After he tied Oscar Robertson's all-time record with his 181st career triple-double on Saturday night, it was only fitting for Russell Westbrook to walk away with the game ball. So, he made sure it was his.
With one second left in overtime, he fought around a screen at the foul line by Domantas Sabonis to close out on Caris LeVert and block his would-be game-winning three at the buzzer. Westbrook then grabbed the ball and stomped down the floor, yelling in celebration. He stood at the baseline and smiled.
Westbrook had captured history late in the third quarter, then led his team to an important victory in overtime, the end of it featuring Bradley Beal on the sideline with an injured hamstring. With the win, the Wizards took over the ninth spot in the East, which puts them on track to host the first game of the play-in tournament.
Westbrook also made two free throws to give the Wizards the lead before blocking LeVert's shot to seal the victory. That was the final act of a night that included 33 points, 19 rebounds, 15 assists and two blocks.
"You find ways to win the game. That’s all you can think about," Westbrook said.
That motto, Westbrook always says, is what leads to the triple-doubles. He goes through a game, studying its elements to determine what his team needs from him to win. Sometimes it's scoring, other times it's passing, rebounding or defense. Often, it's all of those combined, hence the gaudy stats he has put up throughout his Hall of Fame career.
Now he has 181 triple-doubles, equal to the immortal Robertson, who set the record all the way back in 1974. Him breaking it appears to be a certainty, and likely sometime next week. The Wizards play their next two games in Atlanta on Monday and Wednesday.
More history for Westbrook is looming and everyone around him can sense it.
"Russ is one of the best players to ever pick up a basketball. To do that on a nightly basis, that’s very tough to do," Beal said.
"It’s something that I don’t think will ever be broken. I’m sure Oscar thought the same thing," Ish Smith said. "What Russ has done over his career is pretty special. I’m happy for him and happy for his family."
Many great players have cycled in and out of the league since 1974. The closest anyone before Westbrook ever got was Magic Johnson, who fell 43 short with 138. Jason Kidd (107) is the only other player to have at least 100.
Robertson's record has stood for 47 years, long enough to predate head coach Scott Brooks' own NBA playing career, which began in 1988. Decades after he looked up to Robertson as a young basketball player, it is surreal to now be coaching the guy who has finally caught up to him.
"It’s really amazing that growing up, you saw that record and you just thought it would never be touched," Brooks said.
Westbrook also spoke of Robertson on his special night. He recalled the day in 2017 when Robertson showed up to a Thunder game to congratulate him on breaking his NBA record for triple-doubles in a single season.
There was a ceremony at center court and Robertson said many nice things about Westbrook. But Westbrook was impacted most by a conversation they had off to the side.
"I was able to talk just about life...There was a lot of social change while he was playing and I was always intrigued with how he was able to get past that and still compete at a high level," Westbrook said.
"I was able to learn a lot. I was able to kind of sit back and understand how he sacrificed so many things, and how he played the game. To go through that many things, I’ve got no excuses to go out and compete and do what I do."
Westbrook also mentioned his parents and how integral they were in instilling his work ethic at an early age. He mentioned Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, whom he talked to early in his career to study their routines and “to understand what it takes to be great." He also mentioned his faith and how grateful he is to even have the opportunity to compete in the NBA.
Now his name is at the top of the all-time triple-doubles list, next to one of the best players in NBA history. Pretty soon, his name will stand alone.