I know it’s been almost a week, and the conversation surrounding the Kings has now turned to potential draft picks and GM and head coaching candidates, but I am still processing the events of the last few weeks. I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Long Live the Kings Rally in Cesar Chavez Park last week. It was an incredibly emotional event, where the presence of Kings legends Chris Webber and Mitch Richmond, as well as former fan favorites Scot Pollard and Bobby Jackson, allowed 15,000 Kings fans to reminisce on the Golden Era of Kings basketball while simultaneously looking to the future with more optimism than any of us have felt in the last five or six years. I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on the event, and discuss what I believed to be the highlights of the night, as well as what might be considered some lowlights.
Kevin Johnson- When Kevin Johnson took the stage, he was an enthusiastic as I’ve ever seen him. At times during his impassioned “Pride, Grit, and Heart” speech about the fans of Sacramento he sounded more like a public address announcer than a politician, which was awesome. His words rang true to every one of the diehard fans at the park, and it was truly inspirational to witness the culminating celebration of the Mayor’s phenomenal efforts over the last few years.
Vivek Ranadive- As exciting as the appearances of former and current Kings players were, the highlight of the night for me occurred when new owner Vivek Ranadive addressed the sea of purple. He began by heaping praise on Mayor Johnson, promising 35 more years of the Sacramento Kings, and declaring to the fans of Sacramento that “this is your team.” He painted a triumphant picture of the future, while humorously suggesting that Kevin Johnson will be building an intergalactic arena on Mars before the Kings leave Sacramento.
While Vivek’s speech was infused with humor, there were more than a few touching moments. One such moment came when Ranadive announced that there were many people he wanted to thank, and then paused. During the pause, a fan yelled out “Thank you!” and all of a sudden we were all chanting “Thank you! Thank you!” at the top of our lungs. It was a special moment that encapsulated the immense gratitude that all Kings fans feel toward everyone who has worked so hard to keep this franchise. Ranadive went to on say that he and the rest of the ownership group will work hard to ensure that this becomes a franchise of which we can all be very proud. In the short time since the rally, he has begun to follow up on this promise, already pursuing the kind of big name front office personnel that Kings fans have rarely bothered to dream about.
Chris Webber- The video tribute to Chris Webber, as well as the interview he gave, provided an emotional blast from the past. We remembered the triumph of Webber’s 2000-2001 Season, when he averaged 27.1 points and made the All-NBA first team, and we remembered the devastation of his knee injury in Game 3 of the second round against the Dallas Mavericks. We remembered the glory of building a 3 to 2 lead in the Western Conference finals in 2002, and the agony of losing games 6 and 7. Most of all, Webber’s appearance served to remind us all that Sacramento deserves an NBA championship, and that the Kings have unfinished business in a passionate city that wasn’t about to let them walk away without a fight.
Tyreke Evans and Isaiah Thomas- The appearances of current restricted free agent Tyreke Evans and starting point guard Isaiah Thomas were encouraging. Evans’ presence indicates that he doesn’t expect to be leaving Sacramento and hopes to be a part of the future here. Isaiah Thomas is probably the most popular King, and his story makes him a perfect fit for the city of Sacramento. Because of his small size, Thomas has been a perpetual underdog since becoming the 60th pick in the NBA draft. Much like the city of Sacramento, Thomas has used his pride, grit and heart to overcome many obstacles.
Booing during Isaiah Thomas’ interview- I hate to even mention anything negative about the night, because, overall, it was an amazing, triumphant, and unforgettable event. However, some awkwardness arose when Isaiah Thomas, who is from Seattle, mentioned that Bobby Jackson came to Seattle to work with him in the off-season. When he said the word “Seattle,” fans began to boo, which seemed to make Thomas uncomfortable. Thomas was full of enthusiasm and praise for the city of Sacramento, Kings fans, and for his coach, and former King, Bobby Jackson, yet fans thought it would be appropriate to boo during his interview.
The booing prompted Grant Napear to say that we shouldn’t have any problem with Seattle now that the Kings are staying in Sacramento. I thought the whole incident was unfortunate and awkward, and I sincerely hope that Kings fans have more courtesy in the future. While the animosity toward Seattle is understandable to some degree, it is extremely rude to boo a beloved player’s hometown, simply because he mentioned that he trains there in the offseason. I’m sure none of us would want to go work in another city and be booed whenever we mention Sacramento.
Johnson defending the Maloofs- The only other instance where fans booed was when Kevin Johnson asked the fans to “give it up for the Maloofs!” Obviously, Kings fans had no intention of accommodating his request, and booed vigorously. I don’t have a problem with fans booing the Maloofs. In fact, I think they are probably the only people involved in this whole saga who do deserve to be booed. Probably forever. And they had better not ever show their faces in the new arena.
However, I do think it was inappropriate for Mayor Johnson to even bring them up on such a celebratory night, especially since he had to have known how the fans reacted when Thomas mentioned Seattle about an hour earlier. There was absolutely no way Johnson could have reasonably expected the fans to applaud the Maloofs, and by asking them to, he just opened the door for more awkwardness and unpleasantness.
On the whole, the Long Live the Kings Rally was a huge success. The fact that approximately 15,000 strong showed up for the rally is amazing in and of itself. The Kings only averaged 13,749 for home games last season. More people showed up for an outdoor rally where no basketball was actually played than would show up for an NBA basketball game. That should provide some insight as to just how powerful and passionate this fan base is, and how bright the future looks for a rebuilt team in a brand new arena!