I've been a Kings fan for what is now the majority of my life. I was born and have lived in and around the greater Sacramento area for an even larger majority of my life. However; said life took me to Los Angeles only four months after graduating high school. Tomorrow night, I will be in attendance at Staples center for the first time since I moved here five years ago cheering on my hometown Kings as they battle it out with the Lakers yet again. I feel fortunate to finally see Tyreke Evans and who am I kidding, Kobe freaking Bryant play in person. Win or lose, it will be a lot of fun for the Mrs. and I. Still, on the eve of this sure to be momentous occasion, I can't help but to think back on leaving Sacramento, crossing No Man's Land (Read Golden State), and moving into enemy territory.
Looking back, it's hard to remember what happened when I left. I had quit my job just one month before, leaving behind an ever so gracious staff and hourly wage at the late great Hollywood Video. I was saying goodbye to a collection of friends and loved ones. I was saying goodbye to the only place I had ever known. No longer could I drag a few friends all the way down Watt Avenue, down Dyer Lane in the middle of the night. I wouldn't be able to meet my oldest friend in downtown for a burger, and the inevitable perusing of The Beat down on J Street, or catch a screening of "It's a Wonderful Life" at The Crest on K. I wouldn't be able to reminisce about the time a much younger, pudgier version of myself wound up stuck in one of the holes in the cheese wedge at Fairy Tale Town. Then again, I wouldn't have to witness a twenty-three point loss at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies at ARCO (ARCO.) in the midst of a 17-65 season either. Still, I would miss going.
I remember seeing my father cry for only the third time in my life the night I left for Los Angeles, on my way to film school. The world was about to get much, much bigger and he had to let his first born son find out for himself. He was happy and sad and proud and scared.
He took me to my first Kings game back in '92, I believe. I can't say I remember much from the night, other than what section we parked in, (B-4, I drilled into my brain over and over again, as my father said it was my job to remember where the car was.) what team they were playing, (Mavericks... I want to say) and that they won. I know, I know; '92 Kings; 29-53. While we bought a portable hoop and a new basketball, I wouldn't fall in love with my hometown team for another seven years.
The 1998-99 basketball season would be my first introduction to A.) Something called the "Collective Bargaining Agreement", which I might add is riveting stuff for an eleven year old and B.) Fandom; if I only knew what I was getting myself into...
My favorite Kings player was and always will be Jason Williams. My father gave me a collectible plaque of sorts with a Williams rookie card that had "Showtime In The River City" etched in bronze, or copper, or something. You have to understand; as kid really discovering the game for the first time, he opened up my imagination to how the game can be played. We've all seen the highlights; no look passes, half court alley-oops, thirty foot bombs with twenty-three and half seconds left on the shot clock. Was Williams the most consistent player? No. Was he the most efficient? No. Was he a model citizen? No; but while the likes of Webber and Vlade made us great, J-Will electrified us. I never thought that he was given enough credit for both the early success the team, and the galvanization of the city in that time. I loved him, and I loved the team, with every bit of my fiery pre-pubescent soul. I was grounded at least five times during any season between '98 and '02 for losing my temper and taking it out on my family while I watched as the Kings surrendered twenty-plus point leads to lose from ahead.
Of course like any Kings fan of the time, I remember the '02 western conference finals all too vividly. I was attending a year round school at the time, and we were heading on break just as the series began. The ONE Laker fan in the entire school went after me constantly about the kings. I remember telling him in supreme confidence that the Lakers were losers in six. I headed back to school only a few days after game seven. The bus came that morning and I took a window seat in the back. A few stops later and that fat, purple and gold lout came skipping to the back of the bus and sat down next to me. He was able to get out "So how ‘bout that Bob Horr..." before I socked him square in the chest. We weren't friends after that.
I HATED the Lakers; HATED them. I HATED Kobe Bryant, I HATED Shaquille O'Neil, and I want to see Robert "I'm gonna sit on the bench and watch pro-wrestling in the locker room for my entire career, call me when you guys need just the biggest shot in the series and I'll make it every time, without fail, because I am a freaking JEDI." Horry to DIE. Sorry for the caps, but I believe we have come to the understanding regarding my feelings toward Mr. Robert Keith Horry and the organization that employed him from 1997 to 2003.
That series was heartbreaking, and really was the beginning of the end. I know the Kings went on to win fifty-nine games and their second straight division title the next year, but they were never getting back to where they were. If you looked at the NBA landscape at the time, you knew the Kings got their shot and they blew it.
