So I broke my arm.
You may have heard about it.
And if you haven’t heard about it, well, then … I’m sorry I brought it up. Because this injury, to be honest, it was not a smart one. It was in late January, during a home game against the Mavericks, in the heat of the moment.
I saw this chair on our bench, and the chair was acting like a punk, and so I punched it.
Big mistake — chairs are tough. I fractured a bone.
You always hate to let the team down, no matter what. But with something like this … man, it was worse than just you are letting the team down. It was also embarrassing. I felt depressed about it, you know? It’s like, Enes, what did you do? How are you gonna break your forearm by punching a chair?
I remember, after this injury happened, and we found out I would miss a month or so … I was just really dreading the thought of everyone on the team being mad at me. Yelling at me. You figure, an incident like this, something that affects the team’s chances in such a negative way, people are going to be upset.
Especially Russ — who cares about this team, and about winning, more than anyone.
But I’ll never forget Russ’s response in the locker room after. The first thing he did was go right up to me and ask how I was doing. O.K. … you might be thinking. He asked how you were doing. So what? And yeah — that may not sound like much. But it meant a lot. It was a way of showing, I think, that he cares about me as a person, and that my health comes before even worrying about the team’s record and stuff.
Of course, when Russ asked how I was doing, I told him the bone was broken. It’s the thing that I had been dreading to say the most, you know. But even after I said that — he’s just very calm, and very warm. I can tell he is sad for me, but not so much mad.
“Things happen,” he says.
Things happen. It’s a good saying, I think.
Then he says the same to the media in the postgame. Things happen. And, I have to tell you … it really just sets the tone for the team. Russ is our leader, and guys follow his example. And I think that’s what he was doing there. He could sense that I already felt bad enough about this injury … bad enough for the whole team combined. And that I would take the moment back in a heartbeat if I could. There was no need to yell at me. On the inside, I am already yelling at myself. And so I think that Russ was just trying to let our guys know, you know, very clearly: Enes is sorry, and he’s an important part of our team. So let’s support him, and get him back as soon as possible — and that’s it. End of discussion.
And that was huge for me.
But that’s just Russ.
You might be wondering why I am talking about the time that I had this stupid injury, here, in my story about this season that Russell is having. But to me, I think, you know … these stories, they are the same story.
It’s like, O.K.: Everyone already knows about the triple doubles. They already know about Russ breaking the records, and making these highlight plays, and leading the Thunder back to the playoffs — even when most people during the summer had been saying, Oh, well … tough luck for that city. It’s over for this team. They already know that Russ is the best player in our league, and is having the best season in our league.
But I don’t think they know that Russ is also one of the best teammates in our league.
What do I mean by this? Well, to begin with: The idea you hear in the media, about how Russ in some way “doesn’t make his teammates better” — it’s a joke. Just a complete joke. Honestly, when I think of what Russ has accomplished this season … the thing that comes to mind most is how he has made the guys on our team better.
And the numbers are part of that, yes, of course. Ten assists per game — it speaks for itself: I’ve never had so many open looks in my whole life as I have this year, playing the five with Russell at the one. It’s unbelievable. And 11 rebounds per game: Do you realize what an advantage this is, for us to have a point guard who can rebound like Russ? It makes us faster, and smoother, and better. It changes everything. And then, you know, 32 points per game: What more is there even to say? Nobody in the league can guard Russ one-on-one. Nobody. The guy is scoring at will. And sometimes basketball is complicated, yes … but also sometimes it is very simple. And to me this is a very simple idea: If you have a guy on your team who the other team can’t guard — it’s a big problem for them. (I told you it is simple.)
But even with all of these triple doubles: The main way that Russ has made the Thunder better this season — it isn’t something that you can just show on a highlight video, or with a bunch of statistics, I don’t think. Because what Russ has done this year that is so amazing, to me … it isn’t just that he has made our team better.
It’s more that he has made our team … Russ-er.
I’ll explain now.
I don’t have to go into the whole KD situation here, because that’s all in the past. Kevin’s a really good dude, a nice guy, and was a part of our family here. And we all understand that basketball is a business. But when he left … man. You could really feel the impact of it, at first, you know?
You could feel a whole mood happening, where people are starting to feel bad. And it’s not just the guys on the team … but maybe even all of OKC, the entire city, is feeling bad. It’s like, Oh, is this a city where we have good teams … and the fans get really into it … but then guys don’t stay? And then you hear all of these experts on TV, saying that it’s time for the Thunder to rebuild — you know, “Those guys had their chance, but now it’s over,” that sort of thing. And it’s like — O.K., really? Just like that? It’s over? Before the preseason had even started, people were already telling us to pack up and go home.
