Russell Westbrook has played through a ton of injuries during his first five NBA seasons.
A torn meniscus will not be one of them.
Westbrook on Thursday, in his first public comments since undergoing season-ending knee surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee, removed any remaining doubt about whether he will return at any point during the Oklahoma City Thunder's postseason run.
“I want to compete,” said Westbrook, who had never missed a game prior to his injury. “I love playing. I want to play in every game as long as I'm able to and able to walk. But this time I wasn't able to walk and run like I was supposed to.”
Westbrook underwent surgery on Saturday, April 27 in Colorado to repair his meniscus, and the team announced then that he would miss the remainder of the playoffs.
Los Angeles Lakers forward Metta World Peace late in the regular season underwent a similar procedure and returned to the court just 12 days after undergoing surgery. His recovery created optimism that Westbrook would be able to make a similar comeback.
The difference is World Peace had his meniscus removed, which limited the healing process, while Westbrook's meniscus was repaired, a method that calls for a longer recovery timetable.
Westbrook's leg is still immobilized by a brace, and he continues to walk with the aid of crutches, which he was told following surgery that he would need for up to five weeks.
After discussing his injury with the medical staff, Westbrook said it became clear that returning to the court this season would not be an option.
His adrenaline and competitive juices, Westbrook said, are what allowed him to play the entire second half of Game 2 of the Thunder's first round series against Houston after the injury occurred with 5:36 remaining in the second quarter.
“When I was playing on it I was basically playing on one leg, kind of just hobbling around,” Westbrook said. “You probably could notice, but kind of just hobbling around just trying to find a way where I can do what I can to help my team win. And at the same time I was in pain.”
Westbrook said he's seen the controversial play that resulted in his injury, but declined to express his opinion of whether Rockets guard Patrick Beverley took a cheap shot at him when he lunged at the ball while Westbrook was asking for a timeout.
“I've seen it numerous times,” Westbrook said. “That's really something I can't answer. I just hope it wasn't a dirty play. But just moving forward I'm just going to do better, rehab and try to come back better.”
Westbrook has watched home games from a suite inside Chesapeake Energy Arena, a location that is more conducive than the team's bench to allowing him room to spread out and stretch his leg. He also continues to attend practices when the team is at home. Westbrook said he still isn't sure when he might be able to sit on the bench or travel to away games. But along with rehabbing, Westbrook said his primary focus is helping the team in any way possible.
“As a point guard and a leader of this team my job is to find a way where I can help my teammates, the coaching staff and the organization,” Westbrook said. “They've been a big supporter of me. And my job is to give it back. Help them out as much as I can and give my input.”
Westbrook said being forced to watch has given him a different perspective. For the first time in his career, he's now able to study the game from as an onlooker and see things he might not have been able to recognize in the heat of battle.
“I may sit out for a few minutes here and there. But to kind of sit back and watch a whole game when I'm not playing is different,” Westbrook said. “This is my first time doing it, and it's something that can help me; to see some of the things that maybe you guys see or somebody may see. The crazy shots I shoot or the time and possession (laughs), you can kind of see different things. So I think it's good for me.”
In spite of the setback, Westbrook seemed to be in good spirits.
He had a peace to him as he spoke with extreme confidence about his ability to return better than ever and expressed every bit as much faith in the team's championship chances without him.
“We have a tough group of guys,” Westbrook said. “We're finding a way to win games. The group of guys we have, I think we have enough to get a ring. I honestly think we've been together long enough to be able to figure things out when guys go down. You can see that.”