Forty-five hundred Oklahomans filled the parking lot at Edmond North High School, in eager anticipation of the man who was due to stride across the stage in front of them. When Russell Westbrook emerged, there was an eruption: first, chants of “M-V-P!”, then shortly thereafter, “Loy-al-ty!”
On Sunday afternoon, prior to the 10th Annual Blue and White Scrimmage, the organization hosted ThunderFest with Russ, a joyous celebration of the Thunder point guard’s commitment to the team long-term. Last Friday, Westbrook inked a multi-year deal to stay with the Thunder, and on Sunday he explained the decision.
“I like where I’m at. I like to see the fans, and I enjoy where I play basketball, and obviously with the extension, it shows that,” Westbrook said.
Watch: The Scene
Since he was 18 years old, Westbrook has had the undying support of the Thunder faithful. Even when he was a rookie trying to find his way as a point guard, even when he went through the starts and stops of the growing process in his early years. All the way until now, the reigning MVP of the NBA. So in return, Westbrook has given everything he has to the Thunder and the people of Oklahoma City. His declaration of dedication on Friday was further proof of his gratitude.
“It’s just unbelievable. I’m truly honored and blessed,” Westbrook smiled. “It’s just something that you can’t make up. You can’t re-enact it. The people here, they’re genuine. They truly obviously love me and love the team, and they stay strong to that, and that’s something that you don’t find many places.”
After Westbrook addressed the crowd on stage, he went inside with his teammates to support them during the scrimmage. Westbrook did not participate, nor did Patrick Patterson or Alex Abrines as they recover from minor injuries, but Westbrook was in the thick of the action with both squads.
The White team featured newcomers Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and Raymond Felton, alongside Thunder stalwarts Steven Adams and Andre Roberson. Nick Collison, Terrance Ferguson and Semaj Christon rounded out the group. Meanwhile, Jerami Grant, Josh Huestis, Kylie Singler, Dakari Johnson, Daniel Hamilton and four training camp invitees competed for the Blue.
All told, it was an emphatic victory for the White squad, but Head Coach Billy Donovan wasn’t so concerned with the result as he was with how the team performed. There were glimpses of how productive and efficient the Thunder can be on both ends, but also some areas to clean up.
Watch: Blue-White Scrimmage Recap
“The guys did a really nice job,” Donovan said. “There’s a lot of things that we can learn from and get better form and really take a look at both offensively and defensively. It gives us a little bit more information.”
George was outrageously efficient during the first opportunity for fans to see him in a Thunder jersey. He shot 12-for-14 from the field including 6-for-8 from three for 30 points in just 21 minutes of action. His effectiveness was aided by the passing of those around him. Anthony finished with five assists and Adams added three more as the Thunder’s White squad played selflessly and for one another.
“Those guys really moved the ball very well. They extra passed it and skipped it,” Donovan noted.
The development of Adams as a ball mover could be a huge one for this Thunder squad as Donovan tries to get his team to attack the defense from both sides of the floor.
“Steven has the potential to be a really good passing big man. For him, he’s getting more and more comfortable in that role and that position.”
While there’s still plenty of x’s and o’s to be ironed out, the Thunder was pleased to put their players into the most extended period of scrimmage action that they’ve experienced thus far. With Tuesday’s preseason opener in Tulsa just 48 hours away, the more opportunities for the team to get on the court together in a competitive environment, the better.
Above all, the organization was proud to usher in its 10th season in Oklahoma with an annual tradition that always bonds the team and the community together. The positive spirit was in the air, the players and fans each brought the energy and once again, Thunder basketball brought people together.
“It’s such a great reflection on the community, the state of Oklahoma and Oklahoma City,” Donovan said. “The people are just incredibly supportive. Our guys really enjoy coming into these venues because it’s intimate and they get a chance to connect with a lot of the fans. We appreciate all the support and people coming out the way we do.”