When Kevin Durant was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 2015, he called his choice of Russell Westbrook as his presenter “an easy pick,” because his Oklahoma City Thunder teammate was “somebody that’s with me more than anybody, who knows me inside and out,” and Durant concluded his speech by saying, “Hopefully we’ll be here next year for Russell Westbrook’s induction.”
It turns out Westbrook was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame a year later, on Thursday, to be exact, but for some strange reason the five-time NBA All-Star didn’t select Durant as his presenter. It might have had something to do with Durant leaving his Thunder buddy behind in Oklahoma City to join the Golden State Warriors between the two inductions. At any rate, Westbrook, a Jordan Brand representative, chose Michael Jordan to present him at his induction. You may have heard of the man.
Even Westbrook could not have predicted the praise Jordan would heap on him at the ceremony:
“When [Oklahoma Hall of Fame member and Thunder owner] Clay [Bennett] asked me, it was a privilege,” said Jordan, who owns the Charlotte Hornets. “I didn’t even pause, because of the relationship and the respect I have for Clay, and obviously the respect I have for Russell. I am truly a fan of his. If you can ever say, being that we’re so many years apart, that when I watch him play, I see a lot of resemblance of his passion for the game of basketball [to] the way I played the game of basketball.”
“I can’t say enough about this gentleman. As I said, I’ve looked at him from afar. I’ve had countless conversations with [Thunder general manager] Sam [Presti]. I remember the conversation that 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, which you wouldn’t even consider. But the thing about him that very few basketball players have is his passion for the game of basketball. Every time I played the game of basketball, when I stepped onto that 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 get that.”
Everyone from Kobe Bryant to the immortal Harold Miner has been compared to Jordan, and all have fallen short of matching the six-time NBA champion’s résumé. The 28-year-old Westbrook won the NBA scoring title in 2015 and earned his only All-NBA First Team bid last season, sweeping All-Star Game MVP honors in both seasons, and his current averages of 31.8 points, 9.8 assists and 9.5 rebounds have been matched by no man, Jordan included. But even Westbrook wasn’t about to put himself on the same level when asked about what Jordan meant to him during his nine-year career.
“Michael’s obviously the best that ever played the game,” said Westbrook, via the Associated Press. “He’s done so many things for the game of basketball, so many ways and broken so many barriers for guys like myself to be able to go out and compete at a high level, so it means a lot in that aspect. Off the court, he’s carried a great brand. It’s something I eventually want to do when I’m done.”
As for Westbrook’s induction speech, he chose to challenge himself and other Oklahomans to evolve:
“After witnessing the divisions and the challenges of our nation we have been facing over the past several months, I’ve realized this honor is not about me nor is it about the people in this room,” said Westbrook, via The Norman Transcript. “Oklahoma is an unbelievable community. I am so appreciative of the fact that the people of Oklahoma have been so supportive of welcoming my family.
“However, I feel there is always room to grow. I can be better, you can be better, and we can be better together. I’m honored to be a part of this Hall of Fame, but I am one of few. Our state is made up of unbelievable, talented individuals, and I look forward to celebrating them no matter their race, gender or creed.”
Westbrook joined an impressive list of Oklahoma Hall of Fame inductees, including former Speaker of the House Carl Albert, Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award-winning musician Woody Guthrie, Baseball Hall of Fame legend Mickey Mantle, Pro Football Hall of Fame running back and Olympic gold medalist Jim Thorpe, current U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and Emmy Award-winning actress Alfre Woodard. But there was one other Oklahoma Hall of Famer who was top of mind on Thursday night.
“Another thing you guys should be proud about is the sense of loyalty that this kid has shown to the state of Oklahoma,” added Jordan. “He could’ve easily come to Charlotte, but he decided to stay here in Oklahoma. I’m not here to try to bash anyone that’s not here. Everybody has a choice. I’m not saying that you don’t have a choice. Everybody has a choice, and when I saw that he chose to stay here in Oklahoma, I was so proud.”
Those comments were met with applause and laughter at the Cox Convention Center crowd, because it was a reminder of Durant’s decision to sign a two-year, $54 million deal with the Warriors in July.
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Westbrook, meanwhile, signed a three-year, $85 million contract extension in August that came with an almost $9 million raise this season and will keep him under Oklahoma City’s control through 2019.
“There is nowhere else I’d rather be than Oklahoma,” he said at the time. “When I had an opportunity to be able to be loyal to you guys, that was the No. 1 option. And loyalty is something I stand by.”
Now, a part of him will always live in Oklahoma, as his bust is set to take up permanent residence alongside almost 700 others in the Gaylord-Pickens Museum, presumably nowhere near Durant.
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