OKLAHOMA CITY -- Michael Jordan praised Russell Westbrook for his "sense of loyalty" in his speech inducting the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame Thursday in Oklahoma City.
"Another thing you guys should be proud of is the sense of loyalty this kid has shown," Jordan said as the crowd burst into an extended cheer.
"He could've easily come to Charlotte," Jordan said, smiling, "But he decided to stay here in Oklahoma. I'm not here to try and bash anybody that's not here. Everybody has a choice. I'm not saying everybody doesn't have a choice. But when I saw he chose to stay in Oklahoma I was so proud, and as Clay [Bennett] knows and Russ know, I texted him to show a sense of respect."
One year ago the Thunder organization gathered in Tulsa to induct Durant into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. Westbrook was his presenter. At the end of his speech, Durant said, "Hopefully we'll be here next year for Russell Westbrook's induction."
Durant was not in attendance.
Westbrook focused his speech speaking on unity and the current social climate.
"After witnessing the divisions and the challenges of our nation we have been facing for the past several months, I've realized this honor's not about me nor about the people in this room," Westbrook said in front of a crowd of about 1,500. "Oklahoma is an unbelievable community. I'm so appreciative of the fact that the people of Oklahoma have been so supportive of welcoming my family and I. However, I feel there's always room to grow. I can be better, you can be better and we can be better together."
Westbrook is a face of Jordan Brand, but also a player Jordan has specifically mentioned as someone he admires. Westbrook said when he found out he was selected, he had a list of people he wanted to induct him and that Jordan "responded right away."
"When Russell asked me to be a presenter, I didn't even pause because of the relationship and the respect that I have for Clay [Bennett] and obviously the respect that I have for Russell," Jordan said. "I'm truly a fan of his. If you can ever say, being that we're so many years apart, that I can now watch him play, I see a lot of resemblance in his passion for the game of basketball in the way I play the game of basketball."
Following the extension in August, Jordan complimented Westbrook, saying "thirty years ago, that's me."
"[Jordan's] a guy if he respects you and the things that you do, he took time out of his day to come all the way to Oklahoma City to do this for me," Westbrook said. "Which is an amazing honor."
"Michael's obviously the best player to play the game," Westbrook said. "He's done so many things for the game of basketball in so many ways and broke down so many barriers for guys like myself to go out and compete at a high level. So it means a lot in that aspect. And off the court obviously he's created a great brand, something I eventually want to do when I'm done playing."
With Jordan willingly offering comparisons, Westbrook was asked about how he sees himself with regards to Jordan.
"It's hard to compare yourself to the greatest that's ever played the game," Westbrook said.
Westbrook was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics in 2008 and -- along with Nick Collison -- is one of only two remaining players that relocated with the team to Oklahoma City. He has been committed to charitable efforts in Oklahoma City, from opening "Russell's Reading Rooms" in multiple elementary schools to serving hundreds of meals for each Thanksgiving. In 2015, he received the NBA's Community Assist award.
"[H]is passion for the game of basketball, you don't teach that. You're born with that," Jordan said. "He shares it with everyone here in Oklahoma. You guys should be certainly proud of that, and the effort and the loyalty he's showed to this state, to this city and this community. Each and every day he's goes out with his Why Not? campaign and his foundation to make sure less fortunate kids get the opportunity to participate in things they'd never even have the opportunity to participate in. He does a great job supporting this community. Feel proud about Russell Westbrook."