Mike Steely: The Case for Russell Westbrook

Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook looks up at the scoreboard during the second half against the Houston Rockets in Game 5 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Tuesday, April 25, 2017, in Houston. The Rockets won 105-99, taking the series 4-1. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Mike Steely: The Case for Russell Westbrook

After Russell Westbrook signed his mega deal with the OKC Thunder Friday, I tweeted that Westbrook probably “cemented himself as the greatest sports hero in Oklahoma history.”

The statement was met by mostly positive feedback, but some thought it ridiculous to already give Westbrook that distinction.

Understandable. It’s an opinion. Everybody has one. And it’s the fuel that keeps people listening to sports radio. I’m good with that.

Here’s why I feel completely comfortable with this statement.

First, let’s take a look at the statement itself. I used the word “hero,” not “athlete.”

If we’re going with athlete, it’s clearly Jim Thorpe.

The Oklahoma born member of the Sac and Fox Nation won Olympic gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon, played college and pro football, as well as professional baseball and basketball. Thorpe is also in both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and College Football Hall of Fame. Impressive isn’t a strong enough word!

That resume cannot be touched by any great Oklahoma sports figure. Bud Wilkinson, Barry Switzer, Henry Iba, Mickey Mantle, Johnny Bench, Barry Sanders, or the numerous Sooner Heisman winners. They all take a back seat to Thorpe.

And a solid argument can made for Thorpe when it comes to greatest Oklahoma sports HERO as well.

Oklahoma, after all, was originally Indian Territory. And Thorpe did as much as any other figure to make an impact for Native American culture.

However, I’m going with Westbrook. Maybe this is what Thunder GM Sam Presti calls “recency bias,” but I have my reasons.

It’s a new day and age that we live in. Everybody is connected through technology, and people around the world are more aware of other cultures and people in those cultures than ever before.

This has made Westbrook a global icon. Not just because of his excellence on the court, but because of his association with the fashion world, and international companies like Nike and the Jordan Brand.

Westbrook, after this new contract plays out, will have played 750-plus games in front of fans in the state of Oklahoma if he stays healthy.

That’s a lot more than Bud or Barry coached. And a lot more than great athletes with Oklahoma connections ever played in the state. By a mile.

Mantle and Bench never played pro sports here. Neither did Sanders, or Lee Roy Selmon (the greatest Sooner). Too me, that makes a difference.

And let’s not forget Westbrook’s latest act- possibly saving a franchise.

Westbrook threw the OKC organization a life preserver last year after Kevin Durant packed his backpack for Golden State. Then Russ went on to have one of the greatest individual seasons in NBA history.

Now, with his new 5-year, 205 million dollar max deal, Westbrook has taken OKC’s crumbling foundation and solidified it for the future.

Oklahomans are hard working, loyal people. They see that in Westbrook, especially after Durant bolted so abruptly for the Bay Area with already-loaded Warriors.

The flashy, LA born Westbrook basically “married” the state last Friday. Sure, the money is unbelievable, but Russ also showed Oklahomans how much he values their love and support by signing this deal.

It was an international superstar saying that Oklahoma “was more than good enough” for him. That’s a gesture they’ll never forget.

Westbrook’s athletic achievements speak for themselves. MVP. Olympic Gold medalist. Scoring champ. All Star. Along with Oscar Robertson, he’s “Mr. Triple Double” now too.

All his resume needs is an NBA Championship. Then, it’s a no brainer.

Russell Westbrook (along with that Durant guy) has put Oklahoma on the national and international stage as much as Garth Brooks or Toby Keith. He’s brought millions of dollars into the economy, and has earned every penny of this new contract.

He also saved a franchise when it was at its breaking point, re-energizing a fan base in need of some good news. He gave it to them. His indomitable spirit is on display for fans at least 8 months a year. Local sports fans have cheered more times for Russ more than any other athlete.

Attention Oklahoma: You have a new greatest ever sports hero. It’s Russell Westbrook. Why not?

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