It will take time for Thunder to reload

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Daily, July 17, 2019
Adjust font size:
Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant talks with Russell Westbrook during Game 1 against Miami Heat at the NBA basketball finals in Oklahoma City, the United States, June 12, 2012. Thunder won 105-94. (Xinhua/Yang Lei)

Yosef Maaroof wanted one more Russell Westbrook memory in Oklahoma City.

When he learned last week that the Thunder planned to trade Westbrook to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul and draft picks, the 20-year-old Tulsa resident prepared to make the two-hour drive to Oklahoma City with friends.

They wanted to take videos and photos in front of the large images of Thunder players that adorn Chesapeake Energy Arena during the season, hoping Westbrook's photo would still be up when they arrived on Friday morning.

It wasn't, so Maaroof came up with a different tribute. In a video he posted on Twitter, he put on the Westbrook jerseys he's collected since 2012, took them off one by one and laid them side by side in front of the arena. He donned 18 jerseys in the video, which has been viewed more than 85,000 times.

Maaroof said Westbrook has always been his favorite player. And the next addition to his collection will be a Rockets jersey.

"He was never perfect, but just the emotion he showed - he was very relatable," Maaroof said. "He was the underdog. People have always just not appreciated him the way they should have."

With their emotional spark plug gone, the Thunder, as we knew them, are no more. Westbrook was the last remaining player from the team that moved from Seattle to Oklahoma City in 2008.

Kevin Durant, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Paul George and others, all gone. Now Westbrook.

He spent his entire 11-year career with the Thunder, despite earlier chances to leave. With Westbrook, the Thunder won at least 45 games for 10 straight years and reached the Western Conference Finals four times, including a run to the NBA Finals in 2012.

"It's a lot of heartbreak," Maaroof said as he recalled recent conversations with his friends. "Not to be dramatic, but it really feels like someone died. We're all 20 years old, so we all grew up with Russ, grew up with this team, pretty much through middle school, high school, now college."

Sure, Westbrook was a league MVP, two-time scoring champion and two-time All-Star MVP. Yes, he was a freakish athlete and triple-double threat every night. And against the odds, he evolved from perceived ball hog to two-time NBA assist leader.

But it goes beyond that for Thunder fans.

Westbrook is from the Los Angeles area, and with it came the flash and style one might expect. But he adopted Oklahoma City and supported the community with his reading rooms, basketball camps, comedy shows and his yearly Thanksgiving meal at the Boys and Girls Club.

The night everyone learned Westbrook was being dealt, he was at a comedy club in Tulsa for a benefit show.

"He's like the staple of the franchise," Tulsa comic Hynni B said. "He makes you want to stand up, he makes you want to have heart. You know where he came from, you know what he's doing for the community. It's hurtful to see him to leave."

Most of all, he'll be remembered as the one who had stayed. He signed an extension in 2016, then signed a long-term deal in 2017, forever endearing himself to OKC fans who felt burned by Durant's departure for rival Golden State.

"When he stuck it out, it was like bro, this is our leader," said Jerry Manna, a Tulsa resident at the comedy show. "This is our guy. After he did that, I didn't care what anybody said. I wasn't accepting no Westbrook slander. No sir."

Westbrook teamed up with Durant and Harden to introduce the Thunder as a league power early this decade. At their peak, the young trio led the franchise to the Finals seven years ago, a loss to the Miami Heat. Now, Westbrook will be reunited with Harden.

The run in Oklahoma City wasn't supposed to end yet, but George left first for the Los Angeles Clippers, opening the door for an earlier-than-expected reboot.

Thunder forward Jerami Grant was traded before Westbrook, and now OKC has added multiple first-round picks for its rebuilding project. It will take time and coach Billy Donovan will get plenty of chances to tinker with his lineup.

OKC hasn't been in this mode since the 2008-09 season, but mayor David Holt said it is time to embrace it. He notes that the same general manager who brought the success - Sam Presti - is still running the show.

And that offers a sliver of hope for aching Thunder fans.

Follow on Twitter and Facebook to join the conversation.
ChinaNews App Download
Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comment(s)

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Enter the words you see:   
    Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from