Monday, April 15, 2013

Keeping faith at the 11th hour - Sacramento vs Houston

I'm not yet ready to believe that I just saw my last Sacramento Kings game.

Jason Thompson, the consummate King.
Nothing but love, bro. Been a rough go...
It's a big week for Sacramento fans. Thursday and Friday are the days of the big NBA Board of Governors meeting, when the entire relocation fiasco should get settled. Word is that the decision is much closer than it seems in the days following the announcement that a group from Seattle was going to buy the team and move it north. Sacramento has a competitive counter-bid, and the city has proven itself far from a pushover.

Ballmer and co last week raised their bid price by $25 million to $550 million, compounding what was already the highest valuation of any NBA franchise. That complicates matters, but as the blessed homers at Sactown Royalty suggest, it could be a sign of panic. The Seattle group sees Sacramento as a real threat now, and is leaving it all out on the court, so to speak. Let's hope so.

Despite everything - pathetic mediocrity for most of the past decade, owners that deserve all the empty self-loathing that must accompany life as a Maloof, a team that has degenerated from one of the most scintillating in the league to a true laughingstock - I've stayed a fan. I had to see the purple and black in the flesh one more time, just in case the colors morphed into some unholy green and gold re-animation. I had to pay my respects, even if it involved watching a group of guys play that resembled less of a team than an amorphous collection of place-fillers.

I did not have a ticket to their showdown with the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center today. My usual avenues had run dry, so I was forced to the black market where I haggled with scalpers and managed a Lower Bowl seat for about $40 post tipoff. I got inside about halfway through the first quarter, and weaseled my way towards the floor after each quarter until I ended up quite close. It was a blowout pretty much from the get go, so the nice seats emptied steadily throughout the second half.

The Kings are bad. There is no getting around that, and to pretend otherwise is just delusional. They play with no joy, no verve, basically just to collect a pay check and enjoy the mild winters in NorCal. The faces on the bench tell most of the story. Absent is the giddy camaraderie you see on young teams with hope, or anything resembling a bright future. These players are mostly transients, in every sense. Not one of them knows what city they'll be playing in next year, or if they'll be able to get the Maloof stink off them for future contract negotiations. Each King just looked dismal. They played about as good as they looked.

The Rockets are way more fun to watch than the Kings have been in years.
One Rocket fan sitting just behind the Kings bench was standing and cheering for most of the second half, with the lead well above 20. He was talking some sort of shit to the beleaguered DaMarcus Cousins, calling him names. The anguish on Cousins' face was pretty heartbreaking. He may not be the most sympathetic character in this epic tragedy, but that kind of scorn is just cruel. (Marcus Thornton played the good teammate and cheered up Cousins with some encouraging words and they were able to laugh it off. Pretty much the only piece of teamwork the Kings showed all night.) In support of Cousins, he had one sick play where he made a steal on defense and took the ball coast to coast with the silky finish. A flash of his potential, so poorly harnessed...

It was a farewell that I hope is not official. I get excited about what could happen under new ownership, especially if it is Sacramento ownership. Maybe after a good housecleaning - new coach, new GM, new arena, new attitude - the franchise can bounce back. After a rock-bottom rebound, and the removal of the Maloof cancer, the only way the team can head is up.

This can't be the end...
In the event I have seen my last Sacramento Kings game, I feel like I'm in a good place. I'm prepared to take on the Rockets as my new hometown team. They are everything the Kings were back in 1999, with even more upside - high scoring, colorful and WAY better than anyone thought they could be. I'm excited for their playoff run and happy to call myself a fan (happy, yes, but not quite proud - in the glory years of the early aughts, what better source of pride was there than to declare yourself a real Sacramento Kings fan?).

The Rockets are about as close to the Kings as any team can get. They have shared more players than probably any two teams over the years (off the top of my head - Kevin Martin, Ron Artest, Chuck Hayes, Francisco Garcia, Patrick Patterson, Aaron Brooks, "Hot" Carl Landry (Carliente!) and so on) not to mention one incredible coach. Big tip of the hat to Rick Adelman on his 1000th win, by the way. No finer a basketball coach has worked in Northern California.

I've been urged to just let the Kings go, to let them die and float into the light of the Pacific Northwest. I'm not prepared to do that. At worst, I'll be a closet Sonics fan who cheers for the Rockets.

This is not goodbye. Not yet.

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