I'm not a true, die-hard Kings fan. Yet. Let me explain.
I'm originally from Southern California, and played a fair amount of pickup games from Huntington Beach to Culver City. I rooted for the Showtime Lakers because, frankly, they played a very exciting brand of up-tempo, share the rock basketball that was fun to watch. Best player ever? Apologies to MJ, but Magic Johnson is my man. Magic made everyone around him better. He could have scored 50 points a game, but he would rather score 20 and dish 15 assists, grab 10 rebounds and block a couple of shots. Being on his team you kept moving and cut to the rim because you never knew when you were going to be the recipient of a rocket, no-look pass. It was basketball the way basketball was meant to be played. (Aside: I once got into a pickup game with Kurt Rambis during the offseason of his Showtime run. Great guy).
I followed a job to Sacramento in the latter part of the 1980s, shortly after the arrival of the Kings, but never went to a game. As far as I was concerned, the Kings were a local hobby for small-town Sacramento. Compared to the glam Lakers, it hardly seemed like they were playing the same sport. Leaky roof. Scoring four points in a quarter. Joe Kleine. 'Nuf said.
I left town in the late 1980s for the East Coast and pretty much lost track of the Kings. When I returned in the mid-1990s, it seemed like more of the same. The high point for me was bumping into Kenny Smith with the visiting Rockets in the Capitol Hyatt. "Yo, Jet, have a good game."
Things were going just fine with my Kings indifference, and then something happened. Or it was a series of things, actually. The Kings shipped Mitch Richmond for the mercurial Chris Webber. They drafted the wild child Jason Williams and acquired veteran center Vlade Divac (Gasp! A former Laker!). Under new ownership with (supposedly) deep pockets, and a new coach with a knack for getting the most out of his players, things were definitely looking up. An impressive playoff showing against a solid Utah Jazz team and I was hooked. Meanwhile, the team continued to make smart personnel moves, drafting sharpshooting Peja Stojakovic, picking up essential role players such as Doug Christie, and swapping the streaky Williams for the clutch Mike Bibby. Not just a competitive team, a playoff team, but a championship contender that gave the gold-plated Lakers all they could handle.
The high point for me was when the Kings made the cover of Sports Illustrated as the model small-market NBA franchise. SI lauded the Kings' up-tempo, share-the-ball fun-bunch style, saying they played basketball the way it was meant to be played. The way I thought it was meant to be played.
Since then players have come and gone, the highlights have become fewer in number, and the glory days are just pleasant memories. Sadly, they were replaced in recent years by the Greek Tragedy of the $6,000 Burger Boys, squandering Dad's fortune in a string of failed business ventures, and, eventually, sucking the Kings franchise dry like a giant vampire squid. (Trading DOWN in the draft? Who does that?) The relocation saga was just the final, cynical betrayal.
The Sacramento Kings obituary should have been written last year, but a truly miraculous chain of events resulted in the ultimate franchise Hail Mary. I mean, how lucky is Sacramento that the mayor was a charismatic former NBA star with the connections necessary to put together a plan to keep the team in town and, as a bonus, breathe life into our tired downtown. Truly miraculous.
The reason the Kings of the 2000s and Sacramento were a perfect match was the team was a reflection of the town -- diverse, hard-working, unselfish, not pretentious. Other teams may have had the stars (and other cities, the landmarks), but we liked our team and our town just fine, thank you. We wore the dismissive "cow town," "semi-civilized" and "Sacramento Queens" jabs like badges of honor.
For all the fans holding out for lottery picks in 2015 and 2016, this reformed fair-weather fan says enjoy the ride right now. We have impressive new owners, a coach who seems to know what he's doing, some promising young talent, a new arena emerging from the drawing board, and lots of great new memories in the making. Just one tip for the front office -- Sacramento will embrace players who reflect the hard-work ethos of a town with its roots in ranching and agriculture. Unload the selfish loafers and build around team-first players with the same never-say-die gumption that fans displayed to keep the team in town. I might not be a true, die-hard Kings fan yet, but I aspire to be.