Like many of you...most of you...I have been a fan of this team for a long, long time. Day one. Game one. Sacramento Kings.
Weeping, screaming, dancing, running from packs of feral Lakers fans with two middle fingers raised up high, staring blankly at a wall for hours on end, recording games and post-game shows on cassettes (more on this later) so I could play them back during my morning bus ride to work (savoring every syllable), alienating my friends and family with repeated rants...these are all experiences I have had under the influence of the Sacramento Kings. As with most of you, that list could go on and on. We do this for weird reasons, the heart wants what it wants and there's no shaking the roots of this often malevolent tree that grows inside of us all. Most of us.
The emptiness of the last few years pushed it a bit though. By "a bit" I mean to say that my fandom was slowly poisoned, then kicked in the nether regions, then dragged over broken glass to the edge of a dark pit and shoved with brute force into the darkness. Somehow I spun around and got a hold of the edge, clinging, enduring repeated stomps to the fingers and streams of urine to the grill. All the while, crowds of other fans (in national print, at work, at my kids' soccer games, on the street) have stood around me, shaking their heads in disbelief.
"Just. Let. GO!!!"
I was losing it, I'll admit that. My soul was tired, my shame at an all time high. The balling on the court was an obscenity of the lowest order, a non-stop barrage of unwatchable chaos that resulted in humiliating defeat most of the time. Tarps falling, toilets bagged over, players with blank looks and slumped shoulders, trades that seemed to defy all logic...and did... once again, this list could go on and on.
But all was not lost. In life, often when we think the worst has come - it hasn't. When everything is rotten, dreams shattered, hope but a fleeting lie we tell ourselves...boom! The hammer comes down. And it pounds you repeatedly, over and over. When you get up, it hits you again. But just when we find ourselves broken, crushed, maybe set on fire and thrown into the sea...magic can happen.
In our case, a secret savior was ready to deliver us from evil, to wash away the pain, give us back what we needed most of all: our dignity! You know who I mean.
Thank you, Chris Hansen.
By stepping in with so much confidence, by packaging himself, his plan and his allies with such slickness, by putting on such a blatantly false front of "doing the right thing" while "doing the wrong fucking thing repeatedly and with a smile" my man Chris pissed us off and bonded us together. He galvanized a pained fanbase, brought pride to an often maligned city and, most importantly of all, he pried our team away from the mollycoddled clowns who had been wielding the above mentioned hammer for years.
Thanks, Chris. He then blundered enough times at just the right moments (cocksure "binding" sale measure that was a slap in the NBA's face, botched BOG presentation, petition scandal) so as to assure us of the only thing we ever wanted: New ownership, new arena, new hope. Once again, thanks homie.
But that's not exactly why I started writing this though it is strongly relevant. I felt compelled to share something that I am experiencing that began from the end of the relocation "saga" and continues on through to today: I have never, ever, loved this team more than I do now. Which begs the question I find myself asking, repeatedly...
"What the hell?"
Love is a strange thing. In this case, love is a twisted, torturous demon with dripping fangs and a bad jump shot.
From the beginning I have loved the Kings. Despite a definite "mediocre" flavor to the foundation and a slide down from there, slow and steady, I loved them. In fact, I could give a rat's ass about sports in general before the Kings came to Sacramento and introduced me to the world's most beautiful game. In no other sport does a player's personality...no, soul...so deeply inform the way the game unfolds. Each player has potential to flavor the game with something that is akin to art, and when it clicks and hums it is pure magic. I guess Mitch and a handful of others who gave a damn may have played a part in keeping me hooked in during some lean times while living far way from Sacramento with only limited opportunities to even watch anything Kings related...but in reality I never had a choice. As I said before, love is a strange thing. Looking back at the Olden Polynice era, perhaps I should add an extra "strange" to that. Yes. Love is a strange, strange thing.
