Sacramento Kings steal the national spotlight

Shaquille O'Neal and Vivek Ranadivé.

In case you missed it, the Sacramento Kings became THE news story of the day on Tuesday.  A normally meager Sacramento media crowd turned into a banquet hall of cameras and voice recorders.  Local television stations thought they had the scoop, only to see Shaquille O’Neal and Vivek Ranadivé show up on C-Span, CNBC and ESPN.  The Kings took center stage on a national level and for the first time in a long time, they weren’t as part of a relocation report.

This was all part of a carefully organized plan to change the perception of the team on a large scale.  The Kings have been very clear about their distaste for ESPN The Magazine’s article last week that ranked the team dead last out of 122 professional franchises.  They have launched a campaign to defend their brand because things are different now.

“I said this to ESPN,” Ranadivé told the gathering of media in Sacramento.  “That they should want to join the 21st century.  Who wants to read yesterday’s news?”

Thanks to Shaq and the Sacramento ownership group, the Kings are today’s news.  They are relevant and reinventing a brand, but they are doing something more in the process.

For the last three years, the national narrative was that the city of Sacramento was unworthy of having a professional franchise.  The Maloof family did everything in their power to run the organization into the ground in an attempt to relocate the team elsewhere.  It’s surprising that they didn’t pull a Donald Sterling and just move the team in the night.

Anaheim, Las Vegas, Virginia Beach and Seattle came calling and they all were turned away.  They were turned away because the fans of Sacramento fought like champions and mayor Kevin Johnson fought like a champion.

And now the new ownership group is saying “no more”.  You will not trample our fanbase, our franchise or our city anymore.

“It’s the state capital of the seventh largest country in the world if you break us apart (from the U.S.),” fellow Kings owner Mark Mastrov said yesterday of Sacramento.  “It’s a place of influence.  California is one of the most influential states and to a certain degree mini-countries that you’ve ever seen.  But Sacramento has never necessarily had this feel like ‘we’re special’.  And our view is they are special.”

The Kings are No. 1 in the league in new ticket sales.  That means that Kings fans are No. 1 in new ticket purchases, which surprises no one at the NBA.  This was their model small market franchise and their model small market fanbase.

For 19 of the first 28 seasons in Sacramento, Kings fans completely sold out Arco Arena.  They supported a franchise through thick and thin.  When the chips were down, they organized, they chanted and they fought to keep a community asset.

While Kings fans would love a playoff run, they are just excited to have their team.

The payoff for all of the support and hard work is now being realized.  A world class arena is being planned out that will reinvent Sacramento.  A support system for the team has been rebuilt from the ground up.  And yes, Shaquille O’Neal is now a minority owner of the Sacramento Kings.

There have been plenty of vocal fans freaking out over the addition of the former Laker superstar.  Not everyone is happy about the move, but if they step back and take a look at what O’Neal can do for this franchise, they would change their tune.

You don’t have to be a fan of Shaqramento or the Big Marketeer, but O’Neal brings instant notoriety to the table.  He also brings four championship rings and a voice that DeMarcus Cousins cannot ignore.

This is NBA 3.0.  It is the revitalization of a franchise that was left for dead.  The city of Sacramento and hordes of Kings fans need to buckle up because this wild ride is only just beginning.  If Tuesday taught us anything, it is that nothing is off the table with this new ownership group.  They will not stand for Sacramento being a doormat anymore.

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About: James Ham

James Ham is co-owner and senior editor of Cowbell Kingdom, providing extensive Kings coverage through news analysis, in-depth interviews with players and staff and daily coverage of breaking news. Along with providing original content for the site, including the Cowbell Kingdom Podcast and his weekly Sunday Musings column, James also provides game day coverage for NBA.com and is one of the producers behind the award-winning, independent documentary "Small Market, Big Heart".