NEW YORK — Russell Westbrook had one last assist to dish out as he helped the NBA cap off the 2016-17 season at its very first awards show. As he delivered his nearly nine minute Most Valuable Player acceptance speech, Westbrook decided to hand off the notes he put together to his teammate Enes Kanter.
Westbrook had previously brought his teammates who were in attendance up on stage with him to acknowledge their impact on his record-shattering campaign. Kanter, Nick Collison, Taj Gibson, Victor Oladipo and Andre Roberson stood behind him as he delivered his remarks. When it came time for Westbrook to thank his family, he no longer needed his cue card. He turned and slipped the paper to Kanter, and by the time his big man stuffed it in his pocket, Westbrook was already nearly on the verge of tears.
He described the way his father, Russell Sr., worked two jobs and still managed to foster a dream of playing in the NBA. He noted his mother Shannon’s strong presence and ability to keep the family close. He recalled his brother Raynard’s meaningful halftime texting ritual that persists to this day and his wife Nina’s support and devotion in raising the couple’s son Noah.
“Hopefully when (Noah) starts talking he can say that I’m the Most Valuable Pop,” Westbrook chuckled later, MVP award in hand.
Back on stage, Westbrook was choked up, and gushed with his words. He displayed a very different emotional side of himself – not the fiery competitor on the floor, but the passionate son, brother and husband who puts it all on the floor every night not for the accolades, but to repay all that he owes to his family.
“They’ve sacrificed so much, their time and their lives to make sure that I have everything I need to be successful and go out and compete at a high level every night,” Westbrook explained. “The most important thing to me is to be able to keep your family together and they keep me together.”
Before concluding his speech with his sentiments towards his family, the grateful Westbrook had plenty of other thank-you’s to dole out. First he started with the Thunder – Chairman Clayton I. Bennett, General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti and Head Coach Billy Donovan first before listing all the different groups of people in the organization who make an impact on his life on and off the floor.
Westbrook also made sure to speak directly to the fans, particularly those in Oklahoma.
“I want to thank all the fans all across the world for supporting me throughout my career.” Westbrook said. “I want to give a special thanks to all the fans in Oklahoma City. You guys have been riding with me since Day One. You guys have been riding with me through good games and bad games and have always been lifting me up.”
After mentioning his own support team, he praised the guys who battled with him through thick and thin for 82 games and sacrificed for the betterment of the team, allowing Westbrook’s all-around talent to shine through. Every night, Westbrook put it all on the line to compete at a high level, and he leaned on his teammates as much as they leaned on him.
“I’m very, very thankful to have you guys in my corner,” Westbrook said to his teammates. “You guys are my brothers for life.”
It was only for brief, understated moments in his MVP acceptance speech that Westbrook even mentioned his play on the floor this past season. That level of humility is remarkable given the incredible statistical impact he had with the record-setting 42 triple-doubles, a league-leading 31.6 points per game and the triple-double average.
And oh by the way, Westbrook was a champion for the Thunder organization and its fans by signing a contract extension before the season. Not only did he steady the ship amidst massive, sweeping changes, but he also provided momentum for the organization heading into 2017-18.
The MVP award only magnifies that positive energy. As Thunder fans know, Westbrook only knows how to play, and how to train, one way. With all his heart.