Russell Westbrook may not play for the Oklahoma City Thunder anymore, but he will always be remembered as the player who stayed. After Kevin Durant left to join the Golden State Warriors and form a superteam, Westbrook signed multiple extensions to remain in Oklahoma City. He won an MVP award, recruited players to join him with the Thunder, and became the first true professional sports icon in a state historically dominated by college stars, usually on the football field. Even when he left, he did so only after Paul George's trade request made his presence counterproductive for both sides. Unlike Durant, Westbrook left on good terms.
With the Thunder wanting to rebuild and Westbrook wanting to contend, the team granted his wish and sent him to the Houston Rockets to play alongside former OKC teammate James Harden. Now Westbrook has returned to Chesapeake Energy Arena for the first time in a Rockets uniform, but no matter what colors he is wearing, Thunder fans will always treat him as one of their own. After a touching tribute video thanking him for his decade with the team, Westbrook earned raucous applause from the Oklahoma City crowd.
Westbrook was visibly touched by the tribute, smiling ear to ear as he watched it. To most of the country, he is arguably the most controversial player in the NBA. But his approval rating in Oklahoma City will always be 100 percent.
Ironically, Oklahoma City has become a playoff contender in Westbrook's absence. After a slow start, they are 16-6 in their past 22 games and rapidly climbing the Western Conference ladder. They trailed the Rockets by only 4.5 games in the standings entering Thursday, and after acquiring eight extra first-round picks this offseason, their future looks incredibly bright. With the Rockets currently owning the No. 3 seed in the West, their present looks just as promising.
The Westbrook trade worked out for both sides, and as this video proves, there is no bad blood after the way things ended this offseason. No matter where he plays, Westbrook will always be a Thunder legend, and the fans proved that definitively tonight.