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Russell Westbrook is the official NBA MVP — finally

Thunder guard thanks God, his family and others who contributed to his historic season

NEW YORK — As 2 Chainz, Jada Pinkett Smith, Draymond Green, John Wall and Drake graced the red carpet, Russell Westbrook quickly strolled away from the cameras and the microphones with a smile and his sports coat off and into the doors of the first 2017 NBA Awards show on Monday night. The Oklahoma City Thunder star guard seemed to be saving his rare words to the media for when it counted the most — after he won the 2017 NBA MVP Award.

“Unbelievable. Just a true blessing for me,” Westbrook said. “I don’t give nobody thanks but to the man above. He’s blessing me with a talent to go out and compete at a level every single night, man. And I’m just very, very thankful for his blessing.

“My job is to go out there and do it, and I’m just humbled again, amazing award, and so many great Hall of Famers have gotten this award. And it’s just an honor to be part of some of those guys.”

The biggest talk during the last week of the NBA regular season centered not on the Golden State Warriors or LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, but rather on who would win the NBA MVP award: Westbrook or Houston Rockets guard James Harden.

Westbrook averaged a triple-double of 31.6 points, 10.4 assists and 10.7 rebounds for the Thunder last season after the departure of fellow All-Star Kevin Durant to the Warriors. The former UCLA star also set an NBA record for triple-doubles with 42, surpassing the 55-year-old record held by Oscar Robertson. Robertson recorded 41 triple-doubles during the 1961-62 season when he averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists per game. Westbrook put together one of the most memorable seasons in NBA history after surpassing Robertson’s record and joining him as the only players to average a triple-double for a season.

“He always wanted to prove himself as a player,” Thunder forward-center Nick Collison told The Undefeated. “He always had a chip on his shoulder. He wasn’t recruited highly out of high school, so he always used that as motivation.”

Even with Westbrook’s unforgettable season, Harden gave him fierce competition for MVP.

Harden nearly averaged a triple-double with 29.1 points, 11.2 assists and 8.1 rebounds. Harden’s Rockets won eight more games than the Thunder and landed the Western Conference’s third playoff seed. Despite the slight difference in points per game, Harden averaged 18.9 field-goal attempts per game to Westbrook’s 24.

Harden was in attendance to hear the results of the MVP competition with his former Thunder teammate.

“James had an unbelievable season,” Westbrook said. “James is a real good friend of mine, as you guys know. And to have him here in the building, competing every single night, it’s a blessing in itself. Hopefully for years to come, it’ll be the same thing. I’m just so happy for him and his family as well.”

The NBA Awards show included Draymond Green of the Warriors, wearing a green sports coat and black shorts, being named Defensive Player of the Year; Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni winning Coach of the Year; Rockets guard Eric Gordon winning Sixth Man of the Year; Milwaukee Bucks second-round pick Malcolm Brogdon landing Rookie of the Year; and Warriors general manager Bob Myers earning Executive of the Year honors. San Antonio Spurs vice president of basketball operations Monty Williams — whose wife, Ingrid, tragically died in a car accident in 2016 — won the first Sager Strong Award, named after late Turner Sports sideline reporter Craig Sager.

There were several other awards, including 83-year-old Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell winning the NBA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. The 11-time NBA champion had the night’s best one-liner after pointing a finger at fellow Hall of Fame centers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson and Dikembe Mutombo.

“I would kick your a–,” Russell said before following with his famous cackle.

The award that the star-studded crowd from the basketball and entertainment world was awaiting most eagerly was the MVP. NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced Westbrook as the clear winner. Westbrook had 69 first-place votes (10 points), 19 second-place votes (seven points) and 13 third-place votes (five points) for a total of 888 points. Harden finished with 753 total points, including 22 first-, 69 second- and 10 third-place votes. Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard landed nine first-place votes, while Cavaliers forward James received one.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Westbrook said. “I’m just overwhelmed with joy, honestly. Just happy to be here. Didn’t know I’d be standing here with the MVP trophy next to me. I just know that every night, every day, every opportunity I get to be able to go out and work out, compete at a high level, I try to do it. And I’m just so thankful that people across the world, you guys, the fans, noticed that this year.”

Washington Wizards guard John Wall described the voting for Westbrook and Harden as “so tough.”

“You got James, who had a heck of a year and did it last year,” Wall told The Undefeated. “And Wes had a heck of a year. I think the reason that you give it to Russ is because he broke the triple-double record. Nobody expected to see somebody average a triple-double throughout the whole season.

“This is the best MVP race that I’ve seen in a long time. It goes back to Oscar and Wilt [Chamberlain], when they both had that crazy year way back in time and lost to Russell [in 1962]. This is even closer than that. James had more wins. Russ got his team 12 games over .500. All those things come into it. What gives him the edge over the hump, even though he got out early in the playoffs, [is] he averaged a triple-double.”

The NBA had a successful first awards show, with a comedic Drake owning the crowd. About the only thing the NBA should consider is perhaps doing it much earlier. The votes for the award show were due April 14, which was nearly 2½ months ago. The Warriors won the NBA championship two weeks ago, and Westbrook played in his last game on April 25.

But with the playoffs starting a day after the media award votes are tabulated, it’s easier said than done for the NBA to have the awards show earlier.

“They have to try to find a way to make it earlier,” Wall said. “Waiting this late, guys are getting into the summer and getting ready for next season. It may cause a lot of guys not to be here because they got so much going on. I think they could find another way to move it earlier.”

For the emotional Westbrook, the award came right on time.

Shortly after receiving his trophy, Westbrook handed it to Silver before spending eight minutes thanking God, the Thunder front office, coaching staff, media relations department, team chef and masseuse, the remaining team staff, arena employees, Oklahoma and the fans. He thanked his teammates, and six came to the stage and stood behind him in support.

The six-time NBA All-Star has often been surly with the media, but he even thanked them too. He didn’t have any surprise appreciation for Durant. But Westbrook did get emotional when speaking of his parents, brother and wife, as he stopped a couple of times to cry.

“My family, that’s who I play for,” Westbrook said. “Every night, you guys see me scream, pound my chest, whatever, I do whatever it is. Emotion, it’s for my family because they sacrifice so much for me at every level that I know that they do, and I’m just so thankful to have them in my life and definitely to have them here tonight.”

The Thunder’s only other NBA MVP was Durant, who won in 2014 and shocked Westbrook and the fans by departing to the Warriors on the Fourth of July last year. The Thunder hope they won’t repeat that story with Westbrook, a Los Angeles native who appears quite happy being the face of the franchise in Oklahoma City. On July 1, Westbrook will be eligible for a Designated Player Extension, a five-year “supermax” deal worth more than $200 million that could make him the highest-paid player in league history.

Westbrook didn’t allow emotions to overtake him when asked about a possible contract extension. But with the Thunder out in full force as an organization showing support and Westbrook’s love for the OKC fans, it would be more shocking to see Westbrook depart from Oklahoma City and all that money than it was for Durant.

“Man, tonight is so important for me,” Westbrook said. “And obviously with the contract and stuff coming up, it’s not really on my mind at the moment, honestly. I’m just overwhelmed with a tremendous amount of blessings I’ve been able to get to be able to get this award. Man, I’m just thinking about tonight, and then after that, I’ll move on.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.