The 2020-21 Wizards season has featured the unlikely reunion of head coach Scott Brooks and point guard Russell Westbrook, two key pieces of those great Oklahoma City Thunder teams of yesteryear, including the squad that went all the way to the NBA Finals in 2012. On Friday night, they returned to OKC as visitors, together for the first time.
Both Brooks and Westbrook have gone back as opponents before with their respective teams; Brooks as coach of the Wizards and Westbrook last year as a member of the Rockets. But Friday they were set to team up against the franchise they called home together for seven years.
"He’s obviously a big part of the success that this organization has had," Brooks said. "I remember watching that game last year when he came back into town when he was playing with the Rockets. It was really cool to see all the 19,000 people just giving him what he deserves. It kind of pissed me off a little bit because I thought his welcome back was much better than mine. I was a little disappointed in Loud City."
Brooks, of course, was joking with that last line. He got a warm welcome in 2016, his first game coaching in Oklahoma City while with the Wizards. But Brooks also knows it's hard for anyone to measure up to the impact Westbrook made on the Thunder franchise.
Westbrook was selected fourth overall in the 2008 NBA Draft by the then-Seattle Supersonics right as they were moving to Oklahoma where he would play as a rookie in their first year as the Thunder. Westbrook would go on to become a league MVP, lead the league in scoring and become the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double, all in a OKC uniform.
Westbrook developed a deep connection to the city with his charity work and seemed to embrace the role as a superstar in a small market.
"He’s done and he does so much for the community here. He was so big. Now having him back with me now, we reminisce all the time about all the good things that we had here and we did here," Brooks said.
"He’ll share a story with me that I kind of forgot and we’ll just feel good about it. And obviously, vice versa with him. We had good things, a lot of good memories here. It’s too bad we don’t have fans tonight. I would have loved to see it firsthand, him back with a soldout building."
The first time Westbrook returned to play the Thunder as a visitor, his Houston Rockets lost by 21 points. Perhaps he has better luck on Friday night.