Russell Westbrook’s first basketball game in Oklahoma was played on Oct. 13, 2008, and it wasn’t played in Oklahoma City.
It happened in downtown Tulsa. As an Oklahoma City Thunder rookie guard, he was on the BOK Center court for an NBA preseason victory over Houston.
Eleven years later, in what could be his final public act while he still is on the Thunder roster, Westbrook again is expected to be in downtown Tulsa.
There won’t be basketball. There will be stand-up comedy at Cain’s Ballroom.
Westbrook himself won’t do comedy, but instead is presenting a lineup of comedians during a Layups2Standup show at Cain’s. The headliner is Demetrius “Juice” Deason, a longtime Westbrook associate. Proceeds benefit Tyler Lockett’s Light It Up Foundation.
During a brief period before the show, Westbrook apparently will take a few media questions. I’m told that the questions must be specific to the comedy event or Westbrook’s Why Not? Foundation.
As Westbrook is the subject of the hottest speculation in sports — that he may be traded to another NBA team — it would be impossible to not ask about his status with the Thunder and his 11-year sprint to international basketball superstardom.
Last week, when Paul George’s trade request was accommodated by OKC general manager Sam Presti, the Thunder immediately transitioned from an organization intending to contend for a championship to one that seems sentenced to an extensive rebuild.
Even with Westbrook at the point, an OKC team without George probably doesn’t make the playoffs in the loaded Western Conference. And as Westbrook is due to collect $38 million for the 2019-20 season and a guaranteed $158 million over the next four seasons, it doesn’t make sense to pay super-max money to any one player when the team itself isn’t getting super-max results.
The weight of Westbrook’s contract makes it difficult for another team to move fast on a trade. Also, there is the age consideration. He’ll be 31 in November.
A transaction process may linger for a few more days or weeks — or even into the upcoming season — but his departure feels inevitable.
In 2016-17, with a total of 42, Westbrook broke Oscar Robertson’s 55-year-old record for triple-doubles in a single season. Westbrook finished that season — his NBA Most Valuable Player season — with a triple-double season stat line (double-figure averages in points, rebounds and assists). He averaged a triple-double again in 2017-18 and yet again in 2018-19.
During a 2017 home loss to Portland, Westbrook had a career-high 58 points. He twice has gotten 20 rebounds in a game. In January, there were 24 assists against San Antonio.
He is an eight-time All-Star and a two-time All-Star Game MVP. He twice has led the league in scoring and twice has led the league in assists.
All of that is impressive, but Westbrook’s most respectable characteristics are his motor and drive.
Specific to pure athleticism, he is among the greatest figures in the history of American team sports. He’s in the top 1%. He was the heartbeat of teams that made nine playoff appearances.
In 2009-13 — before the Patrick Beverley-caused knee injury — Westbrook played in 439 consecutive games.
In 2015, because of a teammate’s accidental kick to the face, Westbrook sustained a fractured cheekbone.
There literally was an indention in Westbrook’s face. Surgery was required. He missed one game. As he wore a protective mask, his comeback performance was a 49-point, 15-rebound, 10-assist masterpiece in a victory over Philadelphia.
While guesting on “The Tonight Show” or cold-tubbing with Kevin Hart, Westbrook’s personality and sense of humor were in full bloom. With reporters, however, he has never been consistently cooperative, and that’s why I’m surprised that a media session is scheduled before the Cain’s comedy show.
I’ll be there, and I hope to ask Westbrook about his time in Oklahoma and his phenomenal run with the Thunder.
Was he perfect? Nope. There were issues with decision-making, with turnovers, with poor 3-point shooting and, mostly recently, with an inability to convert on free throws.
The Westbrook summary is overwhelmingly positive, though, and his legacy is clean. He remained loyal to the Thunder after Kevin Durant left for Golden State. It’s absolutely appropriate that Westbrook is destined for a jersey-retirement ceremony and a statue at the arena.
The relentlessly relentless Russell Westbrook — what a treat it has been to watch this guy for 11 seasons.