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'Thank you for everything, Russ:' Thunder fans weigh in on Russell Westbrook's return to OKC

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The Oklahoman, ahead of Russell Westbrook’s return, asked Thunder fans to submit responses on what Westbrook meant to them, the city and the state.

The following responses spanned five continents.

Westbrook and the Rockets will face the Thunder at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Grant Borelli, 25, Dallas: “Growing up in the small town of Kingfisher, Russell Westbrook always gave me that feeling that no matter how small of a place you are representing you can still make a splash in the world. Russell gave me immense pride of being from Oklahoma (a place where many people in the world had never heard of until he and the Thunder showcased our beautiful state). He made me proud every single time I saw him on the court because no matter how many points we were down or how many people counted us out he always gave it his all. He was a thunderstorm with his dunks, a tornado with his ferocity, and a lightning bolt with his fashion and speed. There really is no one in the sporting world that could represent the loyalty and fierceness of Oklahoma than him. He truly cares about that state and the people in it which has been backed up by his loyalty and great charity he's shown Oklahoma. It made me sad to watch him leave, but also happy that he was getting a shot to go back to the championship with a team that is a contender when we were supposed to be in a rebuilding year. He taught us to ride with our team and never cheer for the others because when the game starts the only friend we have is our own team. I've always wanted to meet Russell in person but just being able to watch him almost every single night was enough to make me proud and feel like I knew him. Russell will always be my favorite person in the world because of the kindness and loyalty shown and then my favorite athlete second. You know when someone is truly transcendent when you think of an athlete as how kind and great of a person they are first and then their truly great talent and accomplishments on the court second.”

Nick Bowlan, Shawnee: “Russell Westbrook is my idol. Watching Russ grow into an MVP as I grew up was something I will never forget. He puts so much heart and pride into everything he does and he takes all the criticism that is thrown at him. Watching Russ taught me what it means to be a true team player and a great athlete, and I’ll carry that with me forever. Thank you, Russ.”

Josh Campbell, 28, Oklahoma City: “What meant most to me about Russell Westbrook was his commitment to this team and this city when the narrative from many outsiders was ‘No superstar will want to be in Oklahoma City.’”

Drew Cook, 19, Cleveland, Tennessee: “Russ was the reason I fell in love with the sport. His passion, drive, and motor were so appealing to me growing up.”

Sina Farzaneh, 24, Norman: “Russ is the reason why I love basketball. Been watching since the 2009 season and man his intensity, heart, and drive is what makes him my favorite player. He is everything the Thunder organization is. Thank you Russell for all you did!”

Blake Flanary, 19, Broken Arrow: “Russell Westbrook was the reason I am an NBA fan today. I was 8-years-old when the Thunder came to Oklahoma City. When I was 10-years-old, my parents took me to my first Thunder playoff game, against the Los Angeles Lakers. I fell in love with the Brodie when he nailed that and-one running shot on a fast break. The crowd was electric, I was losing my mind, and Russ was too. His ‘Why Not?’ mentality inspired me. It drove me. I never thought I would be anything in life, and I’ve had my ups and downs through my teenage years now, but I keep thinking, ‘Why not me?’ Russ helped me believe in myself, because he believed in himself every night that he put on that Thunder uniform. If I ever had the chance, I would tell Russ how thankful I am for being a role model to me growing up.”

Dustin Glover, 38, Yukon: “Russell Westbrook carried this city and team on his back when KD left. Like many Oklahomans, he showed up to work every day, gave you everything he had and he may not have always delivered a win, but it wasn’t from a lack of effort. During the triple-double runs I remember LeBron saying something along the lines of, ‘Many players could do that if they wanted to.’ Russell wanted to. Wanted every rebound, every assist and every bucket he could get. Russell wanted it.”

Tamara Henderson, 58, Hennessey: “Russ was always a force to be reckoned with. He put it all out on the court (the good and the bad). He was electric and fun to watch. This team this year, you are rooting for all of them. I’d be hard pressed to name a favorite player. Will be glad to see Russ back in the Peake. I’ll cheer for him when his name is announced. Then I’ll settle in and cheer for our boys!”

