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Monday, February 05, 2024

Russell Westbrook Joins the Elite 25,000 Point Club, and is the Second Player With 25,000 Points/9000 Assists/8000 Rebounds

Last Friday night, Russell Westbrook joined pro basketball's 25,000 point club after scoring 23 points as his L.A. Clippers defeated the Detroit Pistons, 136-125. According to the NBA and its media partners, Westbrook is the 25th member of the 25,000 point club--but ABA statistics should be counted by the NBA just like AFL statistics are counted by the NFL, so the truth is that the 25,000 point club has 29 members. Julius Erving (30,026 career points, ranking eighth all-time), Dan Issel (27,482 points, 13th), George Gervin (26,595 points, 18th), and Rick Barry (25,279 points, 26th) are the ABA players who are excluded by the NBA, while former ABA player Moses Malone is docked 2171 points but still makes the "official" cut.

Just as it has become more common for players to score 60 points or even 70 points in a single game, it is more common for players to score more than 25,000 career points. The 1977-78 Official NBA Guide (published the season after the ABA-NBA merger) lists the NBA's All-Time Top Scorers. The 25,000 point club had four members at that time: Wilt Chamberlain (31,419 points), Oscar Robertson (26,710 points), Jerry West (25,192 points), and John Havlicek (25,073 points). As I discussed after Vince Carter became the 26th member of the 25,000 point club on November 21, 2018, this club used to be ultra-exclusive (note that in 2018 LeBron James had not yet surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the regular season career scoring list):

Younger fans may not realize that the 25,000 point club used to be even more exclusive. The "charter" members, so to speak, are Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West and John Havlicek, who founded the club from the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s. In the 1980s, the club added six members: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who is still the all-time scoring leader), Julius Erving, Dan Issel, Elvin Hayes, George Gervin, Moses Malone and Rick Barry. The club has since more than doubled in size. This is similar to the dramatic increase in the number of chess players who have at least a 2600 FIDE (International Chess Federation) rating; there were just 15 such players on the first official rating list in 1971 but by 1991 there were 33 and by 2004 a 2600 rating was not enough to earn a top 100 spot in the world rankings. Chess ratings are affected by the composition of the entire pool of players (it is easier to gain points when there are more players who have high ratings), while pro basketball point totals are affected not just by skill but also by rules changes, style of play changes, training advances that have extended careers and other factors. 

In 1977, even the 20,000 point club was very exclusive, including only (in addition to Chamberlain, Robertson, West, and Havlicek) Elgin Baylor (23,149 points), Hal Greer (21,586 points), Walt Bellamy (20,941 points), and Bob Pettit (20,880 points).  

Although the 25,000 point club is less exclusive than it used to be, tallying 25,000 points is still a milestone accomplishment: if a player averages 25 ppg and plays in 80 games per season for 12 years, he will be 1000 points short of 25,000, so it is obvious that all of the 25,000 point scorers combined high level production with durability.

Westbrook has won two scoring titles (2015, 2017), but he made his mark as an all-around player who is an elite scorer, rebounder, and passer. He and LeBron James are the only players in pro basketball history to have at least 25,000 career points, at least 9000 career assists, and at least 8000 career rebounds. Westbrook led the NBA in assists three times (2018-19, 2021), he became pro basketball's career triple doubles leader in 2021--breaking Oscar Robertson's record of 181--and he currently has 198 career triple doubles. Nikola Jokic ranks second among active players with 120, trailing only Westbrook, Robertson, and Magic Johnson (138). LeBron James (110) and Jason Kidd (107) are the only other players who amassed at least 100 career triple doubles.

It is baffling and inexcusable that so many media members use any excuse to bash Westbrook. Not only is Westbrook one of the most talented and accomplished players of all-time, but he also embodies all of the best values of a professional athlete: He shows up for every game, he plays hard, he accepts whatever his role is, and he is a great teammate. Westbrook has played in all 48 of the L.A. Clippers' games this season, and he has enthusiastically accepted a bench role that would cause many players of his status--and even players of a lesser status--to complain and sulk. 

Westbrook's critics remind me of a line from the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer; the chess prodigy's father in the movie notes that his son is better at playing chess than most people will be at anything they do. Russell Westbrook is better at playing basketball than most people will be at anything, and that goes double for many of the credential-wearing people who pose as journalists. The way that the L.A. Lakers and LeBron James' media sycophants treated Westbrook during Westbrook's brief time with the Lakers was despicable, and it is noteworthy that the legendary Hubie Brown stood out from the crowd by praising Westbrook

It is fitting that with Westbrook playing a key role the Clippers are now fighting for the number one seed in the Western Conference while the Lakers--who supposedly improved themselves by trading Westbrook last season--are struggling to qualify for the Play-In Tournament. The Lakers made a fluky run to the Western Conference Finals last year, but--as happened with other teams that made fluky playoff runs, including Portland (2019 Western Conference Finals) and Atlanta (2021 Eastern Conference Finals)--the Lakers are now showing their true level in terms of defense and professionalism; Westbrook was not causing the Lakers' problems, and getting rid of him did not solve their problems.

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posted by David Friedman @ 10:21 AM



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