OKLAHOMA CITY — We have all played a part in trying to define Russell Westbrook. Prose has failed to categorize him. Fans, talking heads, it doesn’t matter. At one point or another, you have volunteered in the take-orgy surrounding the 2016-17 NBA’s Most Valuable Player.
He’s worth the price of admission. The most entertaining basketball player in the league. You can’t win championships with him. No one wants to play with him.
No matter the source, Westbrook has continued to be Westbrook. For Oklahoma, it was a wonderfully, chaotic 11 seasons.
Championship banners never ascended to the rafters of Chesapeake Energy Arena. There were plenty of forgetful moments along the way. But none of that matters tonight when Westbrook makes his triumphant return to the city he helped establish as prime basketball real estate.
By now you’ve read all the testimonials from those who covered Westbrook across multiple media outlets. It makes sense. Ask anyone who spent one day in a scrum with Westbrook and they will have a tale to be told. The eye rolls, the death stare, the short answers. Westbrook has a way of making an impression on you.
You will be able to tell the impression he made on thousands of Thunder fans when he is introduced tonight. 11 years of thank yous, appreciation and love all in one moment.
Tonight does not put a bow on Westbrook’s time in OKC, no way. There are still one-year deals to be signed in the twilight of his career. A jersey to be retired. Statues and street names to be commemorated. Tonight is just the first chance this city has to truly say thank you.
It was a Tuesday morning shootaround last April. The attitude amongst the assembled media was as if our shoes were married to egg shells. To say Westbrook ruled the Thunder — and the media who covered the team — by fear would be hyperbolic. But that feeling was felt from time to time.
This particular day had a different sense of atmosphere. Westbrook’s friend Nipsey Hussle had been murdered. Typically, the Thunder’s star point guard would take his time to talk to the media, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But today, Westbrook was feeling a little different.
After standing on the other side of the Thunder’s practice facility, Westbrook walked over towards the scrum spot.
As the media got into position to ask the Oklahoma City point guard about that night’s matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers, Westbrook reached the backdrop against the wall. With a smirk, Westbrook kept walking past the area through the media into a room with no one or nothing in it.
From that moment on, the assembled media all had the same facial expression — It’s one of those days with him.
A few minutes later, Westbrook walked into the scrum with the same indifferent look in his eyes. The Oklahoman’s (now of The Athletic) Erik Horne began to ask the question, “Russell, I don’t know the depth of the relationship…”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Westbrook interjected.
Confusion crept into my mind. Did Westbrook understand what Horne was trying to ask? Did Westbrook just not want to answer Horne’s questions? Horne had barely got any substance into his question.
“I wanted to ask you about Nipsey Hussle,” Horne said in clarification.
“I know, I said I didn’t want to talk about it,” Westbrook answered before walking away.
Again, how did Westbrook know what Horne was asking? Was he just being his normal asshole-self? As much as I wanted to give the benefit of the doubt due to his friend being murdered, I couldn’t shake the thought. I had categorized Westbrook. He is an asshole.
With 41 seconds remaining in the game currently at 119-103 Thunder later that evening, Westbrook leaped for a defensive board. He had done it. Westbrook had reached the 20-20-20 mark. Mr. Triple-Double himself put on a show.
In the aftermath of the performance, Westbrook revealed to TNT’s Jason Terry that this game was not for him, but for his fallen friend Hussle. The 20-20-20 stat line being a reference to the Rolling 60’s gang Hussle was once affiliated with.
“Twenty plus twenty plus twenty,” Westbrook told Terry. “They know what that means.”
Wait a minute. He really was in an emotional state earlier this morning at shootaround. Did I just commit the cardinal sin of sports media? Did I — someone who tried to remind others that athletes are still human beings — forget that Westbrook is in fact a human being?
As the media walked into the locker room following the Thunder’s win, it was a much different environment than it normally was.
Assistant coach Brian Shaw of the Lakers had come in to congratulate Westbrook. Thunder teammates were openly reading tweets aloud that praised Westbrook’s accomplishment.
Finally, Westbrook came to the white board to answer questions about his historic night. It was here that the former MVP gave one of his more memorable answers.
Russ have you given yourself a chance to take stock in what you’ve been able to accomplish with the triple-double.
After going through his normal motions of, “I take it one day at a time,” and “I’m truly blessed,” Westbrook stopped and looked up.
“It’ll hit me at some point,” Westbrook said smiling. “Just like it will hit everyone else in this room.”
Yeah. Shame on me. As much as I want to say I didn’t volunteer in the take-orgy surrounding Westbrook, I became a willing participant. I thought he was an asshole. He then showed his human side, dazzled me with his God-given talent and then returned to his human side. Shame on me
Westbrook is a complicated figure. That is a silly sentence to say out loud because we are all complicated.
We have bad days at work. We have fun with our friends. We decide to let people into our circle or close them out entirely.
Westbrook is no different, he just happens to also entertain us with his basketball talents. Those basketball talents happened to captivate, motivate and inspire an entire city, state and region. Tonight will be a reminder that Westbrook, the basketball player, stood for something far greater than any petty opinions, grudges or hot-takes.
And if he so chooses, we may see Westbrook, the human being when the roar of Loud City showers him with the praise he deserves in his return.
Brady Trantham has covered the Oklahoma City Thunder for The Franchise since April 2018 and for Thunder Digest since 2016. He hosts a Thunder podcast with Madysson Morris “OKC-82 Podcast” which can be found on all podcast outlets, and is a featured co-host on the Franchise Thunder Insider’s Show on Saturdays from 10-12. For Sooner fans, you can also listen to the “Inside OU” podcast with John Hoover, Rufus Alexander and Brady. Brady is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma class of 2014. Follow him on Twitter @BradyDoesSports