ANTONIO GONZALEZ, AP Basketball Writer
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Stephen Curry came off the plane, lifted the Larry O’Brien Trophy as he walked down the mobile staircase and let the gold award shine in the California sun.
For the first time in 40 years, the NBA champions are back in the Bay Area.
With more than 100 team employees in yellow and blue shirts cheering them outside a private terminal, the Golden State Warriors were welcomed home to Oakland on Wednesday. The team spent Tuesday night in Cleveland — though the players didn’t really sleep — after beating LeBron James and the Cavaliers 105-97 in the Game 6 clincher.
“We just stuck to who we are, fought through some tough times in the playoffs. At the end of the day, when you’re holding the trophy, all the ups and downs are worth it,” said Curry, the NBA MVP. “We’ll remember this for the rest of our lives.”
Players, coaches and team employees soaked in the scene as much as they could.
As two helicopters hovered above the airport, the chartered flight received an escort from a police car and two fire trucks on the runway. Curry was the first player off the plane and was quickly joined by teammates on the staircase.
Warriors employees, shuttled from team headquarters on three buses, cheered and chanted “War-ri-ors!” and the song “We Are the Champions” by Queen. They also pounded inflatable sticks and gave hugs and handshakes to players and coaches, with just about everybody taking photos and videos on their smartphones.
Most of the Warriors’ contingent, who were accompanied by their families, wore gray “NBA Champs” shirts. And just about everybody — including the pilots — walked off with championship hats.
“Phenomenal. Still on cloud nine. It really hasn’t set in yet,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said.
Green is the team’s only core player not signed for next season. As a restricted free agent, the Warriors would be able to match any offer he receives from another team — and they full intend to do so, even if that means facing the league’s luxury tax.
Asked if he expects to be back next season, Green shouted: “Hell yeah I expect to be back here.”
The welcome home capped a busy two-day stretch for the Warriors.
After finishing off the Cavaliers, the team had a dinner at a high-end steakhouse in Cleveland. They stayed up late celebrating with friends and family, and congratulations poured in from all over — including President Barack Obama, who phoned coach Steve Kerr to congratulate the Warriors on winning the title and invite them for a customary White House visit.
The dizzying daze of a championship celebration left no time for sleep — even on the plane ride home, which Curry called a party for some and a chance to relax for others.
“You’re still kind of on an adrenaline rush and excited to win a championship, so guys are taking naps, guys are listening to music, just talking about how fun the journey’s been,” Curry said. “And now we get to celebrate for real.”
About 30 fans waited outside the private terminal’s parking lot at Oakland International Airport, with some players and coaches stopping on their way out for autographs and photos. A championship parade is planned Friday in downtown Oakland, where fans from throughout the Bay Area are expected to cheer on the market’s only NBA team.
“This is nice to be back home with the trophy and be able to celebrate with our fans,” Curry said. “I can’t wait for the parade. It’s going to be so much fun. The Bay Area deserves this championship and we’re going to have a good time celebrating.”
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP
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