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August 4, 2016

Russell Westbrook

Sam Presti

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

SAM PRESTI: Just before we get started and I turn it over to Russell, I just want to welcome Russell's family here today. I think everybody is very familiar with Russell's family, his father, brother Raynard, Russell's long time agent. We also have some people representing some of the reading rooms that Russell has put in the community. They've joined us here today, as well as some folks from the Boys and Girls Club that he runs his Thanksgiving and Christmas events out of. They're sprinkled amongst us.


SAM PRESTI: I just think it's a great representation of the roots that have been put down here by Russell and his family. They accompany him in a lot of these different things, his camps and things of that nature. So it's wonderful they can be here.

Before I pass it over to Russell, the thing I just want to stress and say is, obviously an incredible opportunity to have a player like Russell Westbrook in your organization, not just as a player, we've all seen that evolution, but also has a human being and a leader. He's I think become synonymous with the Thunder but also the city and the spirit of the city.

We're just overjoyed that he's going to continue his career and his legacy with the Thunder. It's a wonderful day for the city, a great day for his family, and we should celebrate it.

Congratulations, Russ.

RUSSELL WESTBROOK: Appreciate it. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

First and foremost, I'd like to thank God. I'm a very, very blessed human being. I never take that for granted, for one. I definitely thank Him first. I thank all my family and friends. My dad is here, my brother, my agent. My mom and wife couldn't make it, but big thanks to them as well. Thanks to the organization, Mr. Bennett, Sam, thank you for believing in me, believing in the things I'm able to do.

I thank all the fans. The fans are unbelievable to me. They mean so much to me, what I believe in, who I am, the player I've become to this day. I'm very thankful for that as well.

Thank you to all the people that work inside the organization in the front office, back office, side office, wherever it is that you work, I appreciate everything you guys do. That goes unnoticed, and I appreciate all that.

Obviously me being able to come back here is a true blessing. There is nowhere else I'd rather be than Oklahoma City. You guys have basically kind of raised me. 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.

SAM PRESTI: Questions.

Q. KD's decision to leave, how did that impact anything in your decision?
RUSSELL WESTBROOK: Obviously with Kevin going, it opened up a few things for me in different ways. Me being able to see the team we have, the guys we have, the fans, the support, I felt like this is the best place for me and the best team. I love being here. This is the place I wanted to be.

Q. Why was now the right time to do the extension?
RUSSELL WESTBROOK: Just a gift. The city, the people around here, myself. There's no need to wait if you know where you want to be. 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, and that's what I made the decision based on.

Q. This is a franchise that believed in you all along, drafted you, put you in that point guard position. Was that a thought at all in your mind, that they believed in you, and you wanted to reciprocate and believe in them?
RUSSELL WESTBROOK: It was a lot of things that came into play. It really comes down to being around the guys and the people in the organization. I love my teammates. They go to battle every single night. The group of guys we have, I'm looking forward to playing with them, continue great things for Oklahoma City.

Obviously the organization has done nothing but great things for me and my family. I can do nothing but respect that and go out every night and compete at a high level.

Q. (No microphone.)
RUSSELL WESTBROOK: 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.

Q. (No microphone.)
RUSSELL WESTBROOK: 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.

Q. Kevin said he doesn't know if your relationship will ever be the same. Do you still consider him a friend and how do you see that relationship?
RUSSELL WESTBROOK: We've been together eight years. You don't throw that away. Obviously he's now with a new team. But we definitely will talk eventually. But obviously now we haven't.

My job now is to worry about what's in front of me, and that's the Oklahoma City Thunder, my guys on the team, focus on how we can get better as a team.

Q. How did this extension come together? Were you approached before Kevin's free agency or after?
RUSSELL WESTBROOK: Obviously, the situation, it's kind of unique. If Kevin signed here, we wouldn't have the opportunity to do different things. Obviously with him leaving, it created a door for me to be able to extend.

I'm a straightforward guy. When an opportunity presents itself, if I want to be somewhere, that's where I'm going to be.

Q. What does it say about your thoughts on head coach Billy Donovan? Was he out in California some when you were and Victor were working out?
RUSSELL WESTBROOK: Definitely, man. Coach has been great through the whole process. He's been great since he's been here of helping me become a better player and a better person, as well. He definitely was out in L.A. to come out and support. That's the type of thing he does that goes unnoticed. That's what makes him a great coach.

