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's community work, something he was very active in during his two-season stint in OKC. George patted his chest and gave a wave to the fans in appreciation.
"It was great, it made me feel appreciated being here," George said. "I enjoyed my time here."
"Everything was a chapter, from the second I got here. From my foundation, to big games we won, rivalries, brotherhood, partnerships and relationships, with [Thunder general manager] Sam [Presti] ... they looked out for me, they looked out for my family and I'm forever grateful for this opportunity."
It was a break from the Thunder's usual approach for returning players, which has in the past basically consisted of an announcement of "Please welcome back to Oklahoma City (insert player)." The Thunder generally 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," Presti told ESPN this week. "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 tipoff, 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 having a different emotional connection.
"I will always view this as one of the best organizations that I could have ever played for," George said. "They set the bar in many ways. From the community, to again the front office, to the way they run things, to the way they handle things, they just set the bar in so many ways. It was a great imprint, a lasting impression on me, that I know in a mid-market what's capable and what's possible."
George spent two seasons in Oklahoma City after the Thunder shocked the NBA by acquiring him in a trade from the Indiana Pacersin 2017.As an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018, it was presumed he 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 Danilo Gallinari.
George finished with 18 points on 6-of-17 shooting in a 118-112 loss to the Thunder, OKC's fourth straight win. Gilgeous-Alexander scored 32, tying the career high he set two nights ago against the Phoenix Suns.
Following the game, George went over to the Thunder bench to shake hands with former teammates and coaches, and stopped to give a hug to Thunder chairman Clay Bennett.
"I noticed where I was at on the floor and I noticed where he's usually at on the floor, so I looked up, saw him and it was only right," George said. "I was my first time seeing him and I couldn't pass with being that close to him without saying hello."
Paul George receives warm welcome in OKC
Paul George hears a warm round of applause and gets a standing ovation from fans in Oklahoma City as the Clippers prepare to take on his former team.