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This Close To The League

Kimani says goodbye to SactownRoyalty

Kimani Okearah

Many of us dreamed ourselves to be professional athletes as kids when we were out there, playing around. We were All-Stars! We all still are, in our own ways. I don’t care who you are - you’re an all-star in something. What sport did your imaginary athletic divinity take place in? I was the craftiest running back, the defensive player of the year on the basketball court, the fastest, most accurate striker on the pitch (and the cleverest keeper). I was Jo-Willie Tsonga - clay or grass didn’t matter. The spectrum of my prime time imagination widened as I grew.

These illusions, just the fluff stuffing the head of a child, sponsored the start to a much more problematic string of grand delusions about my own capabilities. I’d visit each of these star personas in my head when consuming or playing these sports, but they never drove my progress. I simply lacked the abilities to carry out the athletic visions I had of myself.

Having many grand delusions with a similar identity (in this case, star athlete) is similar to having invites to a bunch of amazing parties all on the same night. You’re free to switch between them if you don’t make a commitment, and you’re left with nothing but a fleeting glimpse.

The sport I settled on for my own professional pursuits was basketball. After the explosion of the Sacramento Kings into relevancy in the late 90s, my decision was made for me. The teams play-style, the intelligence behind it, and the consistent execution attracted me. In my head, I was a hybrid of Doug Christie, Mike Bibby, Chris Webber, and Kevin Garnett. In reality, my career high in turnovers (13) was much higher than my career high in points (12) in my high school days. On top of having very little natural ability to understand the physicality of the sport, I grew an entire 2 inches during the entirety of my high school career. Couple my… um… abilities... with my health journey, I was called to retire from the unreachable dream of professional athletics at a young age.

I remained an engaged participant with the Sacramento Kings and NBA culture in general. In 2011, while studying at University of California: Santa Cruz, the then-owners of the Sacramento Kings appeared to have settled on relocating the team to the Los Angeles area. In economic terms, decision-makers who were responsible for a multi-million dollar economy wanted to extract that economy from an area that desperately needed it - and move it to an area that desperately didn’t. The community of Sacramento led a charge to keep their beloved team - and now-billion-dollar economy - in place. It truly was an awe-inspiring community effort against different manifestations of well-financed villainy, and one that led me to be truly in love with the culture of Sacramento. During this time, I was known as VenomySnicket on SactownRoyalty, and venom-7 on kingsfans.com.

After Santa Cruz, I tried Los Angeles life for a time. I’m from a town called Foresthill in the Sierras - for me, LA is a place to visit, not to live. I moved to Sacramento in 2013 in an effort to further the same community spirit I witnessed during the fight to keep the Kings. Soon after my move to the valley, I began working with James Ham and Tobin Halsey on a follow-up to Small Market, Big Heart. That 2013-14 season, James asked me to work as a producer and photographer for Cowbell Kingdom. Suddenly, my childhood dream of being in the NBA - a task that was athletically impossible for me - was achieved.

I wasn’t looking for it. I hadn’t expanded my mind. Any structure of art or entertainment that we enjoy, be it athletics, cosmetology, films, painting, music, literature, dance, architecture, printing, crafting, astrology, herbology, taxidermy, etc - there is a way to participate at the level you desire and sustain it. I had to see my dream from an economic perspective. The NBA, the body that is the NBA, is an economic structure built on selling incredible performance in the game of basketball - in all aspects. What attracted you to the NBA? Do you feel your own presence as a part of it? You should. You fill a vital role. Without you, there’s nothing.

The body that is the NBA - the players, coaches, executives, fans, referees, media, merchandisers, marketers, and laborers - is a vast economy with many avenues of participation. A 5’11” kid 1.5’ of large intestine (does that make me 3’5”?) with no sentient concept of left and right body unity was never going to play basketball in college, let alone the NBA. I may not have made any high school teams if I didn’t grow up in Foresthill, and there’s no Jordan story there. But I belong in the game. The feeling I had walking to the court for the first time with my camera in hand will never be replaced. My heart ascended to my jaw and stuck, giving my tongue it’s own beat. I’ll never forget it.

I made the Association.

Headed into the 2014-2015 season, I feared my position was compromised. See, due to birth complications from PCE, a portion of my ascending colon was attacked by some existing scar tissue, as if some kind of tiny Spiderman with scar tissue webbing had a function to get to in my jejunum. My colon twisted while I shopped. I didn’t know what happened, but I was facing hyperbolic levels of pain that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I hobbled the two blocks from the Grocery Outlet to my apartment. The twist worsened as the night progressed, so I assumed tiny Spiderman had forgotten something at home (in my heart, where all Marvel heroes live). Emergency services were called, and I had an overnight surgery to remove the twisted bowel obstruction.