Q. Sam, can you talk about the significance of this day for the franchise, the stabilizing nature of a deal like this.
SAM PRESTI: Sure. I think, obviously, it's tremendous for us. One, that he's been a part of the organization. He knows the city, the community. He knows what it's like to play on the court outside, behind us I should say.

I think his commitment and confidence is telling about him as a person. 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.

I think his spirit, his competitiveness, aside from being a great player... I've seen him play for eight years and I've never seen him take a night off. If you can have that, that's an incredible thing. That's why he's always been such a key part to the resiliency that the Thunder have become known for. We've been knocked around a little bit, had some tough times, circumstances, but he's the propulsive force behind each day when you come back in.

I really believe he lives what he says. He really believes in not only himself, but I think he raises the belief of the people around him, as well.

Q. (No microphone.)
RUSSELL WESTBROOK: Same thing I always been doing. I've been able to find ways to lead the guys we have now. For me it's nothing different. Honestly, man, I wake up every day and try to find ways to help my teammates, help them get better. That's what I'm going to continue to do with the team we have now.

Q. (No microphone.)
RUSSELL WESTBROOK: I love it, man. All great guys, all good guys coming to work. Want to win. Great team, these Thunder guys. That's the most important part, to have a group of guys that want to win and want to work. That's all we can ask for.

Q. Russell, you've had a great career, but you've sort of shared the spotlight with Kevin as the face of the franchise all this time. Now he's gone. This is your franchise in terms of players. Does that feel different, especially walking in today? The responsibility, what goes with that, does that feel any different?
RUSSELL WESTBROOK: Honestly, I play the same way every single night regardless if I'm the guy, if I'm the next guy, if I'm the guy in the spotlight. That's just who I am.

Today is obviously a great moment for me and the fans and the city. But I also know what got me to this point, which is coming in every day and being consistent on what I'm doing, what I'm trying to do for this organization, for this team. That's to win a championship. The most important part for me is winning. If I'm the go-to guy or not, my job is to find ways to win.

Q. (No microphone.)
RUSSELL WESTBROOK: Definitely, man. Those were my guys, man. I love those two guys. I love all my teammates. Taking that into consideration was good, being able to be around the group of guys we have now is unbelievable. I love being around my teammates, I love hanging around those guys, I love going to war with them. There wouldn't be no other two big men I'd rather play with than those two guys.

Q. (No microphone.).
RUSSELL WESTBROOK: I have. I have. I love Enes. He is a funny guy. He gives you another side, so it's a great thing.

Q. Did the fact that not only did Kevin leave, but he went to Golden State, did it make it sting more?
RUSSELL WESTBROOK: Sting for who (smiling)?

Q. For you.
RUSSELL WESTBROOK: Listen, I understand free agency. I understand having the opportunity to go where we need to go. But once that happened, I told Sam, What's next? 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.

Q. Do you think your signing sends a message to the Thunder base and Oklahoma City and the state?
RUSSELL WESTBROOK: I love where I live. 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. Obviously this is a place for that.

Q. (No microphone.)
RUSSELL WESTBROOK: I'm not sure, man. Sam and Mr. Bennett in the front office do a great job of always putting players around Oklahoma City that needs to be here. I'm never worried about that. My job is to go out every night and compete at a high level and try to find a way to win games.

Q. For the last couple years you guys have been those teams at the top. What is your emotion about maybe being a team that chases a little bit but still has a lot of talent?
RUSSELL WESTBROOK: I love it. I love it, man. I think it's a great challenge, not just for myself, but for our whole team. I think just from talking to the guys throughout the summer, they understand that. They want to win. They want to get better.

A lot of these guys have been through a lot, on the road, at home, being up, being down. They understand what it takes to win. I wish the season started tomorrow honestly so we could get back and get out there.

I think the guys are ready and I'm looking forward to it.

Q. (No microphone.)
RUSSELL WESTBROOK: No. I just sit back and waited till it was my time to make the decision whatever it is I need to do. I mean, obviously, with Kevin leaving, the town was a little struck by it. But my job was to find out what was next, like I said, try to figure out what was the best situation for me to move forward, what's the best way for me to help this team, help this organization move forward.

Q. Sam, I got a text from the mayor asking me a question. Is the roster set for opening day or are there more moves to come?

