Can the Sacramento Kings become the world’s team in the near future?

It was Jan. 21, 2013, a somber day Kings fans will never forget, the day the Maloofs, former owners of the Sacramento Kings, agreed to sell the team to a Seattle group led by investor Chris Hansen. Word of this sale made waves throughout every local and national media outlet.

It was a time of doubt and helplessness for anyone associated with the franchise or local community surrounding this once proud franchise.

“What now, what are we as a community without our Kings, this is just like how Seattle lost their team,” were some thoughts murmured by fans following the unofficial sale of the Kings to Hansen and his Seattle based group. All hope was lost.

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That was the feeling until the NBA Board of Governors officially rejected a sale between the Maloofs and investor Chris Hansen by a vote of 22-8 on May 15, 2013. Utter shock would be an understatement to those following this story at the time.

By the pure heart and tenacity of people such as former Mayor Kevin Johnson, radio personality Carmichael Dave, others alike, and the amazing fan base in Sacramento, had pulled off one of the most unbelievable underdog stories in recent time.

“HERE WE STAY, HERE WE BUILD.”

May 28, 2013, marked the day the Sacramento Kings were sold to current owner Vivek Ranadive, the man who ended the conversation of whether the Kings would be leaving town for good.

From that point on, the Kings were finally left with some stability and a brand new state of the art arena in the heart of downtown Sacramento.

With Ranadive on board, came ties to India and an enormous NBA audience waiting for a chance to hop on an NBA franchise bandwagon. A completely untapped market that just hadn’t been given the opportunity.

Then came the hiring of Vlade Divac, former Sacramento King and current General Manager, in September of 2015. Originally from Serbia, he found his way as a player to the Sacramento Kings in 1998.

He was known for his smooth passing, high basketball IQ and leadership qualities. Divac led the Kings during their glory days in the early 2000’s and introduced his home country of Serbia what the NBA was all about.

A simple cowtown in the middle of California had an entire country in Serbia rooting them on every step of the way.

This was just the beginning as Peja Stojakovic, another former Sacramento King and current director of player personnel and development, was hired in August of 2015 to not only oversee player personnel, but also serve as General Manager for the Sacramento Kings’ G-League affiliate Reno Bighorns.

Stojakovic as Divac did, played for the Sacramento Kings during their glory days to help lead the Kings with that beautiful 3-point stroke and charismatic personality. He too is a Serbian native that helped open the eyes of all Serbians looking for a basketball outlet here in the NBA.

From the front office all the way down to the players were doors being opened up internationally that the NBA had never dreamed of during David Stern’s tenure where he promoted and advocated to expand the audiences globally.

Players being drafted internationally were continuing to grow each year and viewership on the national level was evident with Game 5 of the 2017 NBA finals having 50.6 million total viewers that reached 215 countries and 49 different languages, the most watched game ever in an NBA finals to date, according to ESPN.com.

With the likes of Dirk Nowitzki (Germany), Tony Parker (France), Pau Gasol (Spain), Yao Ming (China), and Manu Ginoboli (Argentina) helping to lead the charge on a national stage, the NBA was ready to become a global enterprise.

Here in Sacramento, this international audience is quietly gaining traction as the Kings have effectively used the immediate resources available to them.

Ranadive was asked during the 2017 NBA All-Star game on having a basketball presence in India and had lots of good stuff to say.

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“I think it’s really important for us to actually go and show India what a real NBA game looks like,” Ranadive told ESPN’s Thomas Neumann. “So my dream is to become the first team to actually play a game in India. Then we have to keep doing that.”

Ranadive has worked with other owners in the past to make this dream a reality and sees feasibility of a regular season game happening in India within the next couple of years, following the instituted format of playing two NBA exhibition games in China every year to help increase global viewership.

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Before the 2016-2017 season began, the Kings had to align with their new state of the art arena by rebranding their logo and jerseys. One jersey in particular called the Global Uniform was made not only to symbolize the unparalleled community of Sacramento, but also to highlight the viewership of an international audience.

The Sacramento Kings didn’t stop there as the 2016-2017 season gave birth to the first ever Facebook live streamed game in India hosted by Vivek Ranadive and the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 9, 2017, as they took on the Golden State Warriors.

With the front office hiring’s of Divac and Stojakovic there has been a youth movement that included an eye for international talent particular from Europe in recent years because of their Serbian ties.

The current players on the Kings roster that are rooted internationally includes Bogdan Bogdanovic (Serbia), Buddy Hield (Bahamas), Skal Labissiere (Haiti), Georgios Papagiannis (Greece), and Kosta Koufos (Greece/USA). All of which were not only brought in under Divac’s reign as General Manager, but will play very vital roles to the success of the team.

As Doug Christie, former Sacramento King and current radio co-host with Grant Napear on Sports 1140 KHTK says, “Once you get a guy here, he realizes what Sacramento is all about and never wants to leave.”

Christie was referring to getting players to come to a small market like Sacramento and realizing what an awesome experience it is to live and play for the fans here in Sacramento.

The same applies to the four out of five international players on the current Kings roster who have experienced an NBA regular season here in Sacramento and are able to pass on their experiences to their home countries during the offseason.

Hield recently held his annual basketball camp in his homeland of the Bahamas in early August of 2017, something he looks forward to every year to teach boys and girls the fundamentals of basketball and provide an escape from the realities of everyday life.

“The passion for the NBA and game of basketball is very strong in the Caribbean,” Hield told Renaldo Dorsett of Tribune Sports. “Having the Basketball without Borders Americas in my home, the Bahamas, for the first time ever this July is a great way to continue to grow the game and help youth basketball development in the region.”

For the first time since high school and his amazing survival story of the Haiti earthquakes in 2010, Labissiere made his way back to his home country of Haiti hosting his first ever Camp S.K.A.L. clinic on July 19-21 to promote spiritual awareness, self-confidence and innovative thinking for the youth.

It was an emotional trip for Labissiere who said, “These were the best years of my life growing up,” as he passed his childhood home in Haiti.

Even for newly acquired players such as Bogdan Bogdanovic, there has been an outcry amongst Fenerbahce fans, Bogdanovic’s former Turkish club team, about him leaving after three amazing years with the team.

No one wanted to see him go but wished him the best and supported his decision to move overseas and play for the Sacramento Kings. Another audience there in Turkey and Serbia that will follow him wherever he establishes his career.

A structure is in place for the Sacramento Kings to truly take advantage of that international market and it all started back in 1998 with the frontiers of international basketball players in Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic.

From the front office, to the players and all the way down to its fans, the time has arrived to become a fully global team. If the Kings go to Seattle, who knows what would have happened or if there ever would have been an opportunity for international fans to root for the Kings.

If the Kings can get back on track in the wins column, they won’t only be Sacramento’s team, but the world’s team and that is something Ranadive dream’s of.

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Cameron York
Special Contributor to Cowbell Kingdom

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