We marvel at their athleticism and resiliency, their passion and heart. Thunder players have produced an never-ending list of highlights and moments during the first 10 seasons of Thunder Basketball that have helped forge the special bond between the franchise and its fans.
THE RISE OF RUSSELL
As one of just two players to be with the Thunder for the entirety of its first 10 years in Oklahoma City, it’s only natural that Russell Westbrook would be a major part of the franchise’s brightest moments. The degree to which the Thunder leader has made an imprint on the league and the world, however, has been incredible.
In fact, many of Westbrook’s individual moments have been highlight examples of the team’s very best as well. He has headlined a group of star players who have signed contracts to come to or stay in Oklahoma City. He represented the gold medal-winning United States team in the 2012 Olympics alongside Kevin Durant and James Harden. Westbrook won back-to-back All-Star Game MVPs, and has been in the showcase event seven times. He’s been featured on late night television shows and in national commercials. His Why Not? Foundation has built Russell’s Reading Rooms throughout Oklahoma City and Los Angeles. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame by Michael Jordan. He set the NBA record for most triple-doubles in a season (42) on his way to being named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2017. He followed that historic season by becoming the only player in NBA history to average a triple-double twice.
Other teammates have accomplished statistical milestones, been honored by the NBA and have garnered worldwide attention, but no one has done more to put Oklahoma City on an international stage than Russell Westbrook.
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Photo by Zach Beeker/OKC Thunder
TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 14: Russell Westbrook and the Western Conference holds the MVP trophy after defeating the Eastern Conference during the NBA All-Star Game 2016 at the Air Canada Centre. The Western Conference defeated the Eastern Conference 196-173. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - NOVEMBER 17: NBA legend, Michael Jordan talks with Russell Westbrook back stage before being inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame on November 17, 2016 at the Cox Convention Center. Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 12: Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook talk during the ceremony honoring Westbrook for breaking Roberston's triple double record during the first half of a NBA game at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 26: Russell Westbrook poses for a portrait after winning the NBA MVP Award at the NBA Awards Show on June 26, 2017 at Basketball City at Pier 36. Photo by Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Images
INGLEWOOD, CA - JANUARY 5: Russell Westbrook meets with fifth graders from Highland Elementary to celebrate the opening of the 20th Russell's Reading Room along with nine others in the Greater Los Angeles area in partnership with his Why Not? Foundation and Scholastic at Highland Elementary. Photo by Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder
Nick Collison defended the NBA’s most talented big men with perseverance and toughness. He got bloodied and bruised, broke his ribs and clawed for every inch of space in the paint. On offense, Collison’s dribble hand-off, two-man game created playmaking opportunities for the second unit. It was a key feature that ensured that the Thunder starters had an even bigger lead than when they initially checked out of the game.
In his twilight years with the Thunder, Collison jokingly referred to himself as a team dad, responsible for the development of younger big men like Steven Adams. His willingness to do whatever he could to help the team win, regardless of the prominence of his own role, was Collison’s defining quality.
“I found a role with the team. I started to play well in my lane,” he said. “I just always recognized the value of that, having a role with a team and a good team, a team that was trying to win. I never felt the need to try go anywhere else.” | Watch "Mr. Thunder" | Photos: Collison Through the Years
Photos by Zach Beeker/OKC Thunder
OKC ROLLS OUT WELCOME MAT FOR PG
As soon as he stepped off the plane at Will Rogers World Airport, Paul George and his family felt the love from the Thunder faithful. More than 1,000 fans stood behind the security fence on that sun-soaked July 11 day, hand-painted signs above their heads, wanting to get their first look at the perennial All-Star forward. George, recently acquired in a trade, cruised around town before heading to the practice facility, where he would tour the building and meet the people committed to player development 24/7. A few hours later, it was time for the main event of the day: a raucous welcome party in his honor at the then-newly minted The Jones Assembly. The dynamic indoor-outdoor space in the budding Film Row district was packed to capacity for the party, which featured live music and an on-stage question and answer session with George, who soaked in the adoring cheers. “It’s really been awesome; you can’t script this any other way,” George said. “It’s been an unbelievable trip. I’ve been wowed ever since I landed.”
