It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Not Christmas; the cold is whack and Christmas pretty much starts the second we’re done with our stuffing and are on our way to Best Buy, which is more whack than 29℉. The beginning of Spring is the most wonderful time of the year. Not because of the blossoming flora and fauna, or pastel colors, or resurrection day extraness, but for America’s finest annual pastime.
The NBA Playoffs. It’s just the most ballinest niggas on the planet straight up hooping, everyday, from the middle of April to the end of June. And this year’s edition is special. The 16/17 regular season provided us with what must be the most intriguing MVP race of my lifetime, if not, NBA History. James Harden is putting up ‘06 Kobe numbers with Chris Paul vision. Kawhi Leonard might have had the best two way season in league history. LeBron is LeBron (he’s had very legitimate MVP claims since at least his third year in The Association and probably will until the day he dies, his numbers are nonsensical), but no player has been as captivating as Russell Westbrook.
I don’t need to talk about the triple doubles. I don’t need to talk about his rap beef with Kevin Durant. He’s been very well established as an otherworldly force of basketball nature. What makes Russ my MVP is his off the court persona (I’m well aware that this is not MVP criteria, this blog is about rap music not basketball just let me rock).
Russ fucking loves the culture. He is a living, breathing testament to hip-hop who just so happens to be an unrivaled athlete that out-rebounds seven footers. When Migos brought some C U L T U R E to Oklahoma City, they brought Russ out like he was QC’s newest signee. He has an unbelievable Jordan commercial that’s just him and a Rainbow Coalition of hip-hop dancers going awf to Lil Uzi Vert’s Do What I Want (as if having your own Jordan shoe wasn’t hip-hop enough). He was shouted out in Kung Fu Kenny’s The Heart Pt. IV and was psyched about it. He gave us one of the hardest Vines/GIFs ever when he said to a gaggle of reporters “y’all niggas trippin”. If Russ was around a decade or so earlier, he’d have an And-1 deal.
Russ is the best thing to happen to the NBA since Allen Iverson, especially considering the policies the league pushed forward to counter the divisive force that was AI. The NBA has tried very hard to clean up its image since the hip-hop heavy days of the early 2000s that culminated in the infamous Malice at the Palace (pretty much The Source Awards in the middle of a Pacers-Pistons game). They instituted a strict dress code, outlawing the late 90s/early aughts fashion that merged hip-hop culture and professional basketball in a beautiful, Bobby- and-Whitney-esque marriage. They gave Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash a combined three MVPs over prime, Smush Parker and Kwame Brown accompanied Kobe Bryant. The Spurs became the most dominant franchise of the decade. Tim Duncan’s warm milk ass, twelve-passes-then-a-layup, Spurs.
But the NBA couldn’t outlaw young rich black folk, and where there’s young rich black folk folk, there’s hip-hop.
Russ is continuing the legacy of Chuck, of Shaq, of AI and the Portland Jail-Blazers. He plays the game like he’s mad at the rim, like a Kendrick song that can go baseline to baseline in four dribbles. Before the game, he’s dressed somewhere in the sublime median between Young Thug and Yeezy Season Whatever. He does choreographed dance routines to Mask Off while effortlessly weaving a basketball with hummingbird speed between his legs. During the game, he does everything. He scores like Mike, passes like Magic, rebounds like Barkley, and talks shit like Gary Payton. He shouts “AND ONE” at the top of his lungs and jumps off the hardwood like Mike Will hi-hats.
Russ brings a refreshing level of attitude to a cast of NBA superstars that seems to lack the element that made the league of my childhood so damn enthralling. LeBron has attitude, of course. But calling yourself the best when you are in fact, the best, is a different, more accessible fire than the one Westbrook ignites. Russ doesn’t do PR. He does press slightly more than Marshawn Lynch did. He doesn’t give a fuck about what you think of him. He doesn’t really give a fuck about his stat lines, either. He’s here to hoop and listen to rap music, and he will give you irrefutable evidence as to why he is must see TV. Day in and day out, his performances prove to be Five Mic albums.
Hip-hop is a genre with a deep tradition of talking shit followed by backing it the fuck up. He hoops, and then he hoops some more. He’s battle rap in compression shorts, and I don’t care if the Rockets sweep him. They killed 2Pac and he became a legend. If they kill Russ, he’ll still have averaged a trip-dub. He’ll still be MVP. He’ll still be the culture, personified.