Let me say two things about that actually. The first is, I've worked here for nine years now. This will be my ninth season. I think stuff like what you just expressed to me from the mayor, decision to the things they did today, I'm driving here, there's businesses and different establishments and have, Why not, things on their window. That's what makes playing here totally different, totally unique.

I would say today is one of the more remarkable days I've had since I've done this job just because of the way people have reacted to what Russell has chosen to do. He didn't have to do this. This is something he chose to do.

It's days like today that make you realize how fortunate you are to work or play in a place that appreciates the team and the players on a level. And you get questions from the mayor, as well, which makes working here great to me.

What I say is we're always looking to try to improve the team. That's been the case. The people that I work with, they're 365 days a year trying to find a way to make us an inch better. That has never changed, will never change.

I think we'll take a hard look at what the team looks like during the season. To Russ' point, I'm really excited about the year because I think we're going to continue to learn about our team. I have the utmost confidence in Russell's leadership ability, but he's gotten better every single season, and I think we're going to see continued growth and dimensions to his game. I think there's even more room for him to grow. You're going to see even a better player over time.

I've got equally as much confidence in Billy and the coaching staff to look for ways to evolve the way we prepare and approach the game. They've been as hard at work as anybody.

From a roster standpoint, my conversations with Russell, one thing I think you look at the team, there's a certain element of toughness. I think there's a certain edge to the team. We're probably not going to do it like everybody else. We never have. I think that's one of the reasons why we've really owned our own success, is because we haven't necessarily modeled ourselves after anybody or followed a certain playbook because that's the way everybody else has done it.

One of the things I see with the team being led by Russell is there's a competitiveness and I would say, like, a ferocity and physicality to us. We'll continue to look for ways to keep adding to the talent level.

Q. Russ, I know you're motivated to play every time you suit up. You're probably going to tell you you're going to feel no different about playing Golden State. Given the way that series ended, the player they picked up, how much will you relish stepping on the floor next season?
RUSSELL WESTBROOK: Do you want to say it or do you want me to say it?

Q. I'd rather you say it.
RUSSELL WESTBROOK: You know what I'm going to say.

Like I said before, no game is no bigger, no less, no player, no place. I stand behind that because I play every game like it's my last. I go out to compete regardless of who's on the floor, regardless of if we're playing Golden State, Philadelphia, Milwaukee. It doesn't matter to me. My job is to go out and compete for our team.

Q. You talked about how this is the place you want to be. Your contract technically is short-term in terms of what you've added on. Do you view this as a long-term move, you're planting your flag in Oklahoma City?
RUSSELL WESTBROOK: My job is to be able to find somewhere that I want to be and want to play with a group of guys. I figured this is the place where I want to be. Obviously with the contracts, all the CBA stuff, there's different ways you can do that. Me being able to have an opportunity to be able to extend and be here, that's what I wanted to do. I stand behind that.

Q. Sam, when Russell says, What's next? What is your initial feeling when you get that question from him?
SAM PRESTI: My initial feeling? I mean, my initial feeling is that this is Russell. He doesn't look back. He's always looking forward. I think there's a confidence that comes with Russell that I've seen for eight years. We sit at the end of the season in a hotel lobby or something, and the one thing about him is he's very direct. You don't need to interpret things with him.

When he's saying, What's next? He's thinking, How do we get better? To me, that was an indication of, like, it wasn't an inquiry, it was a unification. So that was right when we started talking about there is one option that we can look at. I knew it would come as kind of a surprise to him because it wasn't something that any of us had ever talked about. But the renegotiating an extension was possible.

I said, Here is one thing that could be next. I'd really like it to happen, by the way (laughter).

It was basically more like he's thinking forward. But, again, there's a component of leadership that's at play here that I don't think can be underestimated. This was not something, as I said before, he had to do or even needed to do, he did it because he wanted to do it. That's one of the things we talked about. I said, I want you to really want to do this.

He took it in, thought about it. When he said that to me, This is great, because these are the terms he thinks in. Nothing had changed. All the times we've been together, I don't think I've ever walked out a conversation with him thinking, I don't know where he stands, I don't know what he thinks, I don't know what he means. It was right down the middle, direct. I think he understood the gravity of his choice, of his decision.

We're thrilled with how he decided to move forward.


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