Apparently, tiny Spiderman got lit with tiny Venom and tiny Carnage and drunk-scar-webbed my entire abdomen. My surgeon said that it was like removing cobwebs from a garden hose. I was in the hospital for the entire month of October in 2014, waiting for my intestines to start back up. They never quite did, and now I have an invisible disability that can be summarized by the Bed Stuy euphemism “deadass.” Basically, there’s some muscles that are on strike, and I’m doing everything in my power to work out an agreement. It’s been a few years, but we have to maintain belief that it’s possible.

Kimani Okearah

The day after I got out of the hospital, it was the Kings 2014-15 season. I went. I photographed the game. I produced the post-game segment for James Ham’s Cowbell Kingdom. I went home. The feeling I had at that game was pure love. Having spent the previous month grappling with deep thoughts about existence, my mortality, and my identity, I was shrouded in fear for my body and mind. To step out of that vapor into a throb of fans, screaming, music, Slamson, the thudding of basketball on the court, the snap of the net, the squeaks of the shoes sliding against the wood, the patience….. the look in the eyes of the players, the movement, the flash, the click, the dunk, the perfect frame, the pandemonium…

I couldn’t walk. I shouldn’t have been there. That surgery destroyed me. Despite my pain, condition, and mild delirium, it was the environment created by you, the fans, that provided me with the balance and support I needed. It drove my professionalism in that moment, and the games in the months after.

I was gifted a new level of appreciation for the opportunity to do work I do and how I contribute to the NBA. It feels amazing to add to the NBA economy in such a visual manner. Once Ham was rewarded for his tremendous years of service in NBA blogging, I switched affiliates to Sactown Royalty of SB Nation. Akis, Greg, and the rest of our staff welcomed me in with open arms. I took this opportunity to refocus my approach and adapt.

There’s always a chance to capture the flashy play and the best players. I try to highlight the specific stories I see in each game, and I encourage any #Lensface to do the same (that’s my term for people who watch the games through an actual camera). One of my favorite moments was the first time Steph Curry played against little brother Seth Curry in the NBA. The first time they were on the court against each other in an NBA uniform, and the MVP cracked the littlest of smiles.

Kimani Okearah

The best stories with the camera come when you look for the right moments. Many times, it goes beyond what’s happening with the basketball. Look beyond the provided path to your dream if our ancestors asks you to do so, and you’ll live it.

Working at the highest level in sports media in the USA as a producer and photographer has prepared me for challenges I’d normally never expect. It has taught me the importance of patience, silence, and self-worth.

Thank you, as always, for engaging with my words and my mind.

Thank you to our amazing staff here at SactownRoyalty.com who often spend a few extra minutes looking through our selects to find the right shot for the story. I’ve been absolutely blessed to have my work associated with the brightest basketball blog team in the NBA. Every time we meet up, I’m filled with inspiration, and I’m excited to keep that same energy for our work over at The Kings Herald.

Please do me a favor and check out #Lensface, a side-show I’ve been producing through my own platform since Golden 1 Center opened. The story behind this is simple - I didn’t know what the outcome to my health struggle was going to be, and I didn’t want to leave nothing behind from my time in this role. I have incredible access, and I wanted to look back at more than just photos. It’s interesting - I didn’t set out for it to be an anthology of experiences surrounding the Kings over these years, but that’s where it’s at.

Nothing we do matters without the fans. The players don’t matter, our writing doesn’t matter, my photos don’t matter. It’s you. You are why we all do this. Yes, you’re that goddamn important.

From the bottom of my heart (and trash guts), THANK YOU!

Kimani Okearah

#Lensface can be found sprinkled throughout SactownRoyalty.com and at these locations:

• Facebook

• Twitter

• Instagram

• YouTube

Question recap:

1) What was the sport you saw yourself thriving in as a child?

2) Did that come true to your satisfaction?

3) What attracts you to the NBA?

4) Is being a fan of the NBA a fulfilling experience? How involved do you feel with the product?

5) This isn’t a question, but I’m very happy you all exist, and you deserve every bit of success this Kings team can produce. Enjoy every win and every moment - life is shorter than we think!

Goodbye, SactownRoyalty - Kimani’s favorite photos: