Kings finale feels like farewell for Sacramento
Some will cry. Others will protest. There will be signs of support and banners expressing anger. And in the end, no matter the score, everyone will say goodbye.
Maybe for the last time.
The deadline so many fans here have dreaded finally arrives Wednesday night when the Kings host the rival Los Angeles Lakers in what might be the final game in Sacramento. With the Kings mulling a move to Anaheim, ''Fan Appreciation Night'' suddenly feels like farewell.
''It's going to be a basketball funeral,'' said Robert Crashner, a Kings season-ticket holder for almost a decade. ''Unless a miracle happens, I guess it's going to be over.''
The outlook in California's capital city certainly seems gloomy.
Kings fans, most already talking about their team in the past tense, are still organizing for what will surely be an exhausting regular-season finale. Social-networking efforts have sprouted up and a sellout crowd is expected, with everything from a sit-in afterward to a boycott beforehand among the possibilities planned.
Signs reading ''Save Our Kings'' and billboards across town plastered ''It's Not Over'' have been the widespread themes thus far, and there will surely be countless posters - maybe even a few cowbells - at the finale.
For most, the Lakers game offers a chance to vent any feelings - frustration, anger, joy, whatever - one last time.
''It's a Hail Mary pass, it's the bottom of the ninth, it's the 15th round, whatever sports analogy you want to use,'' said Carmichael Dave, a Sacramento sports-talk host who helped form the group ''Here We Build,'' a grass roots initiative aimed at raising funds for a new arena.
''We're going down with a fight.''
Hours after the final buzzer sounds, the NBA Board of Governors will begin meeting a continent away in New York to start deciding Sacramento's basketball fate.
Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof, who are not expected to attend the season finale, are scheduled to make a pitch to fellow owners to move the franchise to Anaheim next season, and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson - a former NBA All-Star - also will attend the meeting to plead the city's case to keep the franchise.
The Maloofs have until Monday to officially file for permission to relocate, and a vote would likely come within weeks of that request. All that's required is approval by a simple majority of the owners, and no NBA team has ever been denied permission to move in the 27 years under Commissioner David Stern.
The only thing guaranteed for Sacramento is 48 more minutes of professional basketball.
''The not knowing part - it stinks,'' Kings forward Donte Greene said. ''I don't know what I'm going to do if we leave. I know the fans are going to be hurt, and I feel for them.''
Only a few years ago this scenario wouldn't have seemed possible.
Sacramento was a thriving NBA franchise that produced sellout streaks of 497 and 354 straight games. The building formerly known as Arco Arena provided one of the most notorious home-court advantages in the league, a place where fans clanked cowbells so loud opposing coaches and players pleaded to have the noisemakers banned.
The Kings won an NBA-best 61 games in the 2001-02 season behind Chris Webber and Vlade Divac, losing to the eventual champion Lakers in the Western Conference finals at home in a decisive Game 7.
''This was a special city when I was here,'' said Rick Adelman, the coach of those memorable Kings teams. ''The fans were incredible. It would be sad to see them leave. It is hard for me to believe there won't be a team in Sacramento.''
Sacramento, with budget deficits and heavy job losses during the economic downturn, has turned down initiatives for years to contribute public dollars to replace or upgrade the aging arena. The Kings have steadily declined, and so has fan interest.
So the Maloofs began exploring other options.
Anaheim's Honda Center in Orange County offers high-priced corporate sponsors the Central Valley can't match and an NBA-ready arena with more luxury suites and improved sightlines, perhaps outweighing the downside of competing with the Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers in the same market.
Anaheim's City Council already has issued the bonds needed to entice the Kings to move, new federal trademark names - Anaheim Royals, among them - have been requested and about everything else to move the franchise is in motion.
Still, some Kings fans hold out hope that maybe, just maybe, it will all fall apart.
''When I walk out after the season finale, I have to believe it's not over,'' Crashner said. ''If I didn't, it would be too sad to ever leave.''