Thursday, April 14, 2011

Fitting for a King's fan

How could it possibly have ended any worse?  One of the best basketball cities in the NBA (at least until about 3-4 years ago) is about to lose its beloved franchise and the possibilities of getting a new one looks bleak.  And on the last night of basketball at what will always be known to me as Arco Arena (I laugh at Power Balance, who forked over the money only to see the main tenants leave within months - but they deserve it anyway, since they sell a sham of a product - a silicon bracelet for $30?, hahaha), they lose to their hated rivals in the worst way possible.  Couldn't the fans of Sacramento have at least this moment?  Couldn't they enjoy just one last night for the last time?

No, this loss was indeed symbolic of the tragedy that is Sacramento Kings basketball.  First, the game itself.  For fans, getting throttled by an out of form Laker team, who ran up a 20 point lead anyway, was frustrating enough.  But being dangled the false hope of winning the game, lured by the comeback and then a 3 point lead, just to have, who else, Kobe hit the tying 3 to force a OT that the spent Kings couldn't win?  Too cruel.  And why did it have to be the Lakers?  The richer, stronger, big city bullies have lorded their championships over the earnest and hopeful small town folks for a decade now - folks who have not gotten over being robbed the 2002 NBA crown by the most corrupt display of refereeing in NBA history (Game 6).  Last night, it was a game that serves to remind Sacramento of what they'll never have.

Big picture, sure I blame the Maloofs for not having the financial foresight to not let their empire fall into the problems they are having.  Sure, I wish they had the deep pockets to help build a new stadium and keep the team competitive, instead of slashing payroll to $45 million, literally half of the $90 million Lakers payroll.  But mostly I blame Sacramento.  Do you not realize that if you want to remain viable on the national sports stage, you must pony up the money to build a new stadium?  Do you not realize that the NBA Kings are the only thing you have to keep you from becoming completely irrelevant?   Twice, new building initiatives in downtown and then Cal Expo were voted down.  So what did you expect?  That the Maloofs should stay and hemorrhage money every year while fielding a pathetic squad?

Kings fans had forgotten their first love.  The first 15 years of basketball in Sacramento, the Kings made the playoffs only twice ('85-'86 and '95-'96) both times getting blown out of the first round.  Even so, Arco Arena was sold out year after year.  After tasting 8 years of success with the Webber-led Kings from '98-'06, Kings fans did what any normal jaded fan base would do.  They were so disappointed with going back to their losing ways, that many (probably casual fringe) fans stopped coming.  Arco no longer sold out.  So what we have is this: owners who are losing money, a team that is losing games, and a fan base who have lost hope = a once proud town that will lose its team.

After the Lakers' championship last year, I had resolved to not care anymore.  The way I saw it, the Kings would never be perennially competitive for a championship, while the Lakers had made the NBA Finals 16 of the last 31 years.  SIXTEEN OF THE LAST 31 SEASONS, THE LAKERS HAVE BEEN IN THE FINALS.  Since '85-'86 when the Kings moved to Sacramento, they have missed the playoffs 15 times.  The Lakers?  Just twice.  In the same span, they went to the finals 11 times, winning 7 (actually 6 and corruptly awarded 1 in 2002).  So I thought, why was I fighting it?

The only chance for an NBA championship had been stolen from me in 2002 at the hands of the Lakers and it might've been decades before we'd have another realistic chance.  Our window had closed.  We had our shot and couldn't cash.  It is near impossible for a team from a town like Sacramento to win a championship in the NBA.  You won't see free agents flock there.  We don't have the same kind of cash flow.  And the system doesn't help either.  The better team almost always wins a 7 game series.  And even if you are better - ie Kings 2002, the team with the highest profile players (ie Shaq and Kobe) almost always gets the favorable calls.  So, I resolved not to invest my heart into it anymore.  Though I live in LA, I would never root for the Lakers, but I wasn't going to allow myself to get manhandled year after year by passionately rooting against them.  I wasn't going to try to raise my 2 sons, both born in LA, as Kings fans.  They'd rarely see a Kings game and probably wouldn't see a Kings championship ever either.  They would have freedom of choice (Clippers anyone?  hahahaha).

(Tangent warning: By the way, with the Lakers win last night, they now have the 2nd seed in the Western Conference, which is ideal.  Everything this season in the NBA has fallen into place for the Lakers.  Think about it.  The most dangerous teams in the West are the Spurs and the Thunder.  The Lakers only have to play the winner in the conference finals.  With the 2nd seed, they avoid any possible pitfalls against the equally dangerous Trailblazers or Nuggets in the 1st round.  Who are they playing in the 1st round?  The Hornets, who are missing the recently injured David West, without whom they would never have made the playoffs in the first place.  2nd round, they will probably face Nowitzki's Mavericks.  Nobody in LA is shaking.

How about the Eastern Conference?  Lets see.  The Boston Celtics traded away the one piece that actually cost them the championship last year - Kendrick Perkins.  They are now reliant upon the O'Neal tandem to fill the gap.  right.  It was a stupid move when it happened, its stupid now.  We still don't know what we have in the Miami Heat, but we do know they probably don't have the skilled bigs to counter the Lakers' frontcourt.  Chicago has the top seed and inspire zero confidence in me that they can get over the championship hump on the first try.  Orlando?  Please see NBA Finals 2009.

Nope, this whole thing is setup perfectly for the Lakers.  Can you think of anything worse than Kobe's very own 3 peat?  Makes me want to puke.)

Back on topic.  Ironically, it is the Kings' possible move to Anaheim that has reignited my NBA fandom.  Am I sad for the city of Sacramento?  Of course.  That's where I'm from.  Though I moved to LA in the fall of '97 and the Kings didn't become viable until Webber arrived in '98 and though my Kings memories while in Sac actually truly consisted of the great Mitch Richmond, being robbed of a championship in 2002 hurts more than any sports experience besides UCLA's final fours.

If they move to Anaheim, they should have more access to the proper funds to become competitive and they will be a much more attractive destination for free agents (Hey daddy, can we go to the beach today, or Disneyland?).  In short, they have a chance to become relevant again.  No, more than that, they have a better chance to win a CHAMPIONSHIP.  I had thought that if the Kings ever left Sac, I'd be a NBA free agent too.  But who'd ever thought they'd find a space to squeeze in here?  Yes, it doesn't make sense to me either.  But who cares?  For me, my sons will now have a Socal NBA option besides the Lakers.  I can commence my Laker-hate brainwashing.

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