Sunday Musings: Golden State Warriors bring back memories of better days for Sacramento

Kings fans show their support at the final home game of the 2012-13 season. (Photo: Steven Chea)

The fate of the Sacramento Kings may be known as soon as tomorrow.  After 28 years in the capital of California, no one truly knows if there are just hours left for the franchise or a new 35-year commitment for the fans in Sacramento.  Talk about an intense reality.

There has been so little to get excited about for Kings fans.  We already documented the slide of the franchise beginning in 2006 earlier this week.  So instead of focusing on the negative, it’s time to look back at one of the greatest moments in Sacramento history.

Watching the Golden State Warriors take on the Denver Nuggets Friday night was a joy and reminded me the power of watching a fanbase struggle through so much before finally breaking through like the Kings did in the 1995-96 season.

The statistics are atrocious for Warrior fans.  Before this year, the Warriors had missed the playoffs five consecutive seasons and an astounding 17 of 18 years dating back to the 1994-95 season.  Since the 1977-78 season, the Warriors have missed the playoffs 29 of 35 seasons, leaving their fans to constantly refer back to 1975 when the franchise won its last NBA title.

But all of that seemed like a distant memory on Friday.  The scene was incredible.  A sea of gold and a crowd that was flat out inspiring helped the Warriors beat the Denver Nuggets 110-108, giving the home team a 2-1 advantage in the best of seven series.

I’ve seen this before.  Actually, I’ve seen this first hand and it was a life experience.  Not to compare Warriors fans and Oracle Arena to Sacramento and Arco Arena, but the 1996 first round match-up of the eighth seeded Kings versus the 64-win Seattle SuperSonics is something of legend.

Sacramento had sold out every game in their history leading up to the 1995-96, but made the playoffs just once.  After nine consecutive years of futility, Kings fans were ready for their reward.  With their team returning to Sacramento tied with the Sonics 1-1, there had never been a louder and hungrier crowd than the 17,317 that filled up Arco on for game three.

It was deafening.  I know because I was there.  I know because I couldn’t hear for the following three days.

I have often tried to capture that feeling in words for people that were not fortunate enough to be in the building, but it’s difficult.

The energy was palpable.  You wanted to reach out and touch it or better yet, capture it in a bottle and keep it for later.  It was more than the noise, rather it was the pent up emotion of an entire city bursting at the seams.

Volume levels from that night have been compared to those of a jet engine.  The noise bounced off the walls, looking for somewhere to escape.  Be it the acoustics or the shape of the arena, but the sound engulfed you and never let up.

It was like swimming in fandom.

“There were about 10 games in my life where you walk off the court, and most of them were in Seattle, but when you walk off the court and your ears are just ringing,” Former-Sonics-turned-Nuggets coach George Karl said of that game three played 17 years ago in Sacramento.  “They just ring because of the noise and that was one of those nights.”

The Kings lost games three and four at home, but it had nothing to do with the crowd.  In fact, the Sonics were probably better prepared for the bedlam that they experienced those two evenings.  While they may not have heard anything quite like Sacramento’s faithful before, they were an incredible, battle-tested group that eventually made it to the NBA Finals that season.

It was short lived.  The Kings would miss the playoffs the next two seasons.  That magic would come back in 1999 when the Kings began their run of eight consecutive playoff appearances, but I’m not sure that the energy level ever matched that 1996 season.

There is something about years of struggle being rewarded.  There is something about waiting for your turn to have success and then finally obtaining it.  And there is something about wanting everything, but expecting nothing.

That 1995-96 Kings team was 39-43.  They were not great, but they live on in the memories of many Sacramentans as the group that finally broke through.  Mitch Richmond was the star, but Tyus Edney, Olden Polynice, Billy Owens, Brian Grant, Michael Smith, Sarunas Marciulionis and Lionel Simmons delivered where so many others had failed miserably.

With so much uncertainty in Sacramento, Kings fans would settle for just keeping their team right now and worrying about things like the playoffs down the road.

Hat’s off to Warriors fans for bringing the noise and representing the bay area well.  Kings fans would love nothing more than to see co-owner Vivek Ranadivé win a few more games with his old team before riding into Sacramento and getting the Kings back on track.  Until then, they will live vicariously through you and remember better times.

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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.