Kings fans have gotten a bum rap the past year. It's misplaced.
Yes, the sell-outs have disappeared. Yes, we have booed our own a few times. Yes, we've shown to be more concerned with the future than today (repeatedly begging for franchise icon-of-sorts Mike Bibby to be traded). We have not embraced our well-meaning/pleasant acquistions (Mikki Moore, Spencer Hawes). The Maloofs and Reggie Theus haven't received the love/respect they've earned over the last few months (the Maloofs for removing their egos from the arena talks, Theus for his honest-to-goodness great work rebuilding this team's attitude).
But damn that arena was loud last night.
On Friday, radio and TV pundits noted a loss to Philadelphia would leave Sunday's crowd dead as a doornail in outer space. The loss to Philadelphia happened -- a 12-point loss, in fact. And yes, the Phoenix crowd was a bit timid to start; Sacramento hung in during the first quarter, but ARCO was slow to wake. In section 222, a family of Suns fans in the top row made more noise than anyone, even with the score tied. The pundits were right: We had been through too much recent disappoint and the glimmer of hope was too small. The fans checked out.
But something crazy happened: The Kings competed. They stayed close through the second quarter, and the third. It was a five-point game in the fourth quarter. And the arena was as loud as I'd ever heard it. Those annoying Suns fans let out a 'woo!' on every Phoenix jumper; as Francisco Garcia pulled his hands from the toaster oven, half the section responded with excited yelps of our own. When Amare Stoudemire began to miss some free throws and someone flipped Mikki Moore's 'on' switch, the DE-FENSE chants were louder than the requests for free t-shirts. (This is impressive, you must realize.) Those bastard Suns fans -- the jackholes chanted 'aiiiirball' when the poor guy missed his halfcourt shot for a new car during the last intermission -- got mocked mercilessly every other trip down the court (fist-bump to the unusually vicious Lady Ziller for her well-timed heckles), with others cracking Enjoy the second round! jokes.
The Kings were down 10, about to finish a homestand 0-4, virtually eliminated from playoff contention, with the three players you come to watch wearing smoking jackets. And the fans were clapping and hollering their asses off. It's not surprising if you're from Sacramento, I suppose. But if you were an alien/Nebraska resident who'd read everything about the Kings slouching back into irrelevance -- not even their crazy cowpoke fans care any more! -- you'd have been shocked by the energy you saw in ARCO.
This is why you play basketball when you're 11-18 and your three best players are injured and you'd be better served losing out and whipping up a Michael Beasley jersey. No matter how disappointing things get, we still live and die with each jumper and turnover and foul call. And that's why we're among the best fans in the NBA.