SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The screaming, the cheering, the chanting. That first standing ovation. That first Kings basket. That sellout crowd. All that stomping.
This was more like it.
This night was about the past and the future, but primarily about the possibilities. For one of the few times during this turbulent and wildly unpredictable season - perhaps the Kings’ final year in Sacramento - the scene Wednesday at Sleep Train Arena felt more like an opening night than a goodbye kiss.
Two cities are still tussling for one team. But uncertainty sure beats the alternative. After months of insisting that expansion was neither an option nor a solution to this Seattle-Sacramento conundrum, the NBA said plenty with its decision to extend the talks again. San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt revealed even more.
“Not off the table,” the board of governors chairman said Wednesday in New York when asked if adding a 31st franchise was under discussion. “The world is changing. We’re focused on China and India and those kinds of places.”
China was the NBA’s last frontier. India is the league’s next frontier. And the fact that Indian software tycoon Vivek Ranadive is heading a potential Kings ownership group that includes 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov, former Facebook executive Chris Kelly, the Jacobs family of San Diego-based Qualcomm and prominent local developer Mark Friedman? And that their competing bid for majority interest in the Kings was submitted days after Commissioner David Stern returned from a long-planned scouting mission to Mumbai?
This is far from a slam dunk, folks, but Sacramento is very much in the game. Within the next three weeks, league executives and owners will demand additional details, evaluate and closely scrutinize the competing - and insane - record-setting offers and engage in continual conversations with the Maloofs.
Then? Who knows what happens? Change is inevitable. While Natomas was a good NBA neighbor for the better part of three decades, Ranadive and his partners have identified downtown Sacramento as their own personal/professional frontier and an urban sports and entertainment complex as a critical element of any future grand scheme.
At stake is the survival of the region’s only major professional franchise. If the Kings leave for Seattle, they will be reborn as the SuperSonics, leaving Sacramento as the only top-20 television market without a major professional sports franchise. The ripple effect hits at the economy, at the community’s self-image. And then there’s the old arena; if the backup bid fails the Stern/board of governors’ smell test, Sleep Train becomes an outdated building with even more holes and more problems - and with no more visits scheduled by the Clippers, Lakers, Warriors, etc.
“I hope they do the right thing and keep the team,” said Clippers forward and Sacramento native Matt Barnes, “not only for the fans, for the economy, for everything. With the economy being tough and the team not being good, that’s why you see a drop in attendance, not to mention all the back and forth about (relocation).”
Wednesday was a memory tweaker. There were long lines at the ticket windows and large crowds inside the team store. Unlike the season finale two years ago, when the Kings appeared Anaheim-bound and fans left the building in tears, the mood was upbeat, energetic, even festive.
The place erupted when DeMarcus Cousins hit a jumper at the 10:42 mark of the first quarter, and again when Hall of Fame nominee Mitch Richmond eased into a seat along the baseline. Brad Miller enjoyed an even better view; he and his family occupied the courtside seats normally reserved for the Maloofs.
But that’s all changed, too. This era ended with no sign of the co-owners, with lame-duck basketball president Geoff Petrie sitting on a stool in the tunnel, with coach Keith Smart on the sideline for what undoubtedly will be a final time, and with the record (28-54) reinforcing the need for dynamic new ownership and a massive roster/front office overhaul.
“Like I have been saying,” said Cousins, “I want to come back. I would like nothing better than to stay with the Kings and be a big part of turning this franchise around.”
Decision day awaits. Three more weeks.