Here is Paul George, a wonderful NBA player, catching a ball, driving to the rim, and throwing down a fat hot dunk in the opening minutes of the Thunder’s season-ending, possibly franchise-imploding Game 6 loss to the Utah Jazz. George was unremarkable in the series and particularly bad in the closeout game, and missed a whole heap of shots while Russell Westbrook scored some ungodly amount of points.
The series was a tremendous embarrassment for most everyone involved with the Thunder. Carmelo Anthony looked like a rotting sunken castle, Billy Donovan was utterly consumed by the will of his various stars, looking completely like a dude who can’t coach anyone over the age of 21. Raymond Felton remained extremely himself. Westbrook basically threw his entire reputation into a hurricane, balling out of control on stat sheets while his team starved to death and withered on the vine around him one game, and getting thoroughly dominated by Ricky Rubio in another.
The whole goddamn series was laden with a sort of implied significance, an international team of the ball-sharing future dominating a squad of American KobeDudez, out there bleeding in service to Chucklor, the God of chucking. George was in the middle of it all, standing on the edge of free agency, the Prize to be Won. Every game seemed a referendum on his future with the Thunder and his compatibility with Westbrook. A referendum that was foretold the moment he was traded and forced to play in the twin shadows of Westbrook—the haunted talisman who has possessed the entire Thunder franchise from its inception—and Kevin Durant, the team’s previous star wing who left OKC behind to pair with a team whose approach is affixed towards a communal future.
The playmaking, defense-foreward George, like the sweet-shooting Durant, is perfectly suited for life on a squad with a more modern approach to the game, on a team that isn’t existing in thrall to the triple-double ambitions of Russell Westbrook. We were given a brief reminder in these opening moments of Game 6, driving and dunking mid-game. His whole aura screams: No, seriously, I’m still good. I also think this is a nightmare. Please… free me.
I am not a confident man, by and large. I constantly worry deep down that everything that comes out of my mouth is dumb as shit, I stall left and right in seeking a job opportunity that could change my life because I am scared to my bones by rejection. I can often feel swamped by people who do what I do with an ease, or, I suppose, what seems like an ease, that I don’t understand. Why, I wonder, is everything so easy for them?
Paul George, on the other hand, is supremely confident, Just like nearly everyone else in the NBA. Professional athletes bet on themselves for virtually their entire lives, and are objectively and wildly successful at what they have chosen to pursue. If I, a certified mediocrity, look at the people around me and wonder, deep down, what makes them more confident than I am, what is it like, I wonder, for Paul George to join a team with a dude who is so supernaturally self-regarding that he laps even the confidence that has made George a fabulously wealthy and successful NBA player, the top pick of his free agent class, and a dude who has gone toe-to-toe with LeBron James on more than one occasion?
Westbrook has a lot of flaws but God knows he almost certainly appears to believe in himself. Why else would he, time and again, find himself wearing some dumbass third tier menswear blog nonsense while eating shit in front of reporters after a loss, and continually refuse to bring a tasteful backup suit if he truly didn’t think he was going to will his team to ultimate victory? Why would he say he was going to shut Ricky Rubio down, a dude who doesn’t even score that much, if he really didn’t think he was going to do it? And why—WHY?—would he, time and again, shrug off teammates, coaches, fucking everyone he possibly could, in the pursuit of basketball glory, if he was not somehow possessed by the deeply held belief that him being at the center of all conceivable action was the best way to, if not win per se, find glory and exaltation?
Westbrook’s confidence spills out in every direction. It is the Hulk that lives inside, smashing everything as he takes a whole city captive on his quest for triple doubles or whatever. Someday, sooner than he thinks, his body will betray that confidence and it will become an anvil and a burden, transmuting him on the spot into a dude who is an untenable NBA player at his core, an embarrassment. Only he, and the maniac fans who suck at his teat in natural gas arena, seem to not know this.
Durant CLEARLY knew it, and left. There is no way that his teammates don’t know it. There is simply no way Paul George doesn’t know it and isn’t completely familiar with how badly it fucks him, stripmines his stats, sends the team into disarray, plops him on podiums with a guy dressed as a clown, hemming and hawing about why he didn’t manage to shut Ricky Rubio down.
So, like, what’s that even LIKE? To be a dude who is as self-assured, as skilled, as athletic, as VALUABLE as Paul George, and yet, here you are getting totally swamped by a guy whose self regard is a goddamn Infinity Stone, the kind of shit that throws moons at people. What is it like for a dude who is as good as George, but also stuck in a situation where he has to regard a player who might very well be inferior to him as the center of the universe. Gotta imagine: it probably fucking blows!