NEW YORK -- Russell Westbrook spent much of All-Star Weekend in New York City taking advantage of Fashion Week and enjoying one of his true passions.
Little did the newest creative director for True Religion know that he would leave New York with an accessory that will only enhance his stature. On Sunday night, the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard with a flair for style made Madison Square Garden his own personal runway, putting on a dazzling show and delivering one of the all-time great All-Star performances.
Westbrook exploded for 41 points, one shy of Wilt Chamberlain's All-Star Game record set in 1962, to propel the Western Conference to a 163-158 victory over the East.
During a time in the NBA when elite point guards are in vogue, Westbrook oozed supreme athleticism even on a court filled with the greatest stars in the world. Coming off the bench for the West, Westbrook made 11 of his first 15 shots and scored an All-Star record 27 points in the first half to take home the All-Star MVP honors.
And he literally soared high above other All-Stars, throwing down ridiculous dunks and nearly hitting his head on the backboard on a thunderous one-handed alley-oop finish.
"I think Westbrook came for it from the start," said the East's LeBron James, who started the game fast and finished with 30 points. "He's an unbelievable talent in our league. His motor, his athleticism, his demeanor about how he approaches the game, it's all great.
"Showcased it on a big stage."
This was the first time the NBA All-Star Game was back in Madison Square Garden since 1998. While it opened with a big bang with Christina Aguilera performing with pyrotechnics followed by a drawn out starting lineup introduction that felt like a Super Bowl halftime show production, this game was going to need so much more than that to come close to the last All-Star Game here.
Seventeen years ago, the Garden crowd watched a fearless 19-year-old Kobe Bryant dare to take on Michael Jordan in an All-Star gala (anyone remember Bryant famously waving off teammate Karl Malone?) that had the feel of the elder Jordan passing the torch on to rising youngsters such as Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett.
This game started off like so many All-Star predecessors with virtually no defense. James came out aggressive and looked like he was on a mission to win the MVP trophy at his favorite NBA venue.
James scored 15 points in his first eight minutes while Westbrook watched most of it from the bench. Clearly that must've ignited the Thunder point guard, who entered the game with 4:59 to go in the first quarter and looked like he was already in his fifth-gear turbo speed.
He scored 10 of his 12 first-quarter points on dunks or layups as he assaulted the rim in his usual aggressive manor. His only miss of the quarter came on a botched dunk.
And Westbrook got only hotter after the break between quarters. He opened the second drilling three consecutive 3-pointers to push the West to a 20-point lead with 10:47 left in the half.
When the half was over, Westbrook had 27 points in just 11 minutes. It was as if he took James' aggressive start as a personal challenge.
"It was a spectacular show of athleticism," West guard Steph Curry said. "And he kind of got a little hot in the second quarter. He showed a lot."
In the third quarter, Westbrook added three more dunks with Chris Paul playing facilitator on two of them. But the East played its way back into the game.
In the fourth, the game was tied at 148-148 with less than five minutes remaining. But the West began to pull away and Westbrook sealed the game with a wide open 3-pointer with 2:22 remaining.
The point guard, who missed 14 games earlier this season with a broken hand, celebrated with a little move. He also was aware that he was in striking distance of breaking Wilt's record.
"They were talking about it on the bench," Westbrook said.
Westbrook, though, said he was more concerned about winning the game. He also did manage to have a little fun and help the East out by shooting a late free throw with a high arc when the East players were asking Westbrook to miss.
But even that free-throw attempt went in.
"I [tried] to miss the second one," Westbrook admitted. "But I guess I couldn't miss tonight, huh?"
Westbrook has been on an absolute tear in February, a month which has seen him score more than 40 points three times already. He had 45 points against New Orleans and then dropped 48 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds against the Pelicans again two nights later.
And then he finished what was already shaping up to be one of his favorite weeks with an All-Star performance the Garden will remember.
"The whole experience is amazing," a beaming Westbrook said. "I was definitely excited to come and enjoy my weekend here in New York, especially with Fashion Week going as well. I was able to do a lot of other things as well.
"And just the game today, I was definitely excited. I'm happy we won. And definitely blessed to have the MVP."