing abilities.

Westbrook has shown that at 32 years old, he still has plenty left. It might be decades before NBA fans see another player accomplish what he did.

“Every night I try to do things that people say can’t be done,” Westbrook said. “I guess we will see in another 50 years or so. I don’t know.”