Russell Westbrook was the brightest All-Star in the Big Apple.
Westbrook scored 41 points — one shy of Wilt Chamberlain‘s 53-year-old record — and was selected MVP of the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday night after leading the West to a 163-158 win over the East at Madison Square Garden.
Oklahoma City’s flashy point guard set a record with 27 first-half points and nearly topped Chamberlain’s mark set in 1962. Westbrook didn’t realize he was within reach of Chamberlain until it was too late and the West was trying to maintain its lead.
“I missed about six or seven layups,” he said. “I could definitely have had it.”
Westbrook is a showman and he delivered a scintillating performance on basketball’s biggest stage, pleasing a crowd that included president Bill Clinton, Jay Z, Beyonce and some of the game’s all-time greats.
Westbrook became the third player to score 40 points in an All-Star Game, joining Chamberlain and Michael Jordan, who had 40 in 1988.
“It’s definitely an honor to be grouped with those two guys,” he said.
In the first half, Westbrook helped the West build a 20-point lead that was eventually erased. And beyond his array of high-flying dunks — he grazed his head on the bottom of the backboard on one slam — drives and 3-pointers, Westbrook celebrated almost every one of his buckets with some kind of celebration, either strutting back down the floor, raising his arms or pointing to the crowd.
“It was a spectacular show of athleticism,” said Golden State guard Stephen Curry.
Westbrook’s biggest basket came with 2:22 left when he drained a 3-pointer to give the West a 158-149 lead. He made the most of his 25 minutes on the floor, attempting 28 shots. Chamberlain played 37 minutes, shot 17-for-23 and had 24 rebounds when he set the record.
With the West clinging to a three-point lead in the final seconds, Westbrook went to the free throw line for two shots. He made the first and then arched his second attempt high, trying to miss. It went in anyway.
“I guess I couldn’t miss tonight, huh?” he said.
Not always given credit while playing alongside reigning league MVP Kevin Durant with the Thunder, Westbrook is regarded by his peers as one of the game’s best backcourt generals. He’s the third consecutive guard to win MVP honors, following Kyrie Irving and Chris Paul.
LeBron James also put in a strong bid for MVP, finishing with 30 points, seven assists and five rebounds to pace the East. The four-time NBA MVP had 22 points in the first half, going all out in hopes of his third All-Star MVP honors.
Westbrook was just too good.
“He’s unbelievable,” said James, who shot 11-of-21 from the floor. “He’s an unbelievable talent in our league. His motor, his athleticism, his demeanor, about how he approaches the game, it’s all great. And it’s great for our league. He showed that tonight, showcased it on a big stage.”
At this point in his career, James didn’t mind. The 30-year-old Cavaliers star said he was just as happy to create for others and share the spotlight as he was to score.
“You definitely enjoy it,” James said. “I was one of those young guys at a time. I was seeing the older guys, and you try to make your mark. And now being in the reverse role, you just know that our league is in good hands.”
Westbrook shot 5-of-6 in the first quarter and came out firing in the second. He knocked down three 3-pointers — one longer than the last — as the West opened a 56-36 lead. After each make, Westbrook, one of the league’s best dressers, paraded around the floor like a runway model.
This was his show.
“I was definitely excited to come and enjoy my weekend in New York, especially with Fashion Week going as well,” he said. “I’m happy we won.”