Vlad Ionasc, 20, London: “First of all, I can’t comment on what he meant to the city and state because I’m not from Oklahoma. I think that makes it a little more special because he’s had a massive impact on a guy living in London, England which is 4,364 miles away from OKC! What can I say? From the 2013-14 season onward I stayed up for EVERY Thunder game no matter how late (some of them started at 3:30 a.m.) because of Westbrook. The energy that he played with and how much he managed to leave it all out on the floor every single night was amazing to watch. It was inspirational. It made me want to be like him, but I quickly realized that he’s a million times more talented than me at the sport so that was never going to happen. This made me want to cover him. I was 13/14 when I first started watching him and obviously, at that age, I wasn’t really sure of what I wanted to do. But Westbrook quickly changed that. I wanted to become a sports journalist so I could cover Russell Westbrook. I’m happy to say that I’ve pursued said career and I’m now in my second year of university in England and I currently cover a professional basketball team, Cheshire Phoenix, which competes in the British Basketball League. Not quite the NBA or Russell Westbrook, but it’s a start … Long story short, Russell Westbrook gave me countless sleepless nights (some happy, some sad) and basically helped me choose my career.”

Hassaam Jamshaid, 20, Hong Kong: “Russell Westbrook showed me what it is like to give 100 percent to his team, and the game and what not giving up means. It doesn’t matter how hard the task at hand might be for him. He is still gonna come out strong and relentless. When he got traded to the Rockets it did kinda suck, but he’s given everything to OKC and I hope that he will come back one day as a Thunder.”

Adam Joseph, 30, Melbourne, Australia: “Russ defined us as OKC fans. His loyalty bled through to us and we wore that proudly. I think, from my time in OKC, you learn quickly it's a tight-knit community of good, loyal people. Russ embodied that to us, and after the pain of KD leaving, his choice to stay and what came afterwards created an unbreakable bond. I think that's pretty unique, even if he now won't spend his whole career here. That doesn't really matter, we got the best of Russ, and his time here meant people wished him all the best, knowing it was right for him and for us to move forward separately. Russ was OKC, and even though he's gone, he'll always be so. It's a legacy unlike any other. I think his personality as a player became mine as a fan. I admired his Why Not way of life, and adopted his way of thinking to my own because he was unashamedly himself, for better or for worse. I related to that. I think a lot of people did too.”

Ben Luschen, 29, Oklahoma City: “OKC came into the league with a chip on its shoulder. Russ came into the league with a chip on his shoulder. It was a perfect marriage for a pair that dared to dream and ask, ‘Why not? Why not us?’”

Sarah Mahdy, 38, Tulsa: “Russ doesn’t know I exist but I feel like I grew up with him. All of my milestones are somehow tied to his. I graduated from pharmacy school the year he was drafted. I became a pharmacy manager the year he went to the NBA Finals. Three months after Russ was traded I was promoted again and left the only pharmacy I had worked at my whole professional career. He was the one constant in my life since 2008. What made me fall in love with Russ were not the slam dunks, the triple doubles or his crazy athleticism. It was the chip on his shoulder and the unwavering belief in himself. I love him because he stayed when he didn’t have to. He picked us up when we were reeling. I love him because he gave us one of the most exciting seasons his MVP year. I love him because his goodbye letter was so heartfelt. I love him because he gave us everything and I truly believe he loved us back. That’s why I’ll always root for him no matter where he goes. I’ll defend him well after he retires. Russell Westbrook will forever be my point guard and have a piece of my heart.”

Yohan Mizzi, 22, Lyon, France: “What Russell Westbrook means to me, French fan of Oklahoma City, is indescribable. Even though I’m thousands of miles from the state of Oklahoma, Russell will still mark me as a Thunder fan forever. His anger, determination and passion have made me love the Thunder. He is the player who embodies and will always embody the franchise. He is and will remain the first great OKC legend. Beyond his statistically incredible seasons, Russ has made me dream for years, whether in the regular season or in the playoffs. He was the reason I got up in the middle of the night to watch him play. And I will never forget his 2016-17 season where he made the unimaginable possible. Only he could do that, and that’s what all Thunder and Russ fans will remember forever. If today’s franchise has changed, Russell Westbrook’s legacy is invaluable to the city and the community. Whether it’s his charity or his sporting exploits, Russ is THE living legend of the Thunder and it will be a huge thrill to see him in another jersey on Thursday. In closing, one thing to say: Thank you for everything, Russ.”

