The Oakland A’s, Sacramento Kings and the purity of fandom

James Ham's nine-year-old son experiencing the joy of the Oakland A's AL West Championship (Photo: James Ham)

There is something about sports that captures the imagination, pulls at one’s heartstrings and creates bonds – be it with a father and son or with 30,000 strangers celebrating a victory in a shared experience.

On Wednesday, I decided to take my nine-year-old son for a day of hooky (I mean “bonding”).  We bought tickets and made the three-hour drive to the bay to watch the Oakland A’s square off against the Texas Rangers for the American League West Championship.

Sometimes being a parent means making decisions that others don’t quite understand and I take full responsibility for my choices.  Win or lose, I knew my son could learn more from sitting in the stands of a sold-out Oakland Coliseum compared to another day in a fourth grade classroom.

The world is a heavy place, even for those who haven’t lived a decade on this earth.  Call it escapism or a break from real life, but for three hours on a Wednesday afternoon, my son and I cheered for our Oakland A’s with all our heart and all our soul.

It’s the purity of fandom.

In the stands, there was no talk about Lew Wolf, the owner of the Athletics, who may move them 45 minutes south to San Jose.  There was no talk of free agency or lack of payroll.

There was only bedlam, cheering, high fives, hugs and lots of smiles.  Smiles that both my son and I will remember forever.

“It’s the power of sports,” Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton told me during the filming of “Small Market, Big Heart“.  “It’s the narcotic of sports in that you forget.  Your mind, your brain shuts off.”

While a young A’s team is capturing the imagination of Oakland, the same can’t be said about the Kings in Sacramento.  The purity is gone and as a friend put it so aptly, “Kings stuff is like watching sausage being made from scratch. Sometimes we know too much.”

And we do know too much.  And it isn’t fun anymore.  Not for you and not for me.

But you have to wonder, what if this season of uncertainty could be washed away by a playoff run?  What if the Kings can accomplish something in the vein of what the A’s have shown us?

There is a lot riding on the shoulders of this young Kings team.  Tyreke Evans is fighting for a monster contract at season’s end.  DeMarcus Cousins is trying to change how he is perceived in hopes of an All-Star bid.  Jimmer Fredette is trying to make people believe that he is more than just a great college basketball player.

But more than personal pressure, this team needs to win in order to erase the pain of the near-move to Anaheim and the failure of the latest arena plan.

The people of Sacramento just want to watch basketball.  They don’t want to hear how much money their owners may or may not have.  They don’t want to hear about Virginia Beach, Seattle, Anaheim or The Real Housewives of Orange County.

They want to relive the Chris Webber, Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic era.  They want to watch what Oakland A’s fans have been treated to this season – a season of pure fandom without any distractions.

I’m not sure that we will get that wish, but what if?

The Kings don’t need to sneak into the playoffs.  They just need to be in the conversation until the final few weeks of the season.  The fans need to see growth and a foundation set for a brighter future.  Remember, this is a fanbase that has completely sold out 19 out of 27 seasons, only 10 of which were playoff campaigns.

Who knows?  Maybe Keith Smart can catch lightning in a bottle.  Maybe this team can do what Josh Reddick, Yoenis Cespedes, Brandon Moss and five rookie starting pitchers have accomplished for the Oakland Athletics.

Sacramento Kings fans are ready to fall in love with basketball again.  They are ready to enjoy the purity of sports, but they need something from this team.  A new stadium deal would be nice, but I think going to games that matter would suffice, at least for now.

Our condolences go out to relief pitcher Pat and Stephanee Neshek for their loss, as well as the entire Athletics family.

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About: James Ham

James Ham provides coverage through news analysis and in-depth interviews with Kings players and staff. James is also one of the producers behind the award-winning, independent documentary "Small Market, Big Heart". James graduated UC Davis with a degree in history and is happily married with two children.