The early morning sun peeked through the rolling hills of the arid Sierra Pelona Mountains, its yellow light cascading across blue-green water and landing at the size 12 feet of Paul George. More than 20 years after his last visit, he was back at the lake of his childhood. His dad was there with him at Castaic Lake, just like old times. So was his new Thunder family.
As a part of his first ever Celebrity Fishing Tournament on Sunday, George teamed up with Bass Pro Shops and a variety of professional anglers to host a bass-catching competition for charity. When George hopped into his boat, comfortably donning a grey t-shirt, grey shorts and a backwards hat, it was clear he was in his comfort zone.
That’s exactly where the Thunder wants him to be, which is why Head Coach Billy Donovan and fishing enthusiasts Josh Huestis and assistant coach Adrian Griffin all traveled to California and joined George out on the water. Their speed boats skipped gracefully across the lake as the competition began, each group of consisting of a member of the Thunder and a professional bass fisherman.
“It means a lot,” George said of the support of his new organization. “I’m forever grateful for that.”
George had gone out onto Castaic the day before – graphing and charting the clusters of large and small mouth bass that he found scattered along the edges of the lake. As a part of this competition, the striped bass that hang in deeper water in the center of the lake were off limits. Just like any good professional NBA player, George was ready from the start with his very own scouting report of where they all would most likely be.
So there was George, all 6-foot-9, 220 pounds of him, standing up on the boat tucked away in a quiet cove on the lake, easily flicking his wrist to send his line towards the bank. It was a beautiful day, a relaxing way to spend a Sunday morning.
There was just one proverbial hitch in the line. The fish were mostly too small, and the ones that were big enough weren’t biting.
In one remote part of the lake, a tiny offshoot protected from view of some of the other competitors, George was doing his best to track the movements of a school of smaller fish being chased by a bass. Just then, his father, Paul George Sr., cruised slowly into the cove. 20 years after they were last on Castaic Lake together, the two stood across from one another, a small expanse of water between them.
They shared a look. Or maybe a shrug. Both of their boats’ live wells were empty. Neither had caught a fish yet.
“My dad is at times a man of few words, but I can read every facial expression he has. I looked over and he gave me this little look,” George laughed. “I knew they were struggling today.”
Watch: Paul George Reels in Teammates, Coaches for Fishing
It the midst of the previous dead silence on the boats, it was a hilarious moment for the George duo, who still were enjoying a wonderful time on the lake even if the fishing wasn’t going to plan. For this father-son combo, even having this charity fishing event at all was a wish fulfilled.
“This day was very special,” George explained. “Everyone here had a wonderful time. This has been a dream of mine for a very long time, to push it out of its nest and hopefully let it take off and be something down the road.
About an hour later, a sports car pulled into the parking lot near the west ramp of Castaic Lake. Fresh off of an airplane, Russell Westbrook had just cruised up the 405 to meet George at his event. A large contingent of Thunder players, coaches and staff who had attended a staff member’s wedding reception the night before had boarded a 6 a.m. flight out of Oklahoma City on Sunday morning, including the league’s reigning MVP. Per usual, the ever-punctual Westbrook was the first to make it from LAX to George’s event.
Quick as you like, Westbrook hopped into a boat, jetted around the lake and found George, brightening up his new teammates’ morning. By that time, George was at least able to proudly display two fish to a chuckling Westbrook.
Shortly thereafter, the rest of the Thunder group arrived, including General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti, Assistant General Manager Troy Weaver and a flock of assistant coaches and assorted staff members. This week, Westbrook is leading informal workouts in Los Angeles that include George and a number of other Thunder players. It’ll be the All-Star duo’s first official chance to work out on the court together as teammates.
First, they got a sense of who George is as a human being. All things considered, that’s just as important as who he is on an NBA floor.
“It’s good for everyone, for guys to know who I am as a person and how I am as a person: interactive, pretty low maintenance and chill,” George explained. “This is me. I’m an outdoors person. I enjoy being out in Mother Nature.”
By the time George arrived back on land for the final weigh-in and to see who had won the fishing competition, he had a full display of the type of support he’ll receive in Oklahoma City.
“It was great to have teammates show up and have them be a part of this,” George said. “I’m looking forward to going down the road and getting to learn more from my teammates.”
Huestis, an avid fisherman thanks to a childhood spent on the water growing up in Montana, and Griffin, a Kansan who is proud of his outdoorsman ways came away as winners of a pair of awards at the final weigh in. Beyond the moral support he received from Westbrook and the rest of the Thunder, George could recognize that he already has a common interest with Huestis and Griffin, who he’ll be spending just about every day with from September through April, and hopefully beyond.
When he hasn’t been outdoors this summer, George has been in the gym, preparing dutifully to help the Thunder make that coveted postseason push.
“I’m getting ready for Loud City. Honestly, that’s what I’ve been preparing for,” George noted. “This was a good little break for the weekend, but I’ve been punching the clock in all summer to make sure I’m ready for the season.”
Much like the rest of the Thunder, George will be locked in on the regular season, eager to win as many of the 82 games on the schedule as possible. But oh by the way, for those off days, there are over 200 man-made lakes and 62 oxbow lakes in Oklahoma.
Happy Fishing, PG.