On July 4th, 2016, Kevin Durant nearly broke Oklahoma City’s spirit.
Everyone was refreshing their phones that day to see where Durant would sign, but when “My Next Chapter” finally released, Thunder fans everywhere were confused.
What happens next? How long will the rebuild be? What’s our next chapter?
Russell Westbrook’s contract was about to expire, too. The Thunder seemed destined for a Russ trade and inevitable mediocrity.
But then, a tweet was sent.
On August 4th, Thunder fans woke up to a huge, vague–yet sentimental–message of loyalty from Russ. The same day, Westbrook signed a three-year $85.7 million contract extension with the Thunder (including a renegotiated max salary for that season).
While the Durant move itself was the “end” of the former Thunder era, this wordless tweet sticks out as the surge into the new age. In light of the month prior’s heartbreak, people were excited to see Russ excited.
And the possibilities were endless. We were about to enter the unknown– a Durant-less Thunder squad with Russ as the beloved one? This was an alternate reality. And because Westbrook was so loved at the time, people were excited beyond belief.
This tweet was reassurance that the Thunder weren’t done. Even if Russell Westbrook went 1 vs. 5 on the court every night, it didn’t matter. He was going to rage his way to the top of the league– no matter what it took.
And all it took was grit and a “why not?” attitude.
As you all know, Westbrook was worth every penny, turning in a historic MVP season that year and propelling the Thunder to a 47-35 record in a tough Western Conference. While this season was fantastic for Westbrook’s career and Oklahoma City’s appreciation of him, it’s what it did for the future that cannot be overstated: Westbrook’s re-signing and explosion with the Thunder that year changed the course of OKC’s history.
There’s a reason why Chris Paul is thriving with the Thunder, why Danilo Gallinari–who’s floor-spacing and defensive abilities could be used on literally any team in the NBA–is open to re-signing in OKC, and why Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is excited to excel here. It all goes back to Westbrook’s August 2016 tweet.
Westbrook showed that even in uncertainty, he wanted to stay in Oklahoma City. While the Thunder might not ever steal a big free agent signing away from Los Angeles or New York, they definitely know how to appreciate their players and make them want to re-sign–even when everything seems hopeless.