They don’t call it the Windy City for nothing. Chicago is as advertised 100 percent. It’s cold, the deep dish is incredible and they love their Cubs, Bears, White Sox, Blackhawks and Bulls.
As I sat at the Billy Goat Tavern eating a world-famous cheezborger, the ideas of fandom, history and culture seeped through my pores as cheap burger grease ran down my wind-chapped hands.
I’ve been to plenty of big cities. While each have their pluses and minuses, Chicago is distinct. There aren’t camera shops and venders selling chotchkies on every corner like San Francisco and New York. There are plenty of places to grab souvenirs, but mostly, they are embossed with team logos.
It is a sports town and a proud one at that, but I didn’t see a single “I Heart Chicago” shirt.
Chicago is a world-class city, making it hard to compare to Sacramento, except when it comes to an abstract idea like fandom. Don’t get me wrong, Chicago has fostered a professional sports identity for a century or more, not the 27-year run that Sacramento has seen.
Like the suburbs of Natomas and Roseville, Sacramento’s identity is undefined. It is the state capital of California, but I’m sure 80 percent of the United States population would get that wrong on a geography test. Its most distinguishable landmark? A bridge you can walk across in three minutes or less.
While Mayor Kevin Johnson has preached about the pioneering spirit of Sacramento, that is not the identity that comes to mind when you drive through the sprawling network of freeways and suburban enclaves.
Sacramento is a commuter city. It lacks flavor and it lacks a true identity outside of the lone professional franchise it so precariously clings to.
While there are plenty of incredible restaurants that occupy the Sacramento area, there is no signature dish or must-see attraction. It is the product of westward expansion and ultimately void of a true personality.
That doesn’t mean that it isn’t an NBA city or a completely wonderful place to live and raise children. But the one thing Sacramento hangs its hat on is still one foot and three or four toes out the door. Maybe not in actuality, but certainly in spirit.
As we approach the season opener in Chicago tonight, rumors abound in Sacramento that plenty of seats are still available for next week’s debut at Sleep Train Arena.
Even in Sacramento, the home opener has always been sacred. So the question has to be asked – has Sacramento had enough of the Kings and their owners?
As someone who has spent his entire life in the region, I want to say no. My heart wants to say no, but my brain is telling me something different. And that is just wrong.
As I sit in a city that supports a major league baseball club that hasn’t won a title since 1914, I can’t help but feel that Sacramento owes more to itself than to turn its back now.
I’m not sure what a fight would look like. Here We Stay and Here We Build did amazing things to fight for their team a year ago, but that passion must endure more than 18 months.
The region needs Mayor Johnson to re-engage, suck it up and get back to work on a deal to build a new entertainment and sports complex in the downtown railyards. But that will never happen without the will of the people. And at this moment, the will of the people may be at its lowest point.
So Sacramento, I call you out. I ask that if you want to be an NBA city or a city with any kind of identity, you stand up again for your team. And that is what they are – your team.
Thousands of people walked the streets of a world-class city on Sunday wearing Bears gear. They packed the seats of Soldier Field even though it was 25 degrees at kickoff and a “Mega-Storm” was on its way. Win or lose, these people are fans for life and they prove it every chance they get.
If you have any hope of keeping your team in Sacramento, you need to own this situation. You need to act like a true fan of a team and let your voice be heard in the one way that you can. Bring cowbells and paint your faces purple. Dress you kids up in their finest DeMarcus Cousins or Tyreke Evans jerseys and do what Sacramento has done for the last 27 years.
Fill up an arena that has given you moments of pure joy and unimaginable heartbreak.
You are the loudest, most passionate fans in the NBA and whether it is for one final season or 50 more, you need to support your team like you always have.