Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly at all, I took the news of the severed partnership between the Kings and Carl’s Jr. particularly poorly. Now admittedly it’s the fall, and once the fall falls everything, one’s emotional responses included, gets colored in that sort of autumnal hue of change and loss. And maybe I’m having girl problems. I haven’t decided that yet. But whatever the reason, the announcement made me, not mad, nor glib, nor exasperated. It made me sad.
One of the long standing knocks on sports is that ultimately you’re only rooting for laundry. Now I always hated that generalization. Not because it misses the point, but because it makes it. Sports precisely is rooting for laundry. It is rooting for the way that athletics have the power to transcend the mundane in part because of their mundaneness.
Sports, of course, are communal. Part of the reason for the popularity of professional football, or March Madness, or the Olympics, is that they are shared experiences. Events the country is watching and responding to collectively. The professional basketball season, our professional basketball season, the hometown professional basketball season, is a much more intimate communal experience. Something shared between smaller groups of ticket holders, jersey wearers, blog visitors and friends. But it is also intimate in a more invasive way. Once the season starts the Kings; the players; the organization; the prospect of games; the purple; the Kings in all the ways we define Kings, are everywhere. Billboards. The radio. The news. Our offices. The team seeps into our collective conscious through Zoom Copier advertisements and happy hour specials at DeVere's. The Kings’ Season changes the landscape of the city and the year, becomes its own sort of season, sort of transcends the seasons (in a good season it can transcend all four) Winter-Spring-Summer-Fall-Kings. And it does this whether or not the team is any good, whether or not people are attending games, whether or not people care. The Season exists and by its mere existence and reminders of its existence we as Sacramentans are forced to acknowledge it and consequently care.
When we talk about the importance of sports in our lives, the impact something like laundry can have on us, we tend to focus on the past (I love the Kings because my father and I were there when LeBron made his NBA debut and Jerry and Grant cameoed in that Nike commercial) and the future (if the Kings leave town what games will I be able to take my children to?). And we do these at the expense of acknowledging the present. At the expense of acknowledging the way an NBA season can turn a Tuesday night in January into something, anything, other than a Tuesday night in January.
Those are the Kings I’m most terrified of losing. The present ones. I define the Kings through their season records and performances and playoff runs and national television appearances, sure. I also define the Kings through my relationship with my father and my brothers and my city. But I also define the Kings through the Ed Montes plan, and Pookey, and celebratory gifs, and Diamond and Gold Vault commercials and drunkenly calling in to Carmichael Dave’s Show from the Palm Street with a made-up name. And if the Kings go I lose those. Forever. As we’ve covered here comprehensively, the Kings leaving town would be depressing and dispiriting on any number of levels: depriving a town and fanbase that probably deserve more than one professional sports franchise the one they do have; rewarding the exact people who least deserve to be rewarded; screwing Sacramento and its businesses’ financially. But I can couch the pain of those losses in mean-spirited Maloof posts and our collective dissatisfaction. The daily pain, the pain of a February with no basketball, of a June with no draft, of a Comcast broadcast without a Slamson/Katarina Carl’s Jr. commercial, the practical pains, those are the pains that are harder to get over. Because no amount of righteous anger, of raging against the dying of the light, of incensed victimization, can bring those things back, or make me feel any better about having lost them.
Obviously things change. We are conditioned to this. Over a long enough period of time players are traded, businesses fold, industries evolve. We end up living in a world without Marty McNeal columns and House Party Live. But things are now changing more aggressively. More callously. More needlessly. The loss of sponsorships signifies the start of an event we are all completely aware of, completely terrified of, yet have no real control over (perhaps that is why we are collectively so terrified of it). It’s the beginning of an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind like mind-wipe that all of us, at least most of us, never requested. It’s like we’re almost being dared not to care. I can’t shake the feeling that this season could be a constant race between me and my memory in an effort to prevent myself from forgetting why I’m here, why I’m writing this, why I care. I’ll end up in May huddled in some strange, cobwebbed corridor of my subconscious clutching a Lawrence Funderburke jersey, constantly replaying Peja’s old Good Feet Store commercials.
Loss, like change, is inevitability. By simply existing at some point we will cease to exist. And as we mature, whether by age, or experience, or some combination of the two, we get better at handling loss, at accepting its nuances, at embracing reactive, not just proactive, change. When my grandmother died I didn’t cry. I was informed by someone subsequently that a death like that lingers. That it could be five years later, when you see your mother pick up your child, her grandchild, that you finally break down. Or it will be a reminder of the absence of something simple. Something familiar. Something shared. A loss like that lingers because a love like that lingers. Because you never stop caring.
My concern isn’t that we, as fans, will stop caring. It’s that we’ll get to a point where there’s nothing left to care for.