And of course — I mean, come on, of course — you knew that Russ was going to play with an extra edge this season, and try to prove all the haters and the doubters wrong. But what’s been so great about this year, and what has been the real difference-maker for us … is how Russ has made our whole team play with an extra edge. Suddenly we are all playing with this big chip on our shoulder. Suddenly we are all taking the haters and the doubters very personally.
And what’s crazy is: I think pretty soon we all realized that we even like playing with this extra edge. And so it’s like, our whole Thunder team — we go from having the toughest summer, and adjusting to this new position we’re in … to now almost wanting to be in the position we’re in. “Haters are gonna hate,” that’s a classic Russ motto.
But now it’s just a team motto, you know?
Actually, I’ll rephrase — it’s a city motto.
Just like our entire team learned to adopt Russ’s personality this season … I think that our entire city also learned to adopt Russ’s personality. I think that OKC, as a fan base, felt like they got a raw deal from a lot of people in the off-season. And they had haters to silence, and a big chip on their shoulder, and something to prove … just like our team. And just like Russ.
And that is what I mean, I guess, when I say that Russ has made our team Russ-er.
A lot of these MVP candidates, they put the great numbers up, and maybe they even put the team on their back. But Russ?
I have to say, this year, that Russ put an entire city on his back.
So like I said, I broke my arm.
It was a tough month rehabbing, and I really hated not being able to play. But I made it to the end — and by late in February I was ready to go. And as much embarrassment as I felt for the way that I got injured … take that amount, and multiply it by a thousand … and that is how much determination I felt to make an impact in the game when I returned to the team.
Does it go so well? No … not exactly:
Four points and four turnovers, on 2-for-12 shooting. (Nice going, Enes.)
So I’m obviously very disappointed there — to have worked so hard to get back and help my team … and then here I am, struggling so bad, and turning the ball over a bunch, and missing crazy shots. I’m pretty down about it. And after the game, I’m just sort of sitting there, at my locker, feeling frustrated. And it’s like, O.K. — now you’re not just hurting the team by being injured … you’re also hurting the team by playing your worst? It’s unbelievable.
But then something very cool happens. Russ sees me at my locker, looking down I guess. And he says, “Enes, don’t worry about it.” And then he tells me the story of how, when he was rehabbing his own broken hand a few years ago, at first he couldn’t even buy a bucket. Was missing his shot left and right. But then he shook off the rust, and just like that, it was as good as new. And he says that the same thing will happen for me.
And I’m like, “Russ, how many points did you have, in your game when you came back?”
“Thirty.” (It was 32 points, on 12-for-17 shooting, in 24 minutes, I checked on the computer.)
And my first thought is to be, like, Oh, great. Russ is on another level. But then I think about it some more … and I realize that the point of Russ’s story isn’t whether or not I can go out there that next night and put up 30 points, like he did. The point of the story is that things happen. And you can either use those things as an excuse … or you can use them as motivation.
Because, for Russ — man, that’s just it. There are no excuses.
Everything is motivation.
And that’s what he is saying here, to me, you know? The rust, from the injury … just don’t even think about it. And instead, have the confidence to go out there … and know that if you play your game, and don’t focus on what happened — only focus on what you’re doing about it — then the good things will follow.
The next game, I go out there and I put up 20 points, 9 rebounds.
On 6-for-9 shooting, plus 8-for-10 from the line.
And in many ways, you know, I feel like this has been the story of our season, all season long.
A lot of things have happened to the Thunder since last summer. And every single one those things — whether it was free agency in July … or people telling us to rebuild in August … or the experts predicting us to miss the playoffs in September … or no one believing in our hot start in October … or losing seven of nine in November, and then another four of six in December … or me breaking my forearm in January … or Russ getting snubbed as an All-Star starter in February … or no one mentioning us as a contender in March, or in April … man. They were all just these moments, I think — where any one of us, or even all of us, could have turned around, and made the excuses, and kind of packed it in for the season and gone home.
Every one of these things that’s happened — they’ve all been moments where we’ve had a choice: We could either go home, or we could keep fighting.
And we’ve chosen to keep fighting — every time.
And now we fight one more time in the playoffs.
Most people will pick against us — and that’s cool. We’re not the team with the roster full of stars … or the team with the big city … or the team with the high seed. We’re not the team with the crazy record … or the team with the famous fans … or the team with the championship banners.
But I have to tell you: We feel like we’re in a good spot.
And we feel like — at this particular moment, in these particular playoffs, in this particular year — we are able to say the thing that is maybe, honestly, even better than any of those. The thing that sometimes … on any given night … feels like the only thing in basketball that matters.
We’re the team with Russell Westbrook on it.