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42: More than a record

41 nights out of the year, Oklahoma City Thunder fans flood Bricktown to cheer on their beloved team.

Since Clay Bennett’s brass relocated the Seattle Supersonics to Oklahoma City in 2008, the Thunder have been a hot commodity in the state. Drawing 18,203 fans to each game, which is capacity at Chesapeake Energy Arena, has become the norm, dating all the way to that horrid first season.

Since their arrival in Oklahoma City, the Thunder have brought numerous exhilarating experiences to Oklahomans, such as The 2012 NBA Finals series and an MVP. Playoff success has happened more times than not, as the Thunder have made four of the last six Western Conference Finals series, with an NBA title alluding them.

After this past July 4, 2016, a day sure to be etched in Oklahoman’s memories for all the wrong reasons, the foundation the Thunder franchise was built was shook straight to its core. Kevin Durant, a player endeared to the heart of so many, left the fan base stunned when he announced his decision to leave for the Golden State Warriors. The wounds of Thunder fans were still very fresh, leaving the fan base enraged.

The move was met with much disdain for numerous reasons, and in the aftermath panic began to sink in for the Thunder faithful. A fanbase that had been relatively spoiled to this point was left wondering where the future of the organization was headed. How would they contend for an NBA title without their MVP-caliber, sharp-shooting sniper? The uncertainty was quieted on Aug. 5, however, when Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder agreed to a contract extension, ending any trade rumors that had been circling around the star point guard.

“There’s nowhere else I’d rather be than Oklahoma City,” Westbrook said.

At a time when Thunder fans trust was weak, those nine words created a bond that has only strengthened over the course of a regular season never to be forgotten. There was a new sense of optimism in Oklahoma City, and the origin of this optimism could be 100 percent credited to Westbrook.

Westbrook proving people wrong isn’t out of the ordinary. Since high school, when most of the blue-blood schools overlooked him because of his lack of size, Westbrook has played with a fire and passion unforeseen in this era of basketball.

Then came college, where Westbrook was the Pac 10 Defensive Player of the Year, but still was overlooked due to his supposed inability to play the point guard position. Sam Presti saw something he liked in the 6-foot-3 fireball, however, and chose him fourth overall in the 2009 NBA draft. The draft pick was met with mixed reviews.

While Westbrook’s time in Oklahoma City hasn’t always gone silky smooth, sometimes frustrating fans with his errant shot selection, or his stubborn bickering at refs, one thing has remained constant throughout his time in Oklahoma City; a relentless competitiveness to will his team to victory.

After Westbrook resigned with Oklahoma City this past summer, the crowds who didn’t think he could have success without his running mate Durant doubted him. Not only did Westbrook squash this narrative, he absolutely destroyed it.

Heading into the final two games of the regular season, Oklahoma City is locked into the sixth seed in the Western Conference, with a record of 46-34. It’s been a season of immense up’s-and-down’s, but No. 0 has been historically consistent all season long. He is the first player since Oscar Robertson in the 1961-62 season to average a triple double, a record coming into the year seen as untouchable. Westbrook also broke Oscar Robertson’s single-season triple-double record after notching his 42nd of the season Sunday afternoon in Denver.

One negative from Westbrook’s triple-double ways this season is the fact that people have come to expect it. Some now even discredit the statistical achievement. As easy as Westbrook has made it look, the ability to notch 42 shouldn’t be criticized. In comparison, James Harden and Lebron James, both seen as Westbrook’s greatest competition for the MVP trophy, have 34 triple doubles combined this season. Larry Bird, seen by many as one of the greatest to ever play the game, had 59 triple doubles over his entire 13-year NBA career.

What Westbrook has done this season for Oklahoma City, and the state of Oklahoma, goes much farther than wins and losses. Although he has managed to lead an average Oklahoma City roster to another playoff appearance, it goes much deeper than that. Finally able to step out of the shadows from Kevin Durant, Westbrook has emerged as a force even he may not have known existed.

With each rim-rattling dunk, each electrifying coast-to-coast slam, Russell Westbrook injects another dose of pride into Oklahoma City fans. A fan base that was shook to its core nine short months ago has found its savior in a former overlooked, scrappy guard from South L.A.

Autographing his signature into the record books for eternity, Russell Westbrook has established himself as a force never before seen on the NBA landscape. Taking the league by storm, he has turned into a one-man phenomena. When it comes to Westbrook, two things are always consistent: his relentless competitiveness to win, and the name “Oklahoma City” emblazoned across his chest.

And for Oklahomans, the latter means more than any record ever could.

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