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Westbrook returns to OKC: ‘Felt like I was home’

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder had never before played a tribute video for the return of a former player. But Russell Westbrook is certainly unique.

The video played before the Houston Rockets‘ starting lineup was introduced Thursday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Deafening cheers and a familiar chant drowned out the introductions of the rest of the Rockets’ starters.

“MVP! MVP! MVP!” the fans roared after Westbrook sprinted from the Rockets’ bench to the opposite sideline, gestured toward the crowd and then held one finger up in the air as his Houston teammates surrounded him near the free throw line.

The cheers from the sellout crowd began even before the tribute video, which featured a variety of Westbrook highlights, fiery on-court celebrations, clips of his community involvement, memorable Instagram posts and famous quotes from his remarkable run as the Thunder’s point guard.

Westbrook also followed his former routine as he stepped onto the floor for the opening tip, dapping up the Thunder employees at the scorer’s table before firing an imaginary arrow into the upper deck and sprinting to the corner, and he worked the crowd into a frenzy again.

The Thunder and the franchise’s fans also gave Paul George a warm welcome when he returned to Oklahoma City with the LA Clippers earlier this season, showing pictures of him on the arena big screens as the crowd applauded. It was a stark contrast to the venomous atmosphere for Kevin Durant‘s return with the Golden State Warriors.

The reception for George, who pushed for a trade to the Clippers after two years in Oklahoma City, was polite. The reception for Westbrook, whose ensuing trade to Houston for Chris Paul and future first-round picks was more of a mutual decision, was passionate.

Westbrook walked into the arena as a visitor for the first time wearing a black T-shirt that read “ZERO REGRETS” across the chest. On the back, there was a list of statistics from his Oklahoma City tenure, with “1 TEAM” at the top, his Thunder totals of 11 seasons, 821 games, 28,330 minutes, 18,859 points, 6,897 assists, 5,760 rebounds, 138 triple-doubles, eight All-Star appearances, one MVP and “0 REGRETS” circled at the bottom.

Those same phrases and statistics were on the special edition Jordan WhyNot Zer0.3 shoes Westbrook wore during the game. The shoes were black and accented by the Thunder’s orange and blue and also had “THANK YOU” among the lettering.

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