Updated: 8:29 am
With so many distractions for Sacramento, Kings fans may have overlooked All-Star Weekend. It’s about basketball after all, not possible relocation, Seattle, whale watching or arena deals, at least on the surface.
It’s unfortunate really, because Sacramento is very well represented in Houston, home of the 2013 All-Star game. Mitch Richmond is in attendance, representing the Hall of Fame finalist class and the Kings’ ghosts of basketball past. Representing the Kings’ present is 5-foot-9-inch Isaiah Thomas, who got the call last week to play in the Futures game. And of course, what would All-Star weekend be without Sacramento mayor-extraordinaire Kevin Johnson working the room, fighting tooth and nail for the future of the franchise?
It is a basketball fan’s dream. A star studded mix of media, fans, current and legendary players. A welcome escape of the highest order from the tangled web that is waiting back in Sacramento.
But I fear that Kings fans are missing the excitement. They are afraid to dip their toe into a weekend of pure basketball nonsense. They are too wrapped up in the minutia of the relocation narrative to take a break and just be basketball fans.
It’s understandable, but it’s time to let go and live a little.
What would it mean to Sacramento if Richmond made the Hall of Fame? The six time All-Star spent his glory years in Kings’ purple and black, suffering through so many bad seasons before finally breaking through both as a player and leader of the team.
During the 1994-95 All-Star game, Richmond scored 23 points on 10-for-13 shooting and came away with MVP honors. Sacramento finally had a star, and one who could perform on the NBA’s biggest stage. The Richmond All-Star MVP was the pinnacle of the franchise’s first decade in the capital of California. It was a moment when not only was a single man honored, but an entire community waiting back home was rewarded for their tireless commitment to a losing franchise.
Richmond would go on to lead the Kings to the 1995-96 playoffs, losing to the Seattle SuperSonics in a hard-fought four games. When Richmond left the Kings in the 1998 trade that brought Chris Webber to Sacramento, he was the team’s all-time leader in games played, started, 3-pointers made and of course, All-Star appearances.
“The Rock”, as he was so aptly nicknamed, solidified Kings’ basketball in the city of Sacramento through some horribly lean years. The fans packed the building every night to watched Richmond and he always delivered, even when his team didn’t.
Richmond set a standard that the great Rick Adelman-led teams would carry on. He was the Kings’ first and only All-Star through the team’s first 14 seasons in Sacramento. He was a quiet hero for a community that was dying to embrace him.
While Thomas isn’t quite at the level of Richmond, he is a beacon of light in an otherwise dismal situation. A gutsy, undersized, scoring point guard who gives his all every single night, Thomas leads with moxie and determination. He was honored with a roster spot in the futures game, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he is the future of this team.
Basketball works in cycles. Be it a 10-day contract or a decade in the same uniform, players come and go. Thomas is a player that Kings fans would love to see stick around for a long time, but a long time for an NBA player is not the same as a long time for an NBA franchise.
For now, Thomas is “the little engine that could.” He has flash and substance. And for this weekend, he was part of a very select few invited to partake in All-Star festivities.
Kings fans are proud of him and rightfully so. He represented himself and the city well on Friday night, coming away with 18 points and 10 assists for the victorious Team Chuck.
While Thomas was busy on the court, Mayor Johnson was busy working back rooms with people of influence. He is fighting for the future of the Kings, and like he did as an NBA player, he is “playing to win.”
Johnson is really the last bastion of hope for Sacramento. He is the guy on the clock and if he wants to keep the team, he has to put everything in a neat, tidy box for the NBA Board of Governors to consume. He either fails and moving trucks roll away with the franchise in tow or he succeeds and becomes legend, not only in Sacramento, but also in NBA lore.
Johnson has the opportunity to defy all odds, to go up against relocation twice as a mayor and come away victorious both times. And this isn’t just about keeping the Kings in Sacramento – it is about revitalizing a community that is hemorrhaging. A city that has lost too much already and is desperate for some good news.
While Sacramentans don’t have LeBron James or Kevin Durant representing them this weekend, they do have a trio in attendance who represent so much more. They have the past, present and future on full display, making them proud and hopefully helping them keep a treasured civic asset.
So let yourself be a fan, even if it’s just for a couple of days. Give in to the magic of All-Star Weekend.