The Philadelphia 76ers were carried by an occasionally selfish point guard to the NBA Finals 11 years ago. Sixers fans like myself were in the love portion of our love-hate relationship with Allen Iverson back in 2001, when the sky appeared to be the limit for him and Philadelphia. But he was accused of being too selfish and being unable to work with others, which ultimately torpedoed the Iverson era.
Now one could say that his heir apparent is threatening to emerge for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Of course, Iverson and Russell Westbrook are two vastly different personalities on vastly different teams. However, Westbrook's occasional inability to share - even though he has the help that Iverson never got - has often been a problem and seems to be getting worse in this year's NBA Finals.
Westbrook's troubles with accuracy and with shooting the ball far more than Kevin Durant haven't derailed the Thunder so far. In fact, they still looked ready to steamroll to the championship after taking a 1-0 lead over the Miami Heat. Yet in Game 2 on June 14, Westbrook could barely hit a shot - like most of the Thunder - and took too long to get hot before Oklahoma City finally gave in.
With a 10-for-26 performance and four more shot attempts than the scorching hot Durant, Westbrook became the easy goat for the Thunder's early struggles. This made the likes of Magic Johnson declare that his Game 2 first half was the worst point guard performance in NBA Finals history, and backed up long time critics like Skip Bayless who attack him for even playing the point guard position in the first place.
Debates over Westbrook really being a shooting guard and not giving Durant or others the ball enough have been manageable for Oklahoma City - as long as it won. They were manageable in Philadelphia as long as Iverson was an MVP as well.
But if it keeps being a problem for the Thunder in the NBA Finals, it could define Westbrook in the worst way imaginable. He was called "a bigger pig" than Iverson by CBS Sports' Gregg Doyel after Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, so a defeat in this series would hardly reflect any better.
Can his style of play really deliver a championship for the Thunder - although it didn't for Iverson and the Sixers? Iverson never had a Durant in his corner to take the load off, which is the biggest reason why the Sixers only won one conference title with him.
But even if there was another major superstar in Philadelphia back, would Iverson have adjusted, or just kept shooting himself like Westbrook tends to do? Considering how "A.I." never blended with the mere stars and pretenders he was paired with in Philadelphia, who knows how he would have merged with another actual alpha dog.
Still, Westbrook has never had the off court trouble that Iverson had, and has gotten to the NBA Finals a lot sooner. The next time the Thunder win a game in this series with the Heat, they will officially be closer to a championship than Iverson ever was.
Yet if they don't finish the job and have the same old issues hold them back, then Westbrook will be officially dubbed closer to being the next Iverson than the next Magic Johnson.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan.
Other stories from this contributor
- Sports & Recreation
- Allen Iverson
- Russell Westbrook
- Oklahoma City Thunder
- NBA Finals