A white pocket square poked out of Paul George’s blue windowpane suit. Rested above it was a perfectly placed boutonniere. To the right, a grey striped tie over a white pressed dress shirt.
It was an ensemble primed for a men’s magazine photo shoot or a highly competitive Oklahoma City Thunder best-dressed contest. On Wednesday night, however, it was the perfect fit for a classy affair – the Thunder’s welcome party for its brand new All-Star small forward.
Thunder Chairman Clayton I. Bennett, General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti and many others helped roll out the red carpet for George upon his arrival to Oklahoma City over the past 36 hours. It started with his greeting at the airport on Tuesday afternoon, continued into his meetings with team personnel and was accentuated by the party held at the gorgeous, sparkling fresh Jones Assembly venue in the budding Film Row district of Oklahoma City.
“Anytime a player of this magnitude comes into a market, you’re going to try to welcome them and get them as acclimated as possible with the organization and the city and the community,” Presti said. “I think that’s a great strength. One of the reasons I think he’s going to enjoy playing here is the loyalty of the fans, the enthusiasm of our fans and their pride in the Thunder and Oklahoma in general. That’s a tremendous intrinsic advantage for us.”
“The strength of the organization has always been the people,” Presti noted. “Allowing any player to experience the humanity of the organization is really important.”
This whole week, George has been remarked about how he’s been blown away by the reception he’s gotten in Oklahoma City. Hundreds of Thunder fans and season ticket holders packed Jones Assembly to the gills on Wednesday night to cheer as George emerged on stage.
While in front of the adoring masses, he answered a few questions, hyped up the crowd and owned his status in a vital member of this Oklahoma City Thunder team, and the community at large. The energy from the people in town, both within the Thunder organization and within the city limits, has reverberated through George very quickly.
“It’s really been awesome. You can’t script this any other way. It’s been an unbelievable trip,” George gushed. “I’ve been wowed ever since I landed. This feels like home.”
“I felt – I don’t want to say this too soon – Oklahoman,” George said sheepishly. “I felt the passion behind it. I love the connection that I had. That’s something that can’t be replaced ever.”
The hype and magnificent celebration will be a fond memory come September’s training camp and October when the regular season begins. Then, questions won’t be conditional or hypothetical. The focus will be on the play inside those lines that happens for 48 minutes, 82 times. Over the years, George has identified what makes himself productive on the court, but what factors go into team success. He’s ready to apply that here in Oklahoma City to create a winning formula.
“I’ve just learned who I am as a player. I’ve gotten better every season that I’ve been in this league,” George explained. “You understand and you learn certain things, and apply it to the next year. Every season I go back and reflect and analyze what I could have done better. I address it immediately in the gym or the weight room, whatever it is.”
“Paul really wants to win. It’s important to him,” Head Coach Billy Donovan opined. “As a coach you have to do the best job you can each and every day to put him and the rest of the team in a position to play well. That’s a process that has to take place every single day.”
The event on Wednesday was unique compared to others the Thunder has done for newcomers and draft selections, but then again, George himself is a very special caliber of player. He’s a two-way star who deserves the fanfare and for an organization like the Thunder to blow it out and celebrate his arrival.
“It’s new. It’s progressive. It’s different and it’s fresh,” Presti said. “That’s important for the organization going into the 10th year anniversary of the team.”
From the time spent with the Thunder’s staff to the swanky party he headlined, George got a taste of the type of support and devotion that Oklahomans are willing to dole out. In OKC, fans showed they’re ready to shower their new star with love. In return, George is ready to leave it all on the floor for Loud City.
“I’m excited to rep those three letters,” George grinned.