Fans embrace Clippers’ Paul George in his first game back in Oklahoma City


OKLAHOMA CITY — With his name called first in starting lineups, Paul George was greeted with a very loud, extended ovation in his return to Oklahoma City on Sunday.

As George was introduced, the Thunder public address announcer greeted him by acknowledging George’s time with the franchise, as well as his work in the Oklahoma City community. Along with it, there was imagery on the overhead screen of George in the community, something he was very active in during his stint in OKC.

It was break from the traditional approach to returning players for the Thunder, which has in the past basically come with an announcement of “Please welcome back to Oklahoma City [insert player].” It’s been standard the Thunder don’t play tribute videos, but this was as close as they’ve come to one. The approach was received very well by fans.

“I’ve said this before, PG was a class act with our organization and community,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti told ESPN. “He stayed when he had other options, and he showed respect for our fans, community, and our organization not only while he was with us but also since he has gone back home to Los Angeles. I’m hopeful people recognize that when they think about his tenure.”

Prior to tip-off, George ran over to the Thunder bench to say hello to former teammates and gave a hug to coach Billy Donovan.

“Paul’s a great guy, I loved working with him,” Donovan said pregame. “I think everybody felt like he was just going to leave after the first year, but he always had both feet in the circle, treated everyone with respect, and still continues to do that. He’s a great guy. I hope it’s a good one for him, because he’s a really great guy and gave us everything he had for the time he was here.”

George’s reception was a drastic change from the Thunder’s previous notable return game, when Kevin Durant came back in 2017 after joining the Golden State Warriors. That game was filled with boos and negative chants at Durant as fans expressed extreme disapproval with his decision to leave. The circumstances around George’s departure are considerably different, with the Thunder receiving something in return, as well as a different emotional connection.

George spent two seasons in Oklahoma City after the Thunder shocked the NBA by acquiring him in a trade from the Indiana Pacers. As an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018, it was presumed it would be a one-and-done with the Thunder. But George elected not to take any free agency meetings and he re-signed with OKC on a four-year deal.

Last summer, he asked for a trade to the Clippers to pair with Kawhi Leonard, and the Thunder obliged, bringing back a historic haul of future first round picks, along with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danillo Gallinari.

Source : ESPN