We are lucky. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in my life as a sports fans, it’s to always appreciate greatness. Most franchises only get the opportunity to witness greatness once every generation. Think about the Utah Jazz. In the 80’s and 90’s, they were lucky enough to see a decade plus of Karl Malone and John Stockton. In the 90’s, Charlotte got to see several seasons of Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning. Since then, though, no player on either of those rosters could match the greatness of the players mentioned above. Oklahoma City basketball fans have been fortunate enough in their nascent existence to have witnessed several players of unique greatness. We saw the beginning of Chris Paul’s career during our time as Hornets fans. We were able to witness two of the efficient wing scorers in league history in James Harden and Kevin Durant. And we are currently still witnessing Russell Westbrook’s greatness.
Eleven years into being a big league city, we’ve been fortunate enough to house/temporarily house four likely future basketball Hall of Famers. While the bigger story may be how the Oklahoma City Thunder lost two of those three great players, the fact that one of them chose to still play for the team may show just how unique this player is.
When Michael Jordan introduced Westbrook to the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, he had these kinds words to say about him:
Russell Westbrook. I can’t say enough about this gentleman. As I’ve said, I’ve looked at him from afar. I’ve had conversations about him with Sam (Presti), the conversations we had when you guys were about to draft him and I was trying to move up in the draft to get him, which you knew. But the thing about him that very few basketball players have is his passion for the game of basketball. Every time I play the game of basketball and I stepped onto the floor, I always felt like there was someone there that never saw me play the game of basketball. And that motivated me every single night. This kid has the same passion, and you can’t give that. To me, that’s a sense of respect for the game of basketball.
Let that sink in real quick. That is Michael Jordan. Largely considered to not only be the greatest basketball players in history, but also the most competitive. A man who retired over a decade ago, but whose shoes still sell like he scored 40 points in a game last night. And he is speaking glowingly about one of our players. Doting him with so much praise that you may forget that Westbrook’s last name isn’t Jordan. Words that felt completely genuine.
Appreciate it, Thunder fans. We’ve been a little spoiled in our run as a big league city. But the guy we have left on our team now may be the best combination of player and person of the four players mentioned. In Westbrook’s speech, he preached about unity and about overcoming odds. He spoke about setting things up for the next generation and about never settling. He spoke about things that are very familiar to Oklahomans. To Westbrook, it wasn’t a “me” party, it was a “we” party.
I recently had a friend pass away suddenly, and when something like that occurs, you tend to reflect a little. One of the quotes I always come back to when someone passes away is: Compliment and love people while they are here, because once they are dead, they can’t hear your words from the grave (or urn). As a basketball fan, I can honestly say I took Durant’s time in Oklahoma City for granted. I thought he was going to be here for the long haul. I thought he was going to continue the good fight. But, alas, he chose differently. As Michael Jordan put it in his introduction speech, “I’m not here to try to bash anyone that’s not here. Everybody has a choice.”
There is one positive that I can garner from Durant’s departure, though. I will cheer and celebrate Westbrook’s career just like he plays: like it’s his last game. There are no guarantees in life. Westbrook could go out there tonight and suffer a career-ending injury. Or he could go out there and score 60. It’s in the non-guarantees of life that we live life. So, appreciate Westbrook as much as you can, Oklahoma. Enjoy the ride and live in the now. And know that you are witnessing greatness every time number 0 steps on the court.