In the summer of 2016, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s once favorite son turned his back on the organization and left them to die figuratively. Then Russell Westbrook did what he has done so many times before for his team, and his fans, he stepped up and saved the day. Once again.
Westbrook signed a five-year, $205 million extension this past September this was after he signed a reported $85.7 million extension over three seasons straight after Durant left the Thunder. The deal included a player option that would allow Westbrook to become a free agent after the 2017-18 season but Westbrook didn’t need it Oklahoma was now his home, and he didn’t want to be anywhere else. Loyalty.
“There’s nowhere else I would rather be than Oklahoma City,” Westbrook said at his news conference to announce his extension back in 2016.
“You guys have basically raised me. I’ve been here since I was 18, 19 years old. You guys did nothing but great things for me. Through the good and the bad, you guys supported me through it all, and I appreciate it. Definitely when I had the opportunity to be able to be loyal to you guys, that’s the No. 1 option. Loyalty is something that I stand by.”
To Westbrook, this was him repaying the faith and loyalty the fans had paid him since his first season here. There have been ups and downs, but the fans have never left Westbrook, and he’s never forgotten.
On Dec. 29, 2011, in a home game against the Mavericks, Westbrook started 3 of 11 with seven turnovers. This was one night after he went 0 for 13 and squabbled with Durant on the bench in Memphis. “It was a really tough time for me,” Westbrook says. “I was hearing a lot of things.” He shot too much. He didn’t pass enough. Durant was the savior and he was the foil, getting in the way.
“He was playing so bad that night against Dallas, I mean really struggling,” Weaver recounts. “But our crowd wouldn’t leave him. They just stayed with him. I remember this one kid, up in the Loud City section, chanting ‘Rus-sell! Rus-sell!’ and then everybody started chanting it.” Late in the fourth quarter, after a prolonged stint on the bench, Westbrook converted a three-point play and sank a 17-foot jumper to set up a Durant buzzer beater. “I think his career changed that night,” Weaver says. “I think it was the defining moment.” wrote Lee Jenkins from SI in his Russell Westbrook: NBA’s Most Captivating Star”.
That night against Memphis in 2011 could very well be the night Russell Westbrook decided he was forever in debt to Thunder fans. The fans could very well of turned on Westbrook that night and flamed the narrative of Westbrook is holding back the team, Westbrook is ball a hog, and Westbrook is hurting Durant’s progression but no. They stayed with him all the way, and Westbrook has done everything he possibly can since that night to repay the fans for its level of loyalty and love. The level of respect and love Westbrook and the Oklahoma citizens share is like nothing else in the NBA today. Westbrook is a representation of the city and the city him they both share the morale of hard-working and family first people but now the time has come for the Thunder organization to stay strong and not waiver on Westbrook because we know the fans are.
This past week ESPN journalist Zach Lowe commented on his podcast “The Lowe Post” that there is an increased opinion going around the league that the Thunder should consider trading the reigning MVP this offseason. Kyle Newport writes
“There’s an increasing number of people around the league who think the Thunder should look at trading [Russell] Westbrook. To be clear, not a report. Not Thunder sources think they should do this. Just in spitballing ideas with teams around the league, there’s a number of people who have heard, just like, ‘It’s time for something to change here.’’
What an extraordinary turn of events that would be 12 months removed from Russell Westbrook saving the Thunder organization from becoming irrelevant and on the brink of decimation if Thunder General Manager Sam Presti decided to trade away his most prominent success story and reigning KIA MVP.
Westbrook found himself in Oklahoma because of General Manager Sam Presti who drafted Westbrook in the 2008 Draft at pick four for the then Seattle SuperSonics which would then move to Oklahoma City was scoffed at and called a reach by basketball pundits but not by Presti he had a feeling Westbrook would be unique
“They might have some explaining to do,” NBA analysts Mark Jackson said.
“It doesn’t make sense,” said college basketball analyst Dick Vitale. “Seattle will look back on this and realize they made a big, big mistake. Love would have been fantastic for them.”
People have doubted Westbrook throughout his career even Westbrook himself.
“He’d come into my office feeling so beat up,” says Weaver. “He didn’t understand the criticism. The kid was Brett Favre. Remember how Brett Favre would drop back, see what coverage you were in and believe he could put the ball wherever he wanted. Sometimes he could. Sometimes you’d pick him off and take it to the house. He wasn’t Joe Montana. He wasn’t Dan Marino. I had to tell Russell, ‘Continue to be who you are. Continue to be Brett Favre.”
Since Durant’s departure, Westbrook has gone back to back seasons averaging a triple-double becoming the first man in NBA history ever to do so. Westbrook also managed to get the Thunder to the playoffs in both seasons but also falling short in the first round both times the first year falling to the Houston Rockets by himself and this season losing to the Utah Jazz in six games while playing alongside Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.
Westbrook is Oklahoma. Westbrook is the identity of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Westbrook is simply the heart and soul of everything that is Thunder. Don’t believe me? Go back and watch game five of this season’s first-round playoff series against the Utah Jazz. OKC were dead. The Thunder looked lost and defeated including Westbrook which was the scariest thing I have seen in sports a Westbrook that had seemed to of given up then came the third quarter Thunder down by 25 points and Westbrook hits a three to kick off the greatest come back in Thunder playoff history.
Don’t you dare give up on Russell Westbrook. Westbrook can be his generation Dirk Nowitzki who stayed with the Dallas Mavericks his entire career and finally managed to win the Mavericks a championship in 2011 defeating the Miami Heats big three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Westbrook has gets compared to many greats of the game Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, and Kobe Bryant. You don’t just give up on a player of Russell Westbrook’s greatness. Westbrook is more significant than basketball. He is the city you live in he is the heartbeat the soul, and that’s not something you can throw away for some role players, and a top 50 player in the competition or a “maybe” on some draft picks.
Don’t lose faith Sam you were right in 2008 and your still right in 2018 have faith in Westbrook.