Sacramento bracing for life without the Kings
The trademark cowbells are just a faint echo.
A faithful following once considered among the best in American
professional sports has only one thing left to cheer for now. They
bring signs that read: ”Save our Kings” and ”Please Don’t
If this isn’t the end of Sacramento’s run, it sure feels like
All indications are the Kings are moving south to Anaheim after
26 seasons in California’s capital. Anaheim’s City Council issued
the bonds needed to entice the franchise, new federal trademark
rights have been requested and about everything else needed to put
a simple majority vote before NBA owners is in motion.
Suddenly, Sacramento is on the verge of being wiped off the NBA
”It’s a sad and sorry state,” fan Nick Guero said at a recent
Kings game with his 6-year-old son, Christopher, sitting next to
him in a matching Tyreke Evans jersey. ”I was hoping to share the
Kings with my son for years to come. Now? I almost want to cry.
Every game we go to might be our last.”
There was a time not so long ago that Sacramento was the NBA’s
model of success.
A smaller-market franchise that thrived on being the town’s only
team, fans turned out in masses even when the Kings were terrible.
The team sold out its first 497 games in Sacramento, still the
fourth-longest streak in league history, and they had another run
of 354 straight sellouts when the franchise peaked.
Chris Webber, Jason Williams, Peja Stojakovic, Vlade Divac and
Doug Christie even graced the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2001
with the headline, ”The Greatest Show on Court. Sacramento Kings:
Basketball the way it oughta be.”
Fans only added to the lore by clanking cowbells to deafening
levels, especially behind the visitors’ bench. Those bells were
never louder than when Sacramento won an NBA-best 61 games in the
2001-02 season, losing to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers
in the Western Conference finals at home in a decisive Game 7.
”When we were winning, the place was unbelievable,” said Rick
Adelman, the coach of those great Kings teams who’s now at the helm
for the Houston Rockets. ”Now, for me, it’s just really sad.”
Even with success, the need for an updated arena was always
The building formerly known as Arco Arena lacks the moneymaking
luxury suites that are in so many new facilities, the sightlines
are poor and the 17,317-seat capacity is small by NBA standards.
Cash-strapped Sacramento has refused for years to contribute public
dollars to a new arena, which Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof
argue is critical for the franchise to be profitable.
Some also have criticized the Maloofs for not pushing hard
enough for a new arena when the Kings were in their prime and they
had the chance. In 2006, voters crushed a measure that would have
raised sales taxes by a quarter cent to help finance a new arena
with a resounding 80 percent in opposition.
Now a new, different type of vote approaches.
And Sacramento won’t be able to decide this one.
The NBA granted the Kings an extension until April 18 to file a
relocation request, and a simple majority approval by owners would
be all that’s needed for the team to become the Anaheim Royals, one
of the federal trademarks an attorney for the Maloofs filed for
with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The team was previously
the Royals in stops in Rochester and Cincinnati.
Tuesday night, Anaheim’s City Council unanimously approved a $75
million bond deal to entice the Kings to relocate to Orange County.
And Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA All-Star, is
already preparing his hometown for the worst.
”It feels like a slow death,” Johnson said of the Kings’
He has vowed that Sacramento will work to build a new arena with
or without the Kings in hopes of luring another NBA franchise, a
tough task for any city, let alone one out in the Central Valley of
Northern California with enough budget issues to worry about.
”I can’t imagine the team leaving,” Adelman said, ”because
the likelihood of them getting anything back is not very
Some residents have increased efforts to push for a new arena,
although even the most loyal fans have come to grips with the
reality that Sacramento will likely join Seattle – whose
SuperSonics became the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008 – as the
latest town to lose its team.
The Glass Agency, an advertising company in Sacramento, launched
a billboard and social media campaign to generate awareness of the
issue. One billboard on Interstate 5 had a deflated basketball with
a sign: ”Game Over. If the Kings leave, we all lose.”
”You don’t have to care about basketball to appreciate how a
professional sports team impacts a city’s ability to thrive,
prosper and, frankly, be relevant,” said Amber Williams, the
agency’s president. ”It is a part of what makes Sacramento a great
place to live.”
Added former Kings standout Brad Miller: ”I came to Sac because
I knew how great of a place it was to play,” he said. ”It drew me
in just because the team was so good. It would be really sad to see
Kings fans have, perhaps unsurprisingly, stayed steadfastly
While crowds have been sparse for the past few seasons, the
attendance of late has swelled. In a Feb. 28 game against the
Clippers, efforts to keep the Kings in town created a rare sellout
with fans even jeering at the Maloofs – sitting courtside – not to
relocate the franchise.
The Maloofs, except for firing back at Sacramento officials who
were trying to sway Anaheim not to issue bonds for the Kings, have
remained publicly silent on relocation. The current players and
coaches also are reluctant to say much about a possible move.
”(Fans) still love us,” Kings forward Donte Greene said.
”They want to keep this team here. They keep coming to the games
and showing that they want the team to stay here.”
Fans might not have the chance much longer.
Sacramento’s season finale is April 13 at home against the Los
Angeles Lakers, and days later the franchise’s future could become
”It’s an empty feeling,” Guero said. ”Who will we cheer for
if the Kings are gone?”