As the wins started to disappear, so did the fans. Oh, the fans; so loyal for so long. Yet as soon as they get a taste of winning, nothing less will satisfy them. In the years following, I was so tired of fans calling into Sports 1140 to tell Jim Kozimor they were done with the team after a tough loss and demanding the management deliver another franchise player so soon after Webber, as if Petrie could saunter down to the local Big 5 and ask, "Have the new LeBron James' come in yet? Could I reserve one please? No thanks, I don't need a rewards card. I'm Geoff Petrie." It only took SIX YEARS of playoff basketball for some fans to get spoiled. They suddenly forgot about the fourteen years prior to that run in which the Kings were god-awful most of the time. They seemed to think names like Ellison, Causwell, and KLEINE were never associated with the franchise, and therein lies the one issue with winning.
I'm a big sports talk radio guy. What can I say? I'm a sucker for it. So naturally, the first thing I did when moving down here was find the local station; AM 570. It really is terrific. Of course when I first got here, they were the "home" of the Lakers. They covered all their games, had weekly segments on all their shows relating to all things Lakers, and in a nutshell, made me sick. However, they were much better than the alternative so I tuned in. The coverage was top-notch, which I'm sure made it easier for me to listen to Lakers talk for hours and I really enjoyed the hosts. They always had a good take on the team, a solid interview or two lined up, and were generally on top of it so to speak. They became my Peaches, and I started to take a little more interest in what they were talking about. Something was happening.
After first, I looked at it as harmless flirting. What? I'm not hurting anybody. Grant Napear and the Kings are all the way up the 5, seven hours away. Besides, it's not like I'm a fan. I'm not a fan, am I? Oh God! OH GOD!
No. I'm not a fan of the Los Angeles Lakers. But I have come to respect them a great deal more. They are a class act organization dedicated to winning. Dr. Jerry Buss is willing year in and year out to do what so many other owners and organizations can't stand to: Lose money on a championship. Of course they are in the second largest market in the country and squash profit margins across the board from merchandise to parking in comparison to most of the league, but still. So being a Kings fan in Los Angeles is not so bad when comes to the constant bombardment of Laker coverage. But the fans...
I'm not going to get on them about their reputation for showing up for games late in the first and leaving early in the third. Most of those people are lower bowl people who care nothing about the game. It's Staples, it's Friday night, it's Jack Nicholson, and the bright lights of Showtime's Ghost. That's right; a capital Ghost. And before you get to chirping about the other fans who leave the game early, have you ever taken the 405 parking lot free way north after a Laker game? No? Then shut up. I'm not blaming those people one bit. The real Laker fans, the ones that come early and stay late, are seated comfortably in the dreaded upper bowl. Keep in mind, Staples is not ARCO. (ARCO.) Upper can get WAY upper. They are the real fans. They do exist, they are loyal, and not all of them use another banner in the rafters as an excuse to destroy their city. But they are frustrating, especially on the radio.
"The Lakers lost three in a row. Kobe looks off. We're trouble. I don't know if I can accept this."
Three? Three games? That's it, and you're already heading for the cliffs? Try supporting a team that's lost nine in a row. Try supporting a team that's lost nineteen of their last twenty. Try supporting a team who has not so much as scratched at the playoffs in six years, then come talk to me about what you can and can't accept. What? You can't accept a coach who's been more successful on paper than anyone else ever? You can't accept having one of the NBA's all-time top ten players, if not top five? Fine. We'll take them for Eric Musselman, Reggie Theus, Kenny Thomas, Kenny Natt, Mikki Moore, Spencer Hawes, and Sheldon Williams. We'll throw in Calvin Booth and give you back Tyronn Lue if Gasol is testing your patience as well.
Yes. I get it. They have higher standards, but don't be ungrateful for what you have. Hell, all you have to do is look in your own back yard to see just how miserable an NBA franchise can be. (Michael Olowokandi)
So in closing, the transition has been easier than I anticipated so many years ago. Yes, the fans can be so insensitive when discussing their favorite team. Yes, the Laker flags sprouting up from all the cars are SOOOOO stupid. Yes, my LA friends will never, ever let forget Robert "What's this? A basketball? What do I do, just throw it in? Okay? Hey. How ‘bout that...what buzzer?" Horry. And yes, I still hate the Lakers. We've just come to an understanding, that's all. Go Kings.