HOUSTON - With the future of the Sacramento Kings in question and the possibility of a Sonics return to Seattle, Mitch Richmond and Gary Payton find themselves in a precarious position. By this time next year, Payton’s No. 20 could be hanging in the rafters of KeyArena, while Richmond’s No. 2 banner might be locked away in storage somewhere in Sacramento.
In retirement, they are the closest of friends. The two sat next to each other as they were announced as finalists for this year’s hall of fame class on Friday. The two acknowledge it’s a bizarre situation they are in as the cities they once called home jockey for position in the fight for the Kings.
“Yeah, we talked about that,” Richmond told Cowbell Kingdom of his hopes that the Kings stay in Sacramento juxtaposed to Payton’s desire to bring back the Sonics. “He wants his jersey up and I don’t want my jersey down. So I think it’s a little bit combination of both.”
Richmond enjoyed little success during his seven-year tour in Sacramento. He only made the postseason once, losing ironically to Payton’s Sonics in the first round of the 1995-96 playoffs. Richmond acknowledges that he was “devastated” when the Golden State Warriors broke up Run TMC and traded him to the Kings.
But the former Kings great grew fond of California’s capital city and he credits all his love for Sacramento to the fans. Their unyielding support, he said, got him through the struggles of losing.
“I mean, it was some rough times at that time,” said the six-time All-Star. “It was just great to see (the fans) every night. Even if you got some aches and pains. But when you see the fans of Sacramento, all the pain went away before the game.”
Payton has the perspective of knowing the possible pain Sacramento faces if it loses the Kings. There’s a sense of unease in his word choice when he acknowledges that taking another city’s team might be the only way to bring back the Sonics.
“Like I said, I feel for both sides,” Payton told a massive scrum of reporters following Friday’s hall of fame announcement. “We got our team stolen. Now that we possibly gotta take a team from another city, I don’t think they (Sacramento) should go through that. But that’s just a process of what happens.”
The 1996 Defensive Player of the Year feels confident about Seattle’s chances in this battle. Payton continues to applaud the efforts of Chris Hansen, the hedge fund manager who emerged from obscurity last year to orchestrate Seattle’s effort to bring back the Sonics.
“He has done a great job of making this happen,” Payton said of Hansen. ”I’m with him all the time. I talk to him, so he’s put the city of Seattle on a great opportunity to get a basketball team and all we have to do is hope. And Seattle deserves it.”
Regardless of the outcome, the two friends and former foes that represent the best of Sacramento and Seattle’s storied basketball histories hope that a resolution comes soon. If anything, for the sake of closure for two proud fanbases.
“They’ve been going through some mixed emotions,” Richmond said of the ordeal Kings fans have experienced these last two years. ”But hopefully, you know it all works out. Going through some tough times right now, but hopefully they can continue to keep that team, build them a new arena, get the city back excited again and go from there.”