The Thunder lost the NBA championship to the Miami Heat, but the team has the respect and adoration of Oklahoma City and the state.
Will Rogers Airport was inundated with an estimated 4,000 people to welcome Oklahoma City's NBA team home Friday afternoon.
The Thunder's season ended Thursday night with a 121-106 loss in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, giving the Heat a 4-1 series victory and the 2012 NBA title.
The team arrived to a grass patch bathed in Thunder blue and ringing chants of “O-K-C, O-K-C.” Thunder players stepped off a bus in street clothes and made their way to a makeshift stage.
The Thunder's Kevin Durant had to use a microphone to address the raucous crowd.
“Last night was one of the toughest times we've had as a group,” Durant said. “But we knew we'd get to see you guys in the morning.”
Thunder center Kendrick Perkins was moved by the Oklahomans who came to show their appreciation. Perkins, who previously played for the Celtics, is one of only three players on Oklahoma City's roster who has won an NBA title.
“When I played in Boston for eight years, I thought they had the best fans,” Perkins said. “After I came to OKC, now I really know what it's like to have the best fans in the world.”
Thunder general manager Sam Presti watched from behind the platform as many of the players expressed their gratitude for their fans.
“It's a tremendous civic pride that exists in this city,” he said. “It's humbling. It's a special thing to be a part of. We're just grateful for the support that we get, and we try to reciprocate that by immersing ourselves in the community.
“These people support us day in and day out, and we want to be partners with everybody here.”
Fans arrived two hours before the Thunder touched down at the airport around 2 p.m. They were greeted by a tractor trailer filled with 24-ounce bottles of cold water, which was paid for by the Thunder organization.
But some fans were unable to endure the 90-degree temperature. Emergency Medical Services Authority spokeswoman Lara O'Leary said five people were treated for heat exhaustion but none was transported to the hospital.
Kevin Durant's mother, Wanda Pratt, attended the homecoming and was taken aback by the city's show of love and support.
"This is really, really nice of them,” she said. “I'm so grateful, as I know the team is. It was an unfortunate loss for us, but we're here. So, we're all here together, going through it together.”
Oklahoma City resident Barbara Yeary, 39, believes the Thunder has changed the culture of the city and, in doing so, unified it.
“Before when you heard about Oklahoma City on the news, it was a tornado, it was a bombing — it was something bad, made us look bad,” she said. “The team has brought pride back.”