Vagrant Kings: David Stern, Kevin Johnson and the NBA's Orphan Team is R.E. Graswich's account of the efforts, unsuccessful and otherwise, to anchor the Kings in Sacramento. Graswich is clearly well-positioned to write it: he spent years as the Kings beat writer for The Bee, years more as a sports columnist for the paper, years more as a metro columnist for the paper and then a few years of time as Kevin Johnson's chief of staff. I have absolutely no information on why Graswich left the mayor's office when he did. I just know that no one will talk about it, even off the record. And I know that in Vagrant Kings, Graswich is far less than flattering about KJ.
The early quote circulating heavily is Graswich claiming that Johnson still hates the Kings because the team picked Kenny Smith instead of him back in the '80s. Chew on that for a minute. KJ has had a few major pillars of his tenure as mayor and his two campaigns. The Kings have been the biggest. By far. But he secretly still harbors a resentment for ... what, the logo? The mascot? The mere hint of the moniker, despite going on to All-NBA status in Phoenix and a near Hall of Fame career. And despite coming back to Sacramento and winning two mayoral terms. And despite spending loads of time working on keeping the Kings in Sacramento.
That's just the first big eyebrow-raiser. Graswich also dredges up the nastiest bits of politics from KJ's first campaign for apparently no reason -- it's all tossed into a chapter about how Johnson wooed Sacramento voters the first time. I talked to Graswich about its inclusion, and he said he felt it was needed to explain the process for how KJ gained power in Sacramento, and that he debated including it at all. He did, and as a reader, I felt totally thrown off. There's more: an embarrassing vignette in which KJ acts like a schoolgirl in the presence of Obama, some info on the poor state of Johnson's Oak Park properties. But the quote that's making the rounds today as the book is first released -- that KJ hates the Kings -- sets the table for all that follows. (And it's clearly one Graswich wants out there: it's referenced in the fourth sentence of the book's description on Amazon.)
The lasting feeling for me at least is that this is mostly a book about Stern's (weird) quest to keep the Kings in Sacramento (which is a head-scratching premise in itself) but it's also in many ways an indictment of Kevin Johnson. There's plenty of interesting information, but I feel ... unclean after reading it.
Not because of the stuff about KJ. I mean, KJ's been a pro athlete and a politician. You think I'm surprised about some unsavory episodes? No. I feel unclean by because a career journalist took a job as a public servant, got great inside access to a major story and then used that knowledge to attempt to expose the story in unflattering terms at $9 a copy.
I don't fault Graswich for not writing a KJ hagiography we'd all enjoy. I fault him for letting an apparent rift with KJ prevent Sacramentans getting the full, clean account of how the Kings stayed. It's time to start lobbying James Ham and Aaron Bruski to do a book. (I also fault Graswich for giving STOP a whole lot of material that will presented as fact -- not opinion or conjecture -- solely because of Graswich's LinkedIn credentials. Specifically, there's a riff in the book about Jeremiah Jackson that is total Graswich posturing but will be taken literally as gospel by folks opposed to the arena.)
I don't endorse the book, and most Kings fans may come away from it feeling much like I did. But it's a topic worth raising, and this is first and foremost a community for Kings fans. The book might become a topic of discussion, and we're not going to hide from that.