By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
After a full month stuck in the gloom of Kevin Durant’s departure to California, Thunder fans finally saw the sunshine Thursday afternoon.
“There is nowhere else I'd rather be than Oklahoma City,” Russell Westbrook said during a packed news conference announcing a three year contract extension.
“You guys have basically kind of raised me,” he added. “I've been here since I was 18, 19 years old. You did nothing but great things for me. Through the good and the bad you supported me through it all. I appreciate it. Definitely want the opportunity to be loyal to you guys. Thank you, guys. I appreciate everything.”
Hundreds of Thunder fans had gathered outside Chesapeake Energy Arena to welcome Westbrook back to the only home arena he’s known in the NBA. They watched a live feed of his news conference on the giant video board hanging on the side of the arena and they hung on every word, cheering and chanting Rus-sell, Rus-sell, Rus-sell.
Westbrook was clearly touched by the outpouring of love from the fans.
“It's a blessing, man. I can't even tell you, growing up the inner city of Los Angeles that I'd be standing here, get out of car, see 1500 people outside, you inside, people clapping for me. People I don't even know. It's so difficult for me to explain because I've never been in this situation. I never take it for granted. Nothing but blessings. I'm going to continue to go out and give it all I've got every single night. That's all I can do, just be thankful to be here in Oklahoma City.”
Westbrook signed his extension exactly one month after his former teammate left the Thunder. There wasn’t much of a goodbye from Durant and Westbrook said he didn’t get any more of a heads up from the one-time face of the Thunder franchise than anyone else did.
“Like y'all found out, on the news, on the cell phones, the social media. I talked to Kevin early on in the process. But nothing after. Just a text message from him, that's about it.”
Westbrook kept his comments about KD classy. No criticism of the decision, no sharp words. Even said he thought they were still friends.
“We've been together eight years. You don't throw that away,” Russ said. “Obviously he's now with a new team. But we definitely will talk eventually. But obviously now we haven't.”
But Westbrook certainly isn’t the kind of guy to waste a bunch of time reminiscing. After Durant’s departure the first time Westbrook sat down with Thunder GM Sam Presti he asked, “What’s next?”
A clear signal he was ready to move forward with the Thunder instead of jumping off what was perceived by some to be a sinking ship.
“To me, that's just my mentality: what's the next thing we need to do to help our team win. That's all I'm worried about is to find ways to come in and figure out ways to make the team become a great organization.”
And as far as Westbrook is concerned, at least from what he said at Thursday’s news conference, there’s no better place to be than OKC. He doesn’t seem tempted by other places, different teams. Not even to play in front of his hometown fans in Los Angeles.
“I love where I live,” he said. “People ask me all the time, Why do you love Oklahoma City? I say, The people. You guys are the nicest people I've ever been around. I'm not just saying that because I'm here. Just to be able to be around and walk around. Everywhere I walk around, nobody has never said anything to me negatively. Everything is always positive. Always great encouragement. That's what I like to be around. I like to be where I'm loved, where I'm wanted.”
And there’s no question he’s both loved and wanted in Oklahoma City and by the Thunder, especially now.
“I think his commitment and confidence is telling about him as a person,” Presti said. “At the same time we've known him for eight years. As excited as I am, I'm also grateful because you have an opportunity for a legacy player to put his stamp on continuing with the organization.”
And for Westbrook, as soon as Durant turned down a chance to stay and the Thunder brought up the possibility of an extension there really wasn’t much to think about.
“There's no need to wait if you know where you want to be,” Westbrook said in typical no-nonsense, no b.s. fashion. “There's no need to waste time. I'm a straightforward type of guy. I shoot you straight. No need to go back and forth and try to figure out any other options, create this hoopla, rumors and all this stuff. This is where I want to be.”