The All-Star point guard, sidelined for the past six months with a knee injury, was set to return to the Oklahoma City Thunder lineup for Sunday night's home game against the Phoenix Suns, weeks earlier than expected. Westbrook was slated to start instead of easing back into action.
"Rehab is a tough process," Westbrook said. "I'm going to continue to rehab throughout the season, before the game, whatever I need to do to stay healthy throughout the year. It's a tough process, but I'm thankful for . everybody that supported me throughout the process.
"I'm just happy to be back on the floor."
Before Sunday, Westbrook hadn't played since tearing the lateral meniscus in his right knee during the second game of the NBA playoffs last April. The injury occurred when Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley banged knees with him while going for a steal after Westbrook had stopped to call a timeout.
Westbrook underwent an initial surgery for the injury on April 27. He underwent another surgery on Oct. 1 to remove a loose stitch from the first procedure. At the time, the Thunder said he would miss the first four to six weeks of the regular season. Under that timetable, Westbrook could have been out for as many as 22 games.
Instead, he missed only two games - a win at Utah on Wednesday and a loss at Minnesota on Friday.
"I don't know who made that up in the first place," he said. "I was never on that timeline at all. I was just taking it day by day and going one day at a time until I was ready to play."
Thunder General Manager Sam Presti called Westbrook's rehabilitation process "methodical" and said it "has been instrumental in getting Russell to this point." Presti said the process included physical and medical benchmarks, the final one being "unrestricted basketball activity."
Presti said the team, doctors, Westbrook's representatives and Westbrook all agreed "that returning to play was the correct next step." Thunder coach Scott Brooks said the team found out late Saturday that Westbrook would be able to play Sunday.
Asked if he thought he might be a bit rusty after such a long layoff, Westbrook replied, "I expect to win. I just expect to go out there and play hard, have fun with my teammates and try to win.
"It's going to be a little different, to get back in the groove of things, find a rhythm, whatever it may be. But we'll take it day by day and try to get it together."