Fans show appreciation for Oklahoma City Thunder players | NBA
Even after losing in the NBA Finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder returned home to a heroes' welcome — a crowd of about 4,000 fans at the airport.
AP Sports Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY — Even after losing in the NBA Finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder returned home to a heroes' welcome.
Thousands of fans gathered in an impromptu celebration in a grass field near Will Rogers World Airport, cheering as players took turns at the microphone thanking them for their support.
"I don't think any other NBA team has the support that we have, and it means a lot to us," guard James Harden said. "I know my teammates are definitely appreciative of you guys. Again, thank you. Next year, we'll be back in that situation and we're going to bring a championship here."
After winning Game 1 of the Finals, Oklahoma City lost four in a row to the Miami Heat, falling 121-106 in Game 5 Thursday.
There was no formal celebration planned — such as the Heat's victory parade that will be Monday in Miami — but fans backed up traffic for what ended up being about a 15-minute appearance by the players. Team officials estimated the crowd at more than 4,000.
Cars filled a field that usually sits empty, and a stage was set up. Three-time league scoring champion Kevin Durant, wearing his backpack, and fellow All-Star Russell Westbrook each exchanged a "Wow!" while they thought their microphones were not working.
"We wish we had more to celebrate, but hopefully next year," starting guard Thabo Sefolosha said. "We're all still working hard and we do it for you. You guys are family."
Durant said, "Hopefully we can have a big parade next year."
There will be some difficult decisions ahead, as Harden and NBA blocks leader Serge Ibaka enter their final season before becoming restricted free agents.
• The five NBA Finals games between the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder on ABC averaged a 10.1 rating, the same as the 2011 Heat-Dallas Mavericks series that went six games.
The Heat's championship-clinching victory Thursday earned a 10.9 rating, up 1 percent from last year's Game 5.
• Miami guard Dwyane Wade played with left-knee pain throughout the playoffs and acknowledges surgery is a possibility. He said he is not certain whether he will be able to compete in the London Olympics.
Wade appeared in all 23 playoff games for Miami, averaging 22.8 points.
• The National Basketball Players Association said arbitrator Kenneth Dam affirmed its position players claimed off waivers can use their "Bird" and "Early Bird" rights.
New York's Jeremy Lin, Knicks teammate Steve Novak, the Los Angeles Clippers' Chauncey Billups and Portland's J.J. Hickson should be covered by the exceptions that allow teams to exceed their salary caps to re-sign their players.
NBA officials said they would appeal the ruling.