Very few outside of Sacramento saw it coming…in fact, probably very few in Sacramento could have predicted what happened last night in shaky old Sleep Train Arena. More than 16,000 fans converged to pack the arena, bringing with them enough pent-up energy to rattle the beleaguered place to its core. What happened transcended all reasonable expectations to the wonderment of all who attended and astonishment of all who watched from their living room. The momentum, built up over the past month released a non-stop wave of loud chants and cheering from the moment their Sacramento Kings graced themselves upon the floor, for more than two and one-half hours, even continuing after the game was done.
This wasn’t simply basketball players on the court with their home crowd cheering them on. This was more than that. This was an interaction of energy between the fans and the players. This was a mutual giving and receiving. Players responded to the energy of the crowd, feeding upon it, being out of themselves to play a great game. Each basket, each rebound, each effort for the loose ball was rewarded with more energy.
The fans and players became one.
If you could watch the swirling flow of energy throughout the arena, there would be no demarcation between the players and the crowd. One flowed into another. They became their own micro universe within the universe. This sounds metaphysical, but that it how it felt to me. It certainly was bigger than basketball.
Very few outside of Sacramento saw the momentum building toward this game…toward February 9, 2013. Very few could have seen the train leaving from the station at the moment word came down that the Sacramento Kings was being sold to a Seattle group. Very few saw the train winding its way toward Sleep Train Arena behind the scenes, in grassroots efforts to target this date to show the NBA the support Sacramento has for its team, in spite of the repeated betrayals and disappointments from the team’s owners.
There are two story lines in this saga. First, there is the national stage perception, whose lens is on the outside. To many of them, the relocation of the team to Seattle is a foregone conclusion. Efforts by Sacramento Kings fans to pack an arena will matter little in the discussions to ensue with the NBA Board of Governors who will be asked to give their approval of the sale to the financially strong Hansen –Ballmer Seattle group, who also have taken the steps toward building a new arena there. It is a story line which includes a city who lost their NBA team looking to buy the Kings to bring a team back to their city. No question, Seattle deserves an NBA team.
The other storyline is the Sacramento community, which has shown the continued support of their team through good times and bad. It is a story that some outsiders have become weary of hearing, in a time when attention spans are short and the time extended for sympathy run its course for many.
The February 9th date was initially targeted for several reasons. It was just before the All-Star Break and prior to the NBA Board of Governors meeting in March. It also had dual televised coverage; nationally by NBA-TV and local coverage by News 10 of California. It appeared to be the best opportunity to grab national attention to show the NBA the support of Sacramento Kings fans for their team.
The NBA later pulled the plug on the national coverage scheduled for February 9th, most likely because there did not seem to be much interest in watching it at the time. It was disheartening, as so many looked forward to having the national media come into their town and witness first-hand fan support, but it wasn’t to be. That could have been the end of it, but it wasn’t. So determined were the grassroots efforts, Here We Stay, Here We Buy, and Crown Downtown, that nothing could deter them from their efforts.
They still had a mayor working tirelessly behind the scenes, working with interested investors, the so-called whales, to hammer out a deal to present to the NBA and the Board of Governors.
The train, which had woven its way around town, on radio, on Twitter, in City Council meetings, arrived at Sleep Train Arena to find people parked out in the parking lot, people arriving with signs, and people with a growing anticipation of what they were about to embark.
So when the fans convened last night, their beloved Mayor, Kevin Johnson was there to receive them. He was there to accept their standing ovation. He was there to let them know he was working to keep the team in Sacramento.
I felt a sense of pride well up within me, as I truly believe Johnson was moved by the fan turnout. It felt as though this energy was meant for him, as well as the team. It was his send off to the All-Star break where he intends to hobnob with NBA owners to remind them that Sacramento is still in the game.
News 10 of California covered the game. Bryan May, Ryan Yamamoto, and Nick Monacelli, and other News 10 staff did a superlative job of covering the story from beginning to end. This news station is an integral part of our community.
This was truly a night which transcended expectations and will be remembered for many years to come. I think about the families who attended, the little kids, for whom this may have been their first NBA game. I wonder how this game will touch them for years to come.
As to the question of whether the fans made a difference – there is no doubt in my mind, they did. The plug may have been pulled, but their voices were heard across the NBA. They did not go unnoticed. A thank you to all who attended, made signs, worked through grass root efforts, through blogs, through Facebook, through Twitter. Everyone pulled together in some way to make this incredible event happen.