Daeton Page: “I was in middle school (2010) and just finished a doctors appointment, so my mom took me to Qdoba off 2nd and Bryant. I was new to the game of basketball, but I immediately fell in love with it after the Seattle SuperSonics moved to OKC and became the Thunder. I looked up to all those guys on the team: KD, Serge, Nick, but most of all, Russell Westbrook. So back to Qdoba, I couldn’t believe my eyes when my role model, Russell Westbrook, was in front of me grabbing some food. I didn’t know what to do. I was nervous so I just yelled his name like a dork and waved with the biggest smile on my face. He smiled, came over to me and spoke to me. I told him I loved to watch him play and that I was a basketball player myself. He was the nicest, most encouraging guy ever to a stranger while he was grabbing lunch. He signed my hoodie and took a picture with me, then told me to keep working hard. I never forgot that moment and have all the respect in the world for the type of guy he is.”

Kamden Phillips, 28, Fort Worth, Texas: “I was a sophomore in high school when the Thunder came to OKC. Watching Russ grow and evolve his game and the city adapt to the popularity and craziness of the Thunder was almost like a parallel of me and the people around me growing up and evolving through college. 2012 and the finals was my sophomore year at SWOSU. 2015-16 was my first year out on my own. The last three years with Russ being in OKC kept me close to my roots now living in Texas. Just a lot of Thunder memories tied into real life growth and I’ll always have a tie to Russ for that.”

Melinda Redman, 54, Burke, Virginia: “First off, I am a native Oklahoman, but currently live in Virginia and I have NBA League Pass so I can watch every Thunder game. I have been a fan of the Thunder since the early days, and it was primarily due to both Kevin Durant and Russ. However, that changed for me when Durant left. While I always appreciated Russ’ greatness, I hadn’t really given him the credit he was due. That all changed in that 2016-17 season. The way Russ handled himself and basically put not only the Thunder, but OKC and all of Oklahoma on his back that season — gritting out every win possible — is something I will cherish forever. He led by example. He showed not only his on-court prowess, but his fierce loyalty to his team. For me personally, Westbrook has been inspirational both on and off the court. That didn’t change in July 2019 when he departed OKC. I will always be a fan and wish him well. But I am an OKC fan first and foremost. And just like Westbrook, I’m not going to take a normal approach to his first appearance back in OKC. I’m going to continue to cheer for both to succeed. I mean, ‘Why not!’”

Mitchell Ross, 24, Tulsa: “Man, where to even begin. Russ is my hero. He is the reason I fell in love with basketball. I’ve lived in Tulsa since I was born and started watching the Thunder as soon as the moved to OKC. I loved watching Russ and The Snake tear it up together. Then, He Who Shall Not Be Named abandoned us. Watching Russ put the city on his back and getting MVP after that was incredible. I was going through a really rough time during 2016-17 and somehow, Russ staying with OKC made it a little easier. He gave me something to believe in. He showed me that even though being loyal doesn’t always have the end result you want, you do it anyway. ESPECIALLY when people depend on you. Russ will forever be my favorite player because of this.”

Bryson Schuman, 23, Oklahoma City: “My brother and I would always make sure we were not busy during any Thunder game during Russell’s entire tenure in OKC. The reason why is because almost every night Russell would do something so nasty — whether it was a lightning quick drive, a speedy crossover or one of his signature ferocious slams with the follow-up scream into the crowd afterward. My point is, Russell always found a way to get me and my brother off the couch to yell and celebrate with him as if we were the ones dunking all over guys. Russell was pure entertainment, but at the same time he was much more. He was a figure nationally, of course, but within the community for his heart and character off the court. He took pride in making an impact in OKC, and that is something that will forever leave a mark. OKC will always have his back. Love ya Russ, love ya lots.”

