Michael Jordan took a veiled jab at Kevin Durant while serving as presenter at Russell Westbrook's induction into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.
The former Chicago Bulls star and current owner of the Charlotte Hornets was invited by Oklahoma City Thunder owner Clay Bennett to speak about Westbrook, who a year earlier had filled the same role for Durant during his induction.
Westbrook was hardly going to ask Durant to return the favour after his long-time teammate's departure for the Golden State Warriors, but Jordan wasn't a bad back up option and His Airness pandered to the crowd by praising Westbrook's loyalty.
"When Clay asked me, it was a privilege," Jordan said. "I didn't even pause, because of the relationship and the respect I have for Clay, and obviously the respect I have for Russell. I am truly a fan of his. If you can ever say, being that we're so many years apart, that when I watch him play, I see a lot of resemblance of his passion for the game of basketball (to) the way I played the game of basketball.
"I can't say enough about this gentleman. I've looked at him from afar. I've had countless conversations with (Thunder general manager) Sam (Presti). I remember the conversation that we had when you guys were about to draft him and I was trying to move up in the draft to get him, which you knew, which you wouldn't even consider. But the thing about him that very few basketball players have is his passion for the game of basketball. Every time I played the game of basketball, when I stepped onto that floor, I always felt like there was someone there that never saw me play the game of basketball, and that motivated me every single night. This kid has the same passion, and you can't give that."
"Another thing you guys should be proud about is the sense of loyalty that this kid has shown to the state of Oklahoma," added Jordan, to applause from the audience. "He could've easily come to Charlotte, but he decided to stay here in Oklahoma. I'm not here to try to bash anyone that's not here. Everybody has a choice. I'm not saying that you don't have a choice. Everybody has a choice. And when I saw that he chose to stay here in Oklahoma, I was so proud ... I text him to show a sense of respect. You guys have a very special kid."
Westbrook is a two-time All-Star MVP and was the 2014-15 scoring champion. Last season, he posted 18 triple-doubles. This season, he has three triple-doubles and is averaging a Jordan-esque 31.8 points per game.
Even with all that, Westbrook declined when asked to compare himself to Jordan, instead focusing on how fortunate he feels to have built a relationship with him.
"Michael's obviously the best that ever played the game," Westbrook said. "He's done so many things for the game of basketball, so many ways and broken so many barriers for guys like myself to be able to go out and compete at a high level, so it means a lot in that aspect. Off the court, he's carried a great brand. It's something I eventually want to do when I'm done."
Westbrook wasn't interested in using his speech to give anymore oxygen to the Durant issue, instead making a political statement. "After witnessing the divisions and the challenges of our nation we have been facing over the past several months, I've realised this honour is not about me nor is it about the people in this room," Westbrook said.
"Oklahoma is an unbelievable community. I am so appreciative of the fact that the people of Oklahoma have been so supportive of welcoming my family.
"However, I feel there is always room to grow. I can be better, you can be better, and we can be better together. I'm honoured to be a part of this Hall of Fame, but I am one of few. Our state is made up of unbelievable, talented individuals, and I look forward to celebrating them no matter their race, gender or creed."
Westbrook paused as a predominantly white crowd broke into applause. "I accept this award," he continued. "For all the young kids who are told because of the colour of their skin, where they come from or what talent they don't have, they somehow can't achieve."