In this series, our honorable judge presides over the most contentious feuds in sports, considers the evidence, and settles the beef with the wisdom and authority vested in him by, uh, the internet. First up: a tempestuous tornado of triple-doubles vs. a point guard who refuses to be rocked to sleep like a baby.
Beef Case. There’s a charming, somewhat recent trend of star athletes giving thoughtful, in-depth postgame analyses of specific plays or schemes. After a playoff loss in 2018, LeBron James showed off his photographic memory by recalling the precise scenarios that led to all six of his turnovers. At a press conference earlier this year, Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson broke down the Atlanta Falcons’ defense, offering step-by-step explanations for his complex decisions. Russell Westbrook takes a different approach. After the Houston Rockets’ 102–93 win over the Clippers last week, he provided reporters with a curt examination of Los Angeles point guard Patrick Beverley’s defensive skills: “Pat Bev trick y’all, man, like he playing defense. He don’t guard nobody, man. It’s just running around, doing nothing.”
Beverley had been tasked with stopping Houston scoring inferno James Harden. The former MVP scored 47 points in the Rockets’ win. “All that commotion to get 47,” Westbrook said.
“Don’t start that, don’t start that,” Beverley responded when asked about Westbrook’s comments after the game. “I don’t care about that.” He then exited the locker room to continue his not-caring elsewhere.
Despite what you may have heard from Westbrook, Beverley is, in fact, a terrific defender. He’s more irritating than a wool sweater without an undershirt, and—again, contrary to Westbrook’s claims—he was quite effective against Harden last Wednesday. “I was on his ass,” Beverley said, truthfully. According to ESPN, the Houston star went 0-for-6 when guarded by Beverley.
It’s almost as if Westbrook ignored the data provided by ESPN’s Stats & Information department and instead based his criticisms on emotion. How odd! Could it possibly be related to an ongoing beef? Let’s take a look.
Provenance du Boeuf. “Have a history” is one of my favorite beef euphemisms. It’s a rather tender term, even though it just means that two people haven’t liked each other for a while. There’s a Proustian nostalgia to it, and Wednesday’s squabble in Houston serves as the madeleine to remind us that Westbrook and Beverley do indeed have a history.
April 24, 2013: Westbrook’s Oklahoma City Thunder were matched up against Beverley’s Rockets in the first round of the playoffs. In Game 2, Westbrook called a timeout by the sideline, and, as the referee blew his whistle, Beverley lunged for the ball.
Westbrook was demonstrably upset, and for good reason. While he managed to finish the game, he suffered a torn meniscus during the collision. He missed the rest of the playoffs, and the Thunder lost in the next round.
Beverley defended himself from accusations of playing dirty. “I don’t go out to try and hurt anybody,” he said at the time. “I tried to make a play on the ball.”
While Beverley’s move was obnoxious, it wasn’t terribly dirty. It was, though, indicative of his competitive nature, a quality that helped Beverley stick in the NBA after stints in Ukraine and Greece. And besides, players have been known to fake timeouts in the past. (A reach, sure, but the Andre Miller highlight linked in the previous sentence is an admissible piece of evidence.)
Westbrook, meanwhile, wasn’t so sure about Beverley’s intentions. “That’s really something I can’t answer,” he said. “I know I just hope it wasn’t a dirty play.”
March 11, 2014: In the first meeting since their fateful collision, Westbrook went to the sideline to call a timeout and Beverley respectfully gave him the space to do so. Just kidding! He slapped the ball out of his hands and earned a technical foul.
Beverley insisted he wasn’t trying to send a “message” with an unfriendly homage to the previous season’s contentious, meniscus-tearing play. “That’s how I play against everybody. No personal battles against anybody,” he said. “I go out there and fight and do what I do to try to win a basketball game.”
Oct. 30, 2018: This beef largely revolved around timeout etiquette until Westbrook added the classic art of pantomime. After blowing by Beverley for a layup in a regular season matchup against the Clippers, Westbrook pretended to cradle a vulnerable infant in his arms.
Apparently unsure about whether his portrayal of child care was obvious to viewers, Westbrook removed any doubt after the game. “You got little kids, you got little babies, put ’em to sleep,” he said.
Westbrook failed to account for the maneuver’s easy replicability, and, later in that same contest, Beverley hoisted the Thunder point guard upon his own petard.
(There’s a reason charades is known as “the most dangerous game.”)
The beef really got flambéed in the fourth quarter when Beverley threw himself after a loose ball, flying precariously close to Westbrook’s knees—and lest we forget his meniscus is the Rosebud of this drama.
The post-foul bickering became so intense that Oklahoma City police officers bravely threw themselves into the beef, standing between Westbrook and Beverley during a timeout.
Beef to the Future. Unlike previous installments, last week’s episode occurred mainly off the court. Beverley had spent most of the game covering other Rockets, so the two avoided any in-game tussles. However, when Beverley fouled out in the fourth quarter, Westbrook cheerily waved him goodbye.
That move, combined with Westbrook’s postgame comments, indicates that this beef is still being marinated for use on a later date. Specifically Friday, when the two teams play each other next.
Spoiled Beef. For all the hype going into last week’s Beverley-Westbrook reunion (check out this ESPN pump-up video), they weren’t even party to the night’s sauciest beef. That honor goes to father-and-son beef duo Doc and Austin Rivers.
When Clippers head coach Doc became apoplectic with the refs in the fourth quarter, Houston guard Austin gleefully asked the officials to give his dad a technical. (They did one better and ejected him.)
After the game, the younger Rivers channeled Beverley and offered up a familiar defense. “It could have been anybody I would have done that with, but it was him, and it’s turned into this. So yeah, that’s it.”
Beef Verdict. That Westbrook would reopen old wounds after the two played nice all game may seem like a cheap move, but he’s simply adhering to the rules of this particular beef: Play through the whistle. As such, the court determines Russell Westbrook to be the unambiguous winner in this round of Beef Court.
Six years is a long time for beef, and Westbrook deserves credit for keeping it fresh with this novel “he don’t guard nobody” defense. The man loathes talking to the press, and his eagerness to bash Beverley suggests he’s committed to nurturing this beef for years to come. Beverley, meanwhile, seemed to be taken by surprise last week, though he will assuredly come prepared on Friday. (Actually, it seems more likely that he’ll come overprepared.) Clippers star Paul George is finally back in the lineup, and he will likely get assigned the task of guarding Harden, which leaves Beverely free to defend Westbrook (or to trick us into thinking that he is defending him). If history is any indication, this beef will boil over into a classic pot-au-feu to keep us warm as winter approaches.