News helicopters dangled in the sky. A sea of humanity 10-deep bounced eagerly behind a chain-link fence. An entire city waited with bated breath. A superstar touched down in OKC.
Small forward Paul George stepped off a plane at Will Rogers World Airport at precisely 2:45 p.m. CT on Tuesday, skipping onto the tarmac behind his family and friends who arrived with him in advance of Wednesday’s welcome party and press conference. Donning a heather grey Thunder hat with a blue flat brim, a simple white t-shirt and blue Nike shorts as his travel attire, Paul deplaned and sauntered over to the hundreds of Thunder fans.
Some waited four hours in the Oklahoma summer sun for the elite two-way wing to arrive. For Oklahoma City faithful, no wait could have been too long to witness a generational talent like George join their team. Thunder fans have had the pleasure of witnessing superstars for nine seasons, and they currently have the league’s MVP in Russell Westbrook. Most NBA cities starve for a single superstar to live and play in their town. The Thunder now has two, in the midst of their primes, hungry as ever to make a postseason charge.
“It’s just crazy how much support we have for a new person coming to the team. It’s amazing,” said a local 10th grader, who attended the rally with his friends. “We’re ready for him.”
It’s not just crazy. It’s historic, and a pivotal career moment that George certainly won’t forget. Neither will Thunder fans. Coming off a 47-win season and a sixth-place finish in the Western Conference, the Thunder organization was aggressive yet patient. Quietly working, General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti pulled off the type of trade to get George into Oklahoma City that rival GM’s across the league were desperate to make.
Fans in Oklahoma City get how unique and fortunate the situation is. That’s why on Tuesday teenagers hustled to park and camp out along Meridian Avenue while parents lofted their children over their shoulders to get a glimpse of George through the maddening crowd. Alex Roig, a local Thunder fan, brought his two daughters to the airport on Tuesday. He felt they should experience the moment. To be a part of something “very special.”
“To be able to share my passion with them, especially in this kind of setting, is amazing,” said Roig. “It’s amazing how quickly word spreads when it comes to a situation like this. This is a great thing for the Thunder organization.”
Striding along the concrete at the airport, still 50 yards away from the fans, George pulled his long, lean, muscular arms from his sides, then raised them from his waist over top of his head. He egged on the crowd that was packed in to greet him.
As he approached the chanting mass, his pace quickened. There was a spring in his step and a grin on his face. Coordinated chants of “PG, OKC!” rained down. George’s hand slid across the metal to hi-five as many fans as possible. He took a lap down the line before pausing directly in the center of the crowd to make sure he got a photograph with his new NBA family. Oklahoma City embraced him in that moment, sensing that the superstar’s delight about his new home and the gratitude for the reception he received.
As he began to walk away and to the collection of idling black SUVs, primed to take his family downtown, George turned and hollered a resounding “thank you” to the adoring crowd.
There was an immediate eruption, akin to those that cascade from Loud City. Plenty more of those to come for PG13 starting in a few months in Chesapeake Energy Arena.