By Ben Golliver
Thousands of Kings fans purchased tickets to Saturday night's game against the Jazz at Sleep Train Arena to show their support for efforts aimed at keeping the franchise in Sacramento.
Seattle-area investors have agreed to purchase a controlling interest in the Kings from the Maloof family and paperwork has been filed to relocate the franchise to Seattle, where it would take on the SuperSonics nickname.
Sacramento-area organizers have launched various "Here We Stay" campaigns to fight off previous relocation efforts. Saturday night's game was dubbed "Here We Buy" night, with Kings fan site SacTownRoyalty.com raising thousands of dollars to purchase tickets for local youth organizations. The organizers' current efforts are focused on finding Sacramento-area investors that will match Seattle's offer in hopes that the NBA's Board of Governors will decide -- all other things being equal -- that keeping the team in Northern California is preferable to a relocation.
Signs visible at the game kept a similar theme: "Our City, Our Kings," "I love my team, I love my city," and "Our town, our team," among them. A flier with coordinated chants, which included "Sac-ra-ment-o" and "Let-Us-Match," circulated among fans. The group also arrived early for tailgating festivities.
Sacramento's Mayor, Kevin Johnson, posted a number of messages on Twitter about the event.
"This is the loudest I've heard Sleep Train all year," he wrote. "These fans know this is bigger than basketball! ... Amazing energy in the building tonight -- tell me fans don't make a difference."
The Kings went on to defeat the Jazz 120-109, and the wave even broke out in the closing minutes of the double-digit win. Multiple members of the Kings, including DeMarcus Cousins, joined in from the bench.
The Kings do the "wave" with their fans during "Here We Buy" night. (Rocky Widner/Getty Images)
In part because of their poor play and in part because of the never-ending reports of possible relocation, the Kings have averaged the lowest home attendance in the league this season. The night's festive mood, therefore, was well outside the ordinary for all involved, including the Kings players.
The Sacramento Bee reported that Isaiah Thomas and Cousins were particularly impressed and grateful for the outpouring of support.
Thomas said seeing fans tailgating before the game added to the excitement.
"That only happens in college," Thomas said. "You don't see people tailgating at games in the NBA. That was great. The support system we got from the fans was one of a kind."
Thomas said the fans provided the boost the Kings needed to end their losing streak.
The players encouraged the fans to keep the building loud. Cowbells rang from the stands.
The final minutes were dominated by a "Here We Stay!" chant, a "Sacramento" chant and the wave.
"I've never had a chance to do the wave, so I made sure I included myself in that, and it was an incredible experience," DeMarcus Cousins said.
Tom Ziller, writing at SacTown Royalty, was elated with the night's events.
But the damned crowd. 16,000 strong for a 17-win team in a seventh straight losing season with owners that just tried to sell us out after a history over the past two years of trying to sell us out. And those 16,000 people -- you people -- were loud. So loud. It blared through the TV. Constantly. It's like the chants built to a crescendo. It was wild.
I can't wait to hear a full telling by the folks there, but this was special. Bless everyone who helped someone else get to the game, and bless everyone who made it there, and bless everyone showing support for such a great city with such great people. Win or lose in the big picture, we can be proud.
Cynics will rightfully ask whether the event matters in the big picture and skeptics will question how important any one display of fan support is when teams are now bought and sold for upwards of $500 million.
Save those perspectives for some other time. For now, let's point out that Kings fans just gave their franchise its most positive headline of a season in which the two other major story lines have been the possible sale and Cousins' lengthy list of suspensions. Their genuine passion and dedication accomplished the practically impossible: they made this franchise, for a night, completely likeable. Who, except the totally heartless, could root against this?
The Maloofs have been mocked for their business failures and demonized for their decision to sell to a group with eyes on relocating the franchise. "Here We Buy" night was so successful that it pushed all of that baggage into the background and brought the fans -- often forgotten, often not in the building in recent years (and who could blame them?) -- squarely to the foreground.
If the Maloofs love the NBA and their franchise as much as they have claimed, their regret and shame at seeing Saturday night unfold is surely endless. How did they possibly fail, year after year, to produce a product that cultivated and served this fan base to any reasonable degree? How did they make so many mistakes that some people have already forgotten that Kings fans were like this every game for seasons at a time?
And, how did the NBA allow a fan base like this to be held in limbo for multiple years without knowing whether the team would return the next fall? What steps need to be taken -- at the league level -- so that this situation never repeats itself?
Those are all questions that might get swept under the rug if Kings fans had decided to give up the fight and fold their hand. It's better for everyone -- the NBA, the Kings, Sacramento, Seattle and basketball fans as a whole -- that those questions get asked. Thank you, Kings fans. Congratulations on your event and your statement.
Video via YouTube user GT35STi