Growing up, my sports fandom was largely determined by my family. Both of my parents, as well as both of my grandfathers, were lifelong Green Bay Packers fans. I got a small Packers football on the day I was born, and there was no turning back from there. My dad was also a New York Mets and Boston Bruins fan, so I latched on to them as well. Everyone in my family (dad included) has since abandoned the Mets, but I've stuck with them. I think I might just be a sucker for pain and false hope though.
Basketball was never really in the picture as a kid. I mean, as a kid growing up in the 90s, I loved Space Jam of course. I also had a sweet set of Charlotte Hornets pajamas. I didn't follow it at all though, and no one in my family did, so I knew very little about basketball and didn't particularly care. I was content with the other sports.
That changed with the 2001 NBA Finals.
I don't know what possessed my mom to watch Game 1 of the Finals. She doesn't doesn't know why she did it and hardly even remembers doing so. Sure, living about an hour north of Philly there was regional interest, but she never showed any interest in basketball before that and has never done so since. Either way, I'm glad she did. I got to see Allen Iverson take down the previously undefeated Los Angeles Lakers pretty much by himself, and I fell in love. I watched the rest of the series and was obviously disappointed, but I was now a basketball fan and had a new favorite athlete in Allen Iverson.
Now, you probably just checked the title to make sure that you didn't misread it. Yes, it says Sacramento Kings fan. I'm getting there, I promise.
Although I am indeed a Kings fan, I was absolutely a 76ers fan first. The 2001-02 season had me suddenly watching basketball for the first time. I had a lot to learn, and without friends or family who knew anything about it (and no internet yet), it took me a long time to get it down. The season went pretty well for Philly, but come playoff time it unfortunately ended with an early exit (and with me gaining a newfound, lasting hatred for Paul Pierce). With Philly eliminated, I turned to rooting against the Lakers. They were easy to hate since they'd just beaten my 76ers the previous year. Of course, that eventually led to the iconic yet infamous 2002 Western Conference Finals.
I'm not going to lie - the 2002 Western Conference Finals weren't the infuriating, heartbreaking experience for me at that time like they were for every other Kings fan. Of course I was mad that Kobe, Shaq, Horry, Fox, and the rest of the Lakers were about to march through the Nets en route to a third consecutive NBA Championship, but I didn't really get it. I was still too new to basketball to really grasp everything that happened in that series, and I was still mad that the Sixers were eliminated. However, the series introduced me to the golden age of Kings basketball. I just watched a team do things I'd certainly never seen, and the players seemed really cool, too.
The next several seasons went pretty similarly. I watched Allen Iverson play any time I could. The Kings were sort of in my peripheral vision in the beginning, but I began to follow them more, too. The Sixers were far and away number one at first, but the always-entertaining Kings closed the gap every year. The 76ers continued to disappoint, and the Kings did, too, but at least the Kings stood a chance and were fun to watch.
Then things got weird. There was a trade between the two teams I liked, and it brought Chris Webber to Philly to join with Iverson. As a Sixers fan, I was thrilled. I was growing more and more frustrated with the lack of talent they put around Iverson, and this had the potential to fix that and maybe finally put Philly over. I had taken to liking the Kings quite a bit, too, though. Losing Webber there was not a good feeling, but Peja, Bibby, and my personal favorite, Brad Miller, were all still there, and they were still a threat to the Lakers and whoever else was in the West. It was weird for them to not have Webber, but I was happier that he'd be in Philly with AI.
Of course, that trade didn't work out well for either team. C-Webb wasn't the same, and the Kings just weren't quite good enough. With the following season, I was pretty much done with the Sixers. I loved Iverson still, but the team was going nowhere and never did enough to support him. I felt he deserved better. Meanwhile, the Kings had a weird season with the Artest trade. It was an incredibly exciting second half of the season for them, but when it ended with another early exit and then Adelman getting fired, it felt awful. At this point was when it was clear to me I was a Kings fan first and foremost. Eventually Iverson got traded (they announced they were going to do it on my birthday!), and I continued supporting Iverson and whichever team he was on (his teams in Denver were very good but mired in an insanely deep West), but the Kings were #1.
Since then, I've stuck with the Kings through everything. Like I said earlier, I'm a Mets fan, too - I'm used to disappointment. By the time I realized I didn't even like the Sixers and was only a Kings fan, the golden age was over. I hate the Maloofs as much as or more than the next guy. They tore apart the team I love and almost caused them to cease existing. That would have been the end of me watching the NBA. I teared up when Grant and Jerry did as they signed off for what could have been the last time. I was a nervous wreck refreshing Twitter when the owners met and listened to Vivek and co.'s presentation. I've subsequently both loved and loathed Vivek. Mike Malone getting fired while Cuz was out with viral meningitis was the most hopeless I've ever felt as a sports fan. I found out just before going to bed (thanks, time zones) and couldn't sleep. Draft lotteries, drafts, free agencies, summer leagues, pre-seasons, and regular seasons, I'm rooting through it all.
It was a roundabout journey getting here, but for better or worse, I am and will always be a Sacramento Kings fan.