Eleven days after the news of a trade between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Indiana Pacers stunned the basketball world, and five days after Indiana officially dealt Paul George to OKC, Thunder fans gathered en masse at the local airport to welcome their second superstar to his new home:
George, widely considered a top-15 player in the NBA, joins Russell Westbrook and Co. a little over a year after these same fans were let down by Kevin Durant, who left Oklahoma City after nine seasons to join the Golden State Warriors.
Thunder fans were passionate during the KD era — they remained passionate (and wounded, and angry) in one year without Durant — and they wanted to put that passion on display for George as he arrived to help vault their team back into the Western Conference’s top tier.
George was probably expecting this kind of reception, though, after a conversation he had with Durant about the team and the city. He relayed part of that conversation to Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins:
“KD was like, ‘That place will blow you away,’” George says. “He told me, ‘They can offer what other teams can’t in terms of the people and the preparation and the facility, down to the chefs and the meals.’ He was pretty high on them. He thought it was a first-class organization in every way.”
The fans showed up hours before George’s arrival to get their spot behind the chain link fence:
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) July 11, 2017
They then chanted George’s initials — P-G! — as he walked toward the fence. He did the best he could to give high fives through the fence as the chants and cheering continued.
This might as well have been Oklahoma City’s first recruiting pitch to George. Although he has just been acquired, George will be a free agent next summer, and rumors have suggested he will likely jet off to Los Angeles to join the Lakers (George calls the rumors “overstated”). The Thunder, their fans and the city will do everything in their power over the next 11-plus months to convince George to re-sign with them next summer. This hero’s welcome certainly can’t hurt.
George will be officially introduced as a Thunder player at a news conference on Wednesday night.