On Wednesday, April 13th, 2011, California’s capital region thought it had seen the last of the NBA and its beloved Kings. The game, a 116-108 overtime loss to those darn Los Angeles Lakers, was a thriller. The building, the crowd and the atmosphere were electric. It was a reminder of days gone by, when some guys named Vlade, Chris and Peja ruled this cowbell kingdom.
Now playing on borrowed time, thanks in large part to the masterful work of Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, the Kings are poised to hold court at the arena formerly known as ARCO for at least one more season.
“We’re back in Sacramento and I think fans are going to be excited,” Head Coach Paul Westphal said following the team’s final practice before this evening’s home opener against the Lakers. “We’re excited.”
An uncertain future continues to cloud the only major league sports team in California’s state capital. Though Johnson pulled off the inconceivable, convincing the NBA to keep the Kings in Sacramento for the 2011-12 season, the city only bought a one-year reprieve. If a plan for a new arena isn’t in place by the league’s upcoming March 1st relocation deadline, the Maloof family will attempt to move the Kings again, perhaps still to Anaheim.
Swingman John Salmons played two-and-a-half seasons for the Kings before being traded to the Chicago Bulls in 2009. The word relocation wasn’t even in the city’s vernacular during his last stint as a King.
“Just as far as living situations,” Salmons said when asked if the Kings long-term prospects in Sacramento ever cross his mind. “But as far as basketball, we’re here in Sacramento. We’re not really worrying about playing anywhere else. We worry about this year, playing in Sacramento (and) trying to win games here.”
Though only a rookie, teammate Isaiah Thomas brings a unique perspective to the saga. Growing up in Tacoma, Washington, he watched and idolized the Seattle Supersonics, who bolted the Pacific Northwest in 2008 to become the Oklahoma City Thunder. Now as an NBA player for a team considering its own options, Thomas finds himself in a precarious position.
“It’s a little weird because I kind of went through it being in Tacoma and Seattle,” Thomas said. “Not as a player, but as a fan of the Sonics. And the reason why they didn’t come back (was) because they didn’t build a new arena.”
The Washington native has only been in Sacramento for a month, but he’s already fallen in love with the capital city. It reminds him of Tacoma he says – a small town where “everybody knows everybody.” He would like nothing more than to remain in Northern California for good.
“Great fans, the community’s great and everybody’s friendly,” Thomas said. “So I love it here and hopefully things get right and we stay.”
Bobby Jackson has seen the ups and downs of the franchise, both as a player and now as an assistant coach. With only two weeks to prepare for tonight’s season opener, he says the team has worked hard and is “ready to take some of our frustration out on an opponent.”
Despite what the future holds for the Kings and the city of Sacramento, the former fan-favorite-turned-coach says the team is fully locked into business.
“Some of them are so young and some of them don’t really know,” Jackson said of the uncertainty surrounding the Kings’ future. “They just pretty much focus on basketball.
“And that’s not their job,” he continued. “To focus on where we’re going to be at and what’s going on with the city, what’s going on with the arena. Their job is to play. So I would tell them, don’t worry about that. Take care of your business on the court and however it plays out, let it play out.”