Westbrook’s Legacy Endures in OKC

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com

For nearly a decade, Russell Westbrook has been the embodiment of the appetite for winning that he, his Thunder teammates and Oklahomans all share. On Thursday, he doubled down on that identity, furthering his commitment to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Westbrook signed a contract extension with the Thunder to remain with the organization, cementing the five-time All-Star point guard as the unquestioned leader and standard bearer of the team.

In so many ways, this decision by Westbrook is a display that once again, his make-up, spirit and unyielding energy is an embodiment of what the Thunder hopes to be all about. When General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti selected Westbrook with the fourth overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, there was no way to know what impact the UCLA sophomore would end up having in the league. What Presti, assistant General Manager Troy Weaver and the Thunder staff did know, however, is that they had welcomed in a high character, driven and talented individual.

“I wish I could tell you that in June of 2008 we could have forecasted that this guy was going to be a First-Team All-NBA, Hall of Fame level player,” Presti said in June. “One thing we really did lock in on was we felt like this player was going to get the most out of whatever attributes that they had because of what was inside the jersey. We didn't realize quite how deep the reservoir of potential was probably, but we felt like he was going to drain it of whatever was there because of how he is wired.”

“If he wasn't born with the talents physically to play NBA basketball and he was going to law school, he'd be a great lawyer. If he was going to medical school, I'd want him working with me,” Presti explained. “He's just a high-achieving individual, and those are the types of people we've always been attracted to here.”

The accolades Westbrook has accrued over his first eight seasons in the league speak for themselves in terms of his place in this league. Westbrook has helped the Thunder rise from a 23-59 season in the first year in Oklahoma City to a team that has now won five Northwest Division titles, gone to four Western Conference Finals and one NBA Finals in the past six years.

He’s played in 587 regular season games and 82 playoff games, was the NBA’s scoring champion in 2014-15 and just last year set career-highs in assists (10.4) and rebounds (7.8) per game. As the point guard and floor general, it has been Westbrook’s responsibility to make plays, keep everyone on the same page and shoulder responsibility regardless of the outcome.

“It’s communicating with my team, finding ways to lead the guys,” Westbrook described after the 2016-17 season ended. “For me that's the most important part - just being able to find ways to lead, and at the same time still improve on my game and what I'm doing.”

The five-time All-Star displays a tenacity that has resonated with Oklahomans far and wide, and has helped him to the All-NBA Second Team four times and propelled him to a scoring title in the 2014-15 season. Westbrook is also the first player ever to win back-to-back All-Star Game MVPs outright. This November, the Oklahoma Hall of Fame will recognize the impact that the Thunder point guard has had in Oklahoma City and all throughout the state – from Tulsa to the panhandle to the Ozarks.

“Every year I've been around this guy, he's improved,” Presti said.

“I just believe Russell will do whatever he can do to help the team win,” Head Coach Billy Donovan said at his end of season press conference. “Russell is a player that will do whatever is asked for him to do to put his team in the best position to win.”

There aren’t many people whose entire spirit, let alone their fashion or style, has been adopted by people who they’ve never met. In just eight years, the unbridled passion that Westbrook brings to the basketball floor and to his charitable endeavors has changed the emotional fabric of Oklahomans.

Off the floor, Westbrook has been committed to serving youths and reinforcing the power of reading and education through his ever-expanding efforts to build Russell’s Reading Rooms at nine different elementary schools. Westbrook won the NBA’s Year-Long Community Assist Award for 2014-15, behind his consistent efforts to give back at Thanksgiving and around the winter holidays through his Why Not? Foundation. The community leader also surprised a single mother in Oklahoma City by giving her the Kia car that he received for winning the 2015 All-Star Game MVP.

Westbrook has been on the forefront of raising the standards for philanthropy in the Oklahoma City metro area. The infrastructure he has helped build within local schools, along with the special way he has connected with local, in-need youth will have ripple effects for years to come. Just as he is on the court, Westbrook is seemingly everywhere at once.

“It’s crazy, you’d never imagine it that over many years that I’d be able to impact kids in different ways,” Westbrook said, shaking his head in amazement. “To be able do it through reading is a blessing for me and something I don’t take for granted.”

“I think the energy comes from within,” Westbrook explained. “Regardless of basketball or regardless of anything else that I have going on, it’s more important to be able to impact kids any way that you can.”

There is a holistic approach to basketball and life within the Thunder organization, and every person’s role is critical. Intuitively, and thanks to a watchful eye, Westbrook has a genuine understanding of how all the puzzle pieces connect not just within the team, but including the coaches and the Thunder staff as well.

His internal recognition, and external acknowledgement of the importance of each person within the organization is one of Westbrook’s most impressive qualities, and it’s one of the countless reasons why the Thunder is thrilled to have him as the team’s shining example. That connectivity is a characteristic of high achieving people and high achieving organizations, and in Westbrook, the Thunder has an excellent representative at the forefront.

“We always say we hire people, not positions.” Presti said. “We're looking for high potential individual in everything we do, whether it's the head coach, the starting point guard, or the intern that's starting with us for the first time. Russ is a force of nature, and not just from an athletic standpoint. We're so fortunate that we have him as a part of the organization. He's been a big part of the propulsive evolution of the Thunder from 2008 until now.”

Press Release: Thunder Signs Westbrook to Contract Extension

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