Michael Jordan inducts Westbrook into Oklahoma Hall of Fame
On Thursday night at the Cox Convention Center, the Oklahoma Hall of Fame welcomed six new members in an event highlighted by Thunder guard Russell Westbrook's induction.
Westbrook was inducted along with Gen. Rita Bly Aragon, lawyer Michael Burrage, businessman Dan Dillingham, sports broadcaster Becky Dixon, and actress/singer Kelli O'Hara.
O'Hara, the first inductee of the night, said she didn't want anyone to be jealous she was getting inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. She wanted them to be jealous she was sitting at the same table as Westbrook and Michael Jordan.
“The thing about him that very few basketball players have is his passion for the game of basketball,” Jordan said. “Every time I play the game of basketball and I stepped onto the 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. To me, that's a sense of respect for the game of basketball.”
The night consistently circled back to the Thunder star and his mega-star presenter, who sat by Westbrook's side at a table front and center at the event. Surrounded by Thunder staffers and all of his teammates, Westbrook wore a tapered black tuxedo and spoke in reverential tones about his inductor.
When Westbrook knew he was going into the Hall of Fame, he and his group started thinking of candidates. He selected Jordan, who “responded right away.”
Westbrook had the opportunity to induct former teammate Kevin Durant into the Hall last year. Durant predicted Westbrook would be back in 2016, this time as an honoree.
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Westbrook's speech Thursday was primarily focused not on the night, but looking ahead. While Westbrook said he was “honored and humbled” to be considered for the Hall, and he lauded his appreciation for the Oklahoma community, his message went beyond his induction.
“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 be nor (is it) about the people in this room,” Westbrook said. “This evening, I challenge each of you to join me in being productive citizens seeking to bring hope and healing to every community.
“Regardless of our backgrounds and our upbringing, we can work together to impact lives of every young person in this state and across this nation.”
Jordan, the owner of the Charlotte Hornets, said he tried to trade up to get Westbrook in the 2008 NBA Draft. Throughout the night, he also continually touched on Westbrook's loyalty to Oklahoma.
“I think another thing you guys should be proud of is the sense of loyalty this kid's shown,” Jordan said, which drew the loudest ovation of the night, then joked that Westbrook could have come to play for his Hornets. “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. When I saw he chose to stay in Oklahoma, I was so proud. As Clay (Bennett) knows, as Russ knows, I texted him to show a sense of respect, because you guys have a very, very special kid.”
Hall started in 1928
It was the 89th class formally inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. Counting Thursday night, the Hall has inducted 683 individuals since 1928.
Aragon, who was the first woman in Oklahoma to command a unit, a base and the entire Oklahoma Air National Guard, was introduced by former Oklahoma Secretary of Tourism and Recreation Jane Jayroe Gamble.
Aragon retired from the military as one of few two-star generals. She's worked the past six years in Governor Mary Fallin's cabinet for the State of Oklahoma's Veterans Department.
Aragon was “completely overwhelmed” by the honor on Thursday.
“This is something a little country girl from Dale, Oklahoma, never dreamed of,” Aragon said. “The class that we have is an outstanding group of people and I'm honor to be with them. This is the creme de la creme, the highest honor our state gives and I'm very excited about it.”
Burrage was introduced next by fellow Oklahoma Hall of Famer Molly Shi Boren, the wife of former Oklahoma governor and current OU President David Boren.
Burrage, who was nominated to the position of United States District Judge by President Bill Clinton in 1994 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate the same year. He was the first Native American Federal Judge in U.S. history.
“I couldn't be prouder of his professional achievements,” said Molly Shi Boren of her law school classmate at OU, describing Burrage as “the quiet philanthropist.” “But Mike never shares with anyone, including his own family, what he does for others. God only knows how many have been the beneficiaries of Mike's generosity.”
“Back in 1971 when I was in law school, I could not imagine being on this stage,” Burrage said. “It goes to show Oklahoma offers opportunities to everyone.”
Theodore M. Elam introduced Dillingham, a private businessman and Enid native who's found success in the insurance, ranching and oil industries.
Dillingham was 12 in 1947 when his grandfather, Dan Luther Edwards, was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. He remembers.
“The whole family had a good work ethic and a fairness,” said Dillingham, who cites empathy and work ethic as the two biggest traits he's learned growing up in Oklahoma. “I'd hope a stranger would say that.
“Sometimes it's easier to go to the ball game than dig into things, but you need to.”
Dixon was introduced by blogger, New York Times bestselling author and Bartlesville native Ree Drummond. Dixon, a Tulsa native, was the first woman to host a network sports show, teaming up with Frank Gifford on ABC's Wide World of Sports. She's also broadcast high profile sporting events such as the Super Bowl and Olympic Games.
Dixon actually aspired to become a teacher, but decided she'd like to try television.
“I looked at the crowded field in news and the unfulfilled niche in sports broadcasting and I said ‘why not?,” Dixon said.
Growing up on a ranch in Northeast Oklahoma, Dixon said the lessons learned there set her up for a successful career. She still goes back every chance she gets, but her brother playfully asked that she “probably not help anymore.”
“My father had a fabulous work ethic and he demanded that of all his children,” Dixon said. “We were his hired hands, more or less, ending each day with a job well done. I think back to my days on the ranch and how we'd get through each day by working hard.”
O'Hara, the Oklahoma City University graduate, has starred in nine Broadway musicals. The 2015 Tony Award recipient for Best Leading Actress in a Musical in “The King and I” was presented by her father, Patrick.
“Kelli grew up on a farm in Elk City and her bond and relationship with Oklahoma agriculture started very early in her life,” Patrick said. “Kelli hated to leave home and family, but New York City called.
“What you might not know about Kelli is how tirelessly she works for the causes near and dear to her heart. Kelli is still the down-to-earth and beautiful lady she grew to be in Oklahoma.”