AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

Russell Westbrook, where do we start?

The young rookie with a bad shot selection and a big smile. The transformative point guard that led his team to the NBA Finals. The MVP. The man who helped build Oklahoma City from the ground up. The man who gave us a name. The man who made us proud to live here, proud to wear Thunder blue. The one that kids idolized, and a bond fathers and sons were able to share. Through the good and the bad, the wins and the losses, the history and the milestones, Russell Westbrook doesn’t just mean everything to Oklahoma City – he is, and always will be, Oklahoma City.

Growing up as a young kid I knew two things: Oklahoma Football and Thunder Basketball. One of those ended up being common ground for everyone. When the Thunder first moved to Oklahoma City, it was an exciting time to live here. Yeah, we didn’t know what to expect but pretty soon, you showed us. With your one handed alley-oop against Sacramento, your absolute poster on Lamar Odom, you gave us a bright future. Because of you, Thunder fans had something to look forward to. The first Thunder jersey I ever purchased had the name WESTBROOK stamped on the back of it and as a 9-year old boy, I had never been more proud to wear something in my entire life. You committed to not change the culture in Oklahoma City, but create the culture in Oklahoma City.

From early years, with Russell, Kevin Durant, and James Harden, the Oklahoma City Thunder was born. The happiest, most invested, and most involved this city had ever been came from a game of basketball. Centered in that game of basketball, right smack dab in the middle, was and always will be Russell Westbrook. From the infamous and-one against the Lakers in one of the Thunder’s first playoff series ever, Russell Westbrook started his legacy in Oklahoma City and it grew to be the greatest ever.

Thank you Russell Westbrook for not just giving your all on the court, but giving your all to the community since the day you got here. Thank you for investing in us with your Why Not Foundation, building countless reading rooms and basketball courts, and also providing holiday meals for those in need. We will never forget you showing up to the tornado cleanup in a wheelchair after you just had surgery. Thank you for inspiring kids and adults all across Oklahoma to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

Russell Westbrook gave every Thunder fan their absolute favorite basketball moment of all time, right? How about his epic second half against the Magic, the buzzer beater at Denver in a historic night, his furious playoff rally that included forty-five points against Utah? My personal favorite, his dagger three against Golden State and dapping up his brother in Game 5. If you’re a Thunder fan in the slightest, you remember all of these moments vividly. At some point in this life, Russell Westbrook has made you feel alive, on top of the world. His energy and passion for the game, changed this franchise and the game itself for the better.

But it’s not just the memories that fans will have to cherish, his legacy is cemented in statistical history, where the entire NBA will speak of his records and play for generations to come. Russell Westbrook took on tasks that most simply wouldn’t. He led a team of nobody’s to the playoffs while averaging a triple-double and 32 points per game. When the going got tough, Russell Westbrook got going. Thank you to Russell Westbrook for teaching us the value of grit and toughness. To not run from our problems, yet attack them head on.

Most importantly though, Russ, thank you for being loyal. Always. Thank you for not giving up on us. Thank you for building this city up from the ground and finishing what you started. For giving it all you had and performing at the highest level the game of basketball has ever seen no matter what cats you had on your team.

You, Russell Westbrook, are the most under-appreciated athlete of all time. Because of you, we witnessed sheer and utter greatness. Thank you for not leaving us, for bringing people with you, and for bringing out the best in all of your teammates. We are forever better because of you.

Thank you, in your career, for staying true to yourself and to the Thunder. Thank you for teaching us how to be really good at not giving a [expletive] about what people think. You taught an entire state how to adapt to your situation, yet not change who you are. You are the epitome of confidence. You don’t have time for others opinions, you’re gonna go get it done (Go home, Mr. Embiid.) You’re a real one, one of the best to ever do it.

From the time you stepped on the court, people would find something to complain about every other week. Your shot selection, style of play, saying people can’t win with you. Well we know now, that people do everything in their power to hate on greatness. You didn’t deserve any hate and the people who got the chance to play with you make that known. Thank you for being you, Russell Westbrook.

When your pal Kevin Durant decided to take off, we were dead in the water. We were down for the count and the future looked so dark. Thunder fans were ready to call it quits until you did the most Russell Westbrook thing possible. You showed us how to be the greatest, and an underdog, at the same time. Loyalty in the NBA is just a word but through your actions, the fans of this wonderful city actually came to believe it meant something for once. Through everything that had just happened, you were a beacon of light and hope. You took on the challenge and revamped the city as a whole, giving us our hope back and bringing with you a positive outlook on the city. Your MVP season made fans scared to miss a game, because who wants to miss out on greatness. There is no doubt you are the greatest player to ever put on a Thunder jersey, next question.

Russell Westbrook is Oklahoma City and I cannot explain how weird these next couple of years will be. Thank you Russ, for giving a kid the chance to dream, and for being the reason I fell in love with the game of basketball. Watching you play brought so many life long lessons, and the chance to see one of the greatest NBA players of all time blossom right before my very own eyes. Thank you for igniting a fire in a state, its city, and most importantly its people.

What a crazy ride it’s been, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Thank you for being you, Russell Westbrook, you are – and forever will be – Oklahoma City. Go get yourself a damn ring, Brodie.

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Ross Lovelace