Photo by J. Pat Carter/Getty Images
DIRTY WORK PART OF THE THUNDER DNA
Part of the Thunder identity during its first 10 seasons has been the awe-inspiring star talent that has donned the OKC colors. All-Stars, MVPs and future Hall of Famers have all been part of teams that have been characterized by an athletic profile – long, quick, agile and tall for their positions, with a scrappiness and defensive demeanor. A long line of players like Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha have helped create a defense-first mentality for the group, serving as the launch pad for sustained success during a season.
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DIVISION BANNERS SHOWCASE DECADE OF THUNDER
The Thunder earned five Northwest Division titles in a six-year stretch, becoming just the seventh team in NBA history to accomplish that feat. The team’s regular-season success during its first 10 seasons has been remarkable, with a 466-256 (.645) record since the start of the 2009-10 season, giving the Thunder the fourth-best record in American professional sports behind only the New England Patriots, San Antonio Spurs and Green Bay Packers.
Photo by Zach Beeker/OKC Thunder
THUNDER UNIFORMS: A VISUAL TIMELINE
Playing for what’s on front of the jersey has always been the mantra for the Thunder. Throughout its first 10 years, the team has had a variety of looks and colors that fans take pride in as well. First there were the originals: the home white uniform with “THUNDER” emblazoned on the front and the road blues, with “Oklahoma City” separated on two lines. In the years that followed the Thunder donned special Christmas jerseys, but also unveiled five alternate uniforms: a Navy look with “THUNDER” spelled out vertically down the side; a white, sleeved uniform; and a sunset jersey that struck a chord with Oklahomans; and this past season, the introduction of the Statement and City uniforms, each sporting “OKC” across the front to tune in with Loud City’s cheers.
TRIPS ENHANCE THUNDER ON WORLD STAGE
The Thunder has had 12 players from 10 different international countries on its roster over its 10 seasons, during which time the team embarked on three separate international trips. In 2012, the Thunder traveled to Istanbul (Turkey) and Manchester (England) for a pair of exhibition games. In 2016, the team went back to Europe, this time Spain for games against Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, two of the country’s very best teams. In the midst of the 2017-18 season, the Thunder also jetted from OKC to Mexico City for one game against the Brooklyn Nets before carrying on with the remainder of its regular-season schedule. All of the trips have been great cultural and bonding experiences for the Thunder, and also touchpoint moments to expand the fan base in other countries.
Photos by Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images and Layne Murdoch/Getty Images
PLAYER FASHION COVERS WIDE SPECTRUM
For years, the back hallway in NBA arenas has served as a red carpet runway. Whether its showing off their own clothing lines, rocking the newest trends or charting a truly unique pathway, Thunder players have been on the forefront of the league’s fashion-focused wave over the past decade. Russell Westbrook has pushed the envelope more than anyone, but each player has their own unique look. The spectrum is wide, from the classy to the – ahem – casual.
Photos by Zach Beeker/OKC Thunder
CULTURAL IMPACT: THE TRADE FOR PERK
Culture is a word thrown around quite frequently in the NBA, but there was no truer cultural mark made than the shift in attitude that occurred when NBA champion and bully-ball center Kendrick Perkins showed up in OKC. Perkins had the pedigree, the toughness, the voice and the love for his teammates to help shape the Thunder identity, ultimately turning a team of elite scorers and playmakers into a group that played hard-nosed defense.
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TOURS OF MEMORIAL
Tapping into the Oklahoma experience has helped the Thunder hold a deeper understanding of the people they represent and the letters stitched on the front of the jersey, be it condensed (OKC) or spelled out (Oklahoma City). Every time a new player joins the Thunder, the organization ensures that he makes a visit to the Oklahoma City Memorial to feel the history of how April 19, 1995, changed this city forever and also understand the meaning of the Oklahoma standard.
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