Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sacramento faces a very long two weeks as the Kings decide

David SteeleAOL FanHouse Columnist 

Now, all anybody in Sacramento can do is wait. The faithful haven’t given up, but they have no idea what might happen between now and May 2, the newly-extended deadline for the owners of the Kings to notify the NBA of their plans to move out of town.

Fans hold signs as the Sacramento Kings play the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Sacramento, Calif., Wednesday, April 13, 2011, in what could be the Kings' last game in Sacramento. (AP Photo)
What else can the people do? They’ve loved the Kings -- the only major-league team the city has ever had -- from the moment they showed up from Kansas City 26 years ago. The Kings, in turn, have given Sacramento the lone identity it has outside the state of California. Now that might disappear, and the fate of the team is utterly out of their hands.

Fans hold signs as the Sacramento Kings play the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Sacramento, Calif., Wednesday, April 13, 2011, in what could be the Kings' last game in Sacramento. (AP Photo)
“We need to stay patient and positive,’’ Amber Williams said with a sigh on Saturday night. “That’s the important thing. Something positive will happen to Sacramento. I can just feel it.’’ On the phone from Sacramento, Williams actually did sound that optimistic -- either that, or she was giving an Oscar-worthy acting performance.

Williams will be able to say she did all she could, as can pretty much everybody from the state capitol and the surrounding region. Mayor Kevin Johnson -- yes, the former All-Star point guard, who grew up in the city -- is still pitching, cajoling, politicking away, trying to figure out how to keep the Maloof brothers from moving the team to Anaheim to solve their mounting financial problems. The city leaders are still working the numbers on how they can get the new arena the Maloofs – aided by commissioner David Stern and their fellow owners – want in town as a condition of staying.

And Williams has rallied the city’s business community. Back in February – after the sudden emergence of Anaheim as a safe house for the Maloofs’ possible escape with the Kings – her advertising company, the Glass Agency, erected billboards throughout downtown and on the interstates in and around Sacramento. “Game Over: If the Kings Leave, We All Lose,’’ they read.

The “O’’ in “over” was replaced by a deflated basketball – hence the theme spread all over cyberspace and social media, “Sac Deflated.’’ The billboards came down in March, but the Twitter and Facebook pages (nearly 10,000 followers combined) live on. Other fan sites have popped up in their wake.

The Glass people started their campaign, Williams said, “on the premise that the Kings bring real value to the city, that they’re really a part of the city’s fabric … When you step out of Sacramento, the Kings are how you know Sacramento. It’s part of the whole structure of the city, being a major professional sports town. It makes you seem vital, it makes you seem thriving.’’

Sure, a cynic would say, it also does wonders for the bottom line of companies like the Glass Agency, right? “I grew up in Sacramento,’’ Williams said. “I’ve seen our growth. Before the Kings and after the Kings, it’s not the same city.’’

After the Kings, Sacramento was something other NBA fans made fun of. Or, when the Kings were riding high during the Chris Webber-Vlade Divac-Rick Adelman days in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was something outsiders were baffled by. Cowbells? Oh, the cowbells. And the rivalry with the Lakers, the one that had every element a rivalry could want: big city vs. small, NBA royalty vs. upstarts, champs vs. challengers, southern California cool vs. something indefinable percolating inside of what was then known as Arco Arena.

In those days, there was no other NBA city like Sacramento, no building like Arco, and no fan base like Kings fans. In 2002, less than a decade ago, it was one Game 7 conference finals overtime game away from being the center of the basketball universe (had the Kings won, they surely would have shredded the Nets in the Finals just as the Lakers did).

Of course, it might also have been a series of crooked whistles in Game 6 at Staples Center away from that distinction as well. Another column for another time.

If you’re any sort of a real NBA fan, you know that losing Sacramento as a city is devastating, and Anaheim, by all indications, isn’t much of a trade-off – the only ones who’d seem to benefit from that would be the Maloofs.

Take the NBA’s loss, multiply it by about a bazillion, and you’d get the sense of Sacramento’s loss.

The team, once again, isn’t very good, but in the season finale last week, that didn’t even remotely matter. The overtime loss to (naturally) the Lakers, fed by another Kobe Bryant heart-breaker, followed by the players and coaches and announcers getting choked up in public, that was not phony or contrived.

Amazingly, the NBA has a bunch of teams like this, nearly a quarter of its total, that are intertwined with their cities, and vice versa. San Antonio and Salt Lake City and Portland would all suffer at the same magnitude under the same circumstances. What happened to Seattle, victimized by a weak owner, more arena blackmail and (apparently) NBA complicity, was dreadful, and its wound still wouldn’t be as deep as the one Sacramento would suffer.

In their hearts and souls, it’s hard to believe Stern and the other owners – and, to be honest, even the Maloofs – want to move the Kings to Orange County. The financial deal they all get there may be better than what they’ve got in Sacramento … maybe.

But Anaheim’s gain would be the NBA’s loss, because what they have in Sacramento can’t be duplicated.

And that won’t even compare to what Sacramento loses. “What a tragedy it would be,’’ Williams said, “to lose such a key component of our identity.’’

For now, Sacramento is still major-league. It might only be that for two more weeks. It’ll be the longest two weeks in the history of the city.

Read more:

No comments: