While this modern batch of NBA players are certainly a higher breed of athletes, debates consistently come up regarding the most athletic player ever. A significant number of names are tossed out of contention like yesterday’s newspaper until the group of guys worthy of boasting the ‘most athletic’ title is narrowed down to about four or five. You constantly hear the old timers throw out the Michael Jordan claim, but the fact was that Jordan’s athleticism was magnified because of the lack of athleticism surrounding him. He simply was more of a physical specimen than any player that ever laced his shoes up to guard him.
Nowadays, LeBron James is often considered to be the most athletic NBA player, though his basketball IQ allows him to holster his athleticism at times, allowing his knowledge of the game to beat his opponent.
My favorite argument is undoubtedly the “what if/Derrick Rose” argument. After winning an MVP in his third season, Rose showed to have weaker knees than the imaginary spawn of Brandon Roy and DeJuan Blair (who doesn’t have any ACLs). Simple fact is that Rose can’t stay healthy, so how athletic can he truly be?
For anyone that has seen Russell Westbrook play a basketball game in person, this debate isn’t a lengthy one. He stands in front of his opponent and while they may be a more skilled basketball player, Westbrook often reigns triumphant due to his sheer athleticism. It is truly spooky to watch this guy exert himself physically. When he drives through the lane, fans hold their breath in anticipation, praying for and expecting another eye-popping, thunderous dunk from the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard – pun intended.
He uses his athleticism to simply will himself to victory and success at times. On defense, Westbrook’s lightning quick feet and hands allow him to guard the best players in the game, often besting them with frustrating and infuriating perimeter defense. Those perimeter steals eventually lead to leak out which, again, leads to the most powerful dunks we’ve probably ever see from a point guard in this game. Standing at 6-foot-3 — fairly tall for a point guard — Westbrook blocks shots and throws down the hammer like a 6-foot-10 big man, protecting the rim like it is his lunch money and the bully is trying to take it.
Jordan was the best player to ever live. His athleticism, however, was not his greatest strength. Jordan is simply the most skilled and most motivated player to ever play this game. He beat you through talent, hard work and motivation to be the best. James knew how to beat you — his basketball IQ is through the roof. Despite criticism, James will always make the best possible basketball play, whether that means passing or shooting. That is how he beats you.
Westbrook is the most athletic player in the history of the NBA. He is short-tempered, irrational, sporadic and unpredictable. With that said, you watch this guy dribble a basketball around other guards who struggle to keep up and can’t help but grin and think to yourself, “How does he do it?” We may never know how Westbrook is so athletic, but I’m sure Thunder fans don’t care.