Anna Scott, 18, Oklahoma City: “I was 7-years-old when the Thunder had their first season. That’s when my love for basketball, and ultimately sports, began. My favorite player had always been Russell Westbrook despite the overwhelming love everyone had for Durant in the Thunder’s early days. His passion and drive for the game is inspiring. I look up to him as an athlete and a person. It’s crazy to think for me than half my life I watched Westbrook play in OKC. I’m now 18-years-old, around the same age as Westbrook when he was drafted. I will always be a Westbrook fan despite him leaving. Russ will always have a special place in the city’s heart. I cannot wait to see him play in OKC this Thursday!!!”

Filipe Andre da Silva, 19, Recife, Brazil: “I didn’t like to play basketball until I saw Westbrook play. I loved his explosion, intensity and today I love the Thunder. Russ is my favorite player, my inspiration.”

Lauren Southerland, 19, Tulsa: “Back in 2010, my mom called me and asked me if I wanted to be in a commercial for BancFirst. I answered with an emphatic, ‘Heck yeah!’ Fast forward a few months, and it’s the day of the shoot. All of the kids are mingling around and the people in charge were sectioning everyone out for their scene when Russell arrives. It was just him, his brother, and a few friends. Naturally, everyone starts staring and whispering, but me, I had no idea who he even was. Throughout the day, he made a point to hang out with every kid and make them feel like they were the most important one there. In the commercial, I was ‘Jenks’ after the city my mom works in. I had a closeup in the commercial and I was so nervous. I just kept messing up my facial expression. Every time I would mess up, Russell was there to encourage me to just relax and have fun. We finally got it done and then we played some basketball! By meeting Russ, it drew me into the world of basketball. I wanted to see this guy in action, so the first NBA game I ever watched was the Oklahoma City Thunder take on the Denver Nuggets. Russell was amazing and I was hooked from there. I even started out my college career majoring in sports media, because of his influence on my life. To this day, when he sees me at a game or when I attended his basketball camps, he instantly remembers me and always smiles. Russell Westbrook had such an impact on my life that I don’t even know these words did it enough justice.”

Jerry Stephens, 33, Yukon: “I named by daughter after his wife and would’ve been after him if she ended up being a boy. My wife and I lived through them with the birth of their son and they always gave us hope. He gave me ‘Why not’ which is my mantra now whenever I get down on myself. I ask myself that and it’s something I’ll keep forever. He made this city and state feel like they belong in this league and treated us so by staying when he could’ve left.”

Chey Zella, 29, Oklahoma City: “Russell embodied what it meant to be a Thunder, and more so what made being a Thunder special. He embraced a new role in his first years entering the NBA, a new landscape that placed on him an unorthodox change; resolving his position as a pure scorer to directing an offense. He met that hurdle head on and thrashed any obstacles, doubts, stats and expectations. Russell became a legend in a Thunder uniform and a kid from L.A. learned to love the salt of the earth individuals that compiled the roars that echoed his name in Chesapeake Arena. He is still a polarizing figure in OKC, and single-handedly put this small town team on the map (post KD). His energy still resonates from Loud City and the imprint that followed those ferocious years is still ingrained in Thunder fans’ minds. HE IS OKC.”

Related Photos
<strong>Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook celebrates during the second round of the NBA playoffs against the Los Angeles Lakers at Chesapeake Energy Arena. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]</strong>

Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook celebrates during the second round of the NBA playoffs against the Los Angeles Lakers at Chesapeake Energy Arena. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-3b937c4b0749966cf8d953bdffb1d86a.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook celebrates during the second round of the NBA playoffs against the Los Angeles Lakers at Chesapeake Energy Arena. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] " title=" Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook celebrates during the second round of the NBA playoffs against the Los Angeles Lakers at Chesapeake Energy Arena. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook celebrates during the second round of the NBA playoffs against the Los Angeles Lakers at Chesapeake Energy Arena. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Joe Mussatto

Joe Mussatto joined The Oklahoman in August 2018 to cover OU football, men’s basketball and softball. He previously covered University of Kentucky football and basketball for SEC Country. Mussatto is from Oklahoma City and lives in Norman. Read more ›

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