Lucky for me I was able to experience a brief era in which the Kings were truly painting a masterpiece more often than not. In the Adelman/Webber/Divac era I suddenly realized that winning is pretty damned fun. Slicing, dicing, cutting, dishing...J-Will on Sportscenter every night. Before Williams started doing freaky shit with the ball, I may have said, "Sporstcenter...what is this Sporscenter?" Suddenly I was sitting through 27 minutes of non-stop clips about golf, off-season football minutiae, and baseball plays in order to catch a glimpse of my team being represented on the national stage by a cross-over, pass and nasty, nasty dunk.
Feast your eyes, kid!
As many of you know, this was a truly incredible time and my heart soared. I recently wrote a comment here at StR to a fan who was worn out from all the losing, how the G-Man once said during this period, "Folks, this is a truly special time...we won't always have this. Savor every moment." Words of wisdom from a man who had seen enough to know what he was talking about. I can remember hearing those words on a Walkman (kids, that was an old radio/tape player - cassette tape...this weird device that was like an iPod but 5 times the size...never mind) ON TAPE (kids, it was a game from the day before that I recorded and listened to if you can believe it) while biking down Market Street in SF in December of 2000...I never have forgotten it. Obviously!
When the wheels started come off, it was OK. I was ready. The 1st round loss to the Spurs in 06 was a classic for me, a beautiful ascension and disintegration as well as the death knell for a high time about to fade into the past.
How could I love this team...this team right here...more than I loved other teams we've put on the floor, some teams featuring a few of my all time favorite players in the game of Basketball?
Let's look at the final standings. OK, 28-54...3rd from last in the West.
Uhhh...oh man. Damn. So it's not the record that has grown the love. Wait, really, that's our record?
So. Look at this roster...hmmm. Seeing something to love but this is not it. Nope.
Look at the games. Yeah, saw almost every one and if my wobbly memory serves me, this absolutely cannot be the wellspring of this love save the occasional slam-fest against the Mavs and the like. Coming directly to mind right now, one of 3 Kings games I was able to attend live definitely did not inspire me to embrace this team - a brutal beatdown by the Ws amid some of the worst basketball I have ever had to endure in my life.
Wow. Cold world.
So, yeah, how can I possibly love this team more than ever before?
I think it's simply that my understanding of the words "my team" has deeply changed. A lot of you reading this know exactly what I mean, maybe some of you were able to arrive here sooner than I despite being a Kings fan for a shorter amount of time. This team, for the first time, this is MY team. It's our team. These are our Kings because we fought with cash, keyboard and chaos and won. I believed it was going to work out, hung on every small shift of the tide, ear to the floor, eyes to the sky. Maybe it had nothing to do with us...but it did. Even if it didn't!
I have wandered into the strange territory in which my very strong bond with the Kings, the community here, and the city of Sacramento has transcended the actual team. It doesn't matter if the world tells us we suck. I take what I can from these guys, be it a great run in even a shit game...a solid win...a freaky photo...and I treat it as if it were gold. It's mine.
We lost to the Suns in the season finale last night but it felt great to get what I could from this one. Not only did Ben shine but there was some fun to be had in this throwaway game and this season ends with an eye directly on the year...wait, no...YEARS ahead in which we can enjoy, endure, laugh, scream, bang our heads against the wall, cheer, curl into a ball, high five a stranger (only in sports can a gang member, a retired golfer, a hippie mom and a sullen teen all engage in a group hug), dance, and dance. And dance.
In a few years I may write the sequel to this fanpost and it may have a title that reads, "Love on the Rocks: What was I thinking?" For now, I am rooted in deep love. Not the starry-eyed and mystical love that comes from the cosmos and makes you blind but the kind that comes from a long and fruitful partnership that ebbs and flows, bringing joy and pain. Everything has it's place, right?
28 and 54....yet, somehow, what a magical year it's been. Thank you, Kings, from Comedy Ninja up to IT, on through Malone and Pete D. to Vivek and company. I look forward to all that may come and I truly understand the gift that I have been able to keep. Damn, it feels good to be a Kings fan.
Long. Live. The. Kings.