JUDY WOODRUFF: The NBA playoffs games begin this weekend, and they come as one of the game’s superstars just broke a historic record this week.
John Yang has the story.
JOHN YANG: Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook did something this season no player has done in 55 years. He averaged double digits in points, assists and rebounds, a triple-double.
The last NBA Player to do that? Oscar Robertson with the old Cincinnati Royals in the 1961-’62 season. What’s more, Westbrook was the league’s leading scorer this year, averaging 31 points a game, including this game winner.
OSCAR ROBERTSON, Retired NBA Player: When Russell was on this journey, I felt that I just had to be here.
JOHN YANG: Robertson, a Hall of Fame point guard who was a 12-time All-Star and league MVP, honored Westbrook before the Thunder’s final regular season game.
And joining us from Cincinnati now is Oscar Robertson, who, by the way, was the first African-American president of a pro sports labor union and brought the lawsuit that led to free agency in the NBA.
Mr. Robertson, thanks so much for joining us.
Help us understand this accomplishment. Put it into context. How difficult is it to achieve a triple-double, and why did it take so long for someone to match your accomplishment in the ’61-’62 season?
OSCAR ROBERTSON: Well, I don’t know, because I guess they weren’t counting that much about triple-doubles to begin with.
But I do believe — and I have said this to many of my friends who are basketball players — when Kevin Durant left Oklahoma, it opened the door for Russell Westbrook. And he came through it with a lot of vigor, and look what he’s done with it.
He had to attack. They had a team. They probably didn’t think the team would be worthy enough because Kevin Durant left. But Russell Westbrook stepped up to the plate and delivered.
JOHN YANG: But to do this, to get the triple-double, you have got to be an all-around player. You have got to have the power drive to score.
You have got to have the hustle to rebound and the sort of playmaking for the assists. So, is that why this is such a rare accomplishment?
OSCAR ROBERTSON: No, I think the rarity of it is that the assists are going to be there and the scoring, of course, because he’s a tremendous basketball, offensive basketball player.
The real key is, can you get the rebounds? And I was speaking to him the other, and he agreed, said that was the toughest thing to get is the rebounds sometimes.
And you get with a certain team. And now, in this electronic age, and you have to be able to go inside to help your big people rebound, if you don’t have a dominated rebounding team, like — and I don’t think Oklahoma State has got much of a rebounding team compared to some of the other teams in the league.
JOHN YANG: How did you feel about Westbrook breaking your record for the number of double-triples in a season and also matching — having double-triples for — averaging double-triples for the full season?
OSCAR ROBERTSON: Well, I thought about it, and I just said I felt happy.
I felt very happy for Russell, because it was a tremendous treat, historic in nature, because — you know, it’s just a funny thing that, when I did these things in the ’60s, no one even knew anything — knew what a triple-double was.
But Russell — this is a new age now in basketball. People are — you’re seeing, this year, they drew more fans than they have in the history of basketball. And Russell Westbrook has stepped up to the plate.
When he’s on the court, man, everybody wants to see him play. And this is really something. And I think, as people think about it a little bit, they are going to think much more than they do right now.
JOHN YANG: When you were in Oklahoma City with Westbrook the other day, you charted The chant, “MVP.”
Why do you think he should be MVP this year?
OSCAR ROBERTSON: Look what he did. He broke a record. It’s been there 55 years. Why shouldn’t he be the MVP?
So, I think what he’s done has been marvelous. As I said before, he took a team that people didn’t think was going very far, although I don’t — some other teams have gotten more wins than they have, but, as far as being electrifying and drawing fans to the arena to see them play, he is the MVP of the league.
JOHN YANG: And talk about electrifying the fans and drawing them in, this weekend, of course, the playoff start. On Sunday, Westbrook will be facing off against another top candidate of the MVP, James Harden of the Houston Rockets.
What do you think of that matchup?
OSCAR ROBERTSON: I think this is what championship basketball is all about.
You get the play the tough, best competition. It’s going to be more spirited. The fouls will be harder. And the drives will be a little bit with more definition to them.
It’s going to be difficult for anybody that gets through there, because they’re in a difficult conference with San Antonio, with the Clippers and, of course, the Golden State Warriors.
JOHN YANG: What do you think? What are you looking for in the playoffs this year? You going to make a prediction for us?
OSCAR ROBERTSON: Well, I will just go what has gone, what has happened so far.
I think Golden State is the team to beat. They have shown that they can — they have a team that can adjust to play against almost anybody. And even though Durant’s been out, he’s back now, and so they haven’t — they didn’t miss a beat when he was out. So, they’re going to move forward. And I’m sure they’re going to be the team to bet on the West Coast.
On the East Coast, it’s up in the air. There is no real dominant team. Cleveland looked like they were dominant for a while, but they have got some injuries. And, as LeBron said, we’re not playing tough enough.
So, I guess something is going to happen pretty soon whereby that may change. If it doesn’t change, they’re not going to win the championship.
JOHN YANG: We will see starting this weekend.
Oscar Robertson, thanks so much for joining us.