Time’s Threat to the Throne
It was just six years ago when the City of Sacramento saw its lone professional sports team make it to the playoffs. And six years from that, it seemed as if the Kings were truly amongst the finest of what the NBA had to offer.
Today, with talks of the franchise relocating, the Kings may soon be dethroned from the capital of California.
Time is truly the strangest thing about life, because no one really knows where they are going to be a half-dozen years from now. But with how good that Sacramento Kings team was at the start of the millennium, it was awfully hard to see the fall of a sports organization in such a short period of time.
June 2nd, 2002 — Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals
The memory is vivid for every Kings fan. For a Los Angeles Laker fan, the memory maybe gone considering all of the rivalries they have had since then — San Antonio Spurs, Detroit Pistons, Phoenix Suns, Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks. But boy, did these teams clash better than any other iconic rivals would.
Walking into Arco Arena (Now renamed to Sleep Train Arena), it was difficult finding a person that would wear the color yellow to a Kings game. It wasn’t hard to find anyone wearing purple, but just so long as they had it mixed with the basic color pattern of black and white. For you see, anyone accused of being a Laker fan at this time would be heavily scolded by the sound of the cowbells rattling in their ears.
After a miraculous (and now thanks to former NBA official, Tim Donaghy, controversial) Game 4 loss at the Staples Center, the Kings find themselves going the distance with the two-time defending champs in a series that should already been over. The series was 3-2 heading back to Sacramento but Game 6 was another chance that got away. As for the final game that was decided at the end of regulation? Well, it was just the Lakers’ destiny to win, I guess.
Down by two with less than 90 seconds to go, in front of the loudest NBA arena; the final possessions for the Kings were nothing to cheer about. Mike Bibby dribbled down and missed a 18-foot jumper, followed by a turnover from Hedo Turkoglu, a Doug Christie 3-pointer that hit the side of the backboard and a long range attempt by Chris Webber that touched every single part of the basket but the net itself.
Destiny may have helped the Lakers advance to the NBA Finals, but it was the better team that failed to capitalize on the four key opportunities.
After that collapse, the Kings vowed to come back to that stage. But as history now shows, nothing is guaranteed.
Regardless of how many games a team has played in a season, there will always be one game that defines the fate of a franchise. For the 27 years in Sacramento, the Kings have only been to the W.C.F. once and held the best record in the conference twice. Despite the loss to the Lakers, most basketball fans could have sworn the Kings would return. But also basketball fans today would be left to say that those memories were short lived. Still, it is hard not to argue that the early 2000’s Sacramento Kings was one of the best squads to not win a championship.
Oh, the memories.
From C-Webb and Peja Stojakovic’s chase for the regular season MVP to the questionable but in the end beneficial trade for Mike Bibby, there was just so much in between for a group of guys that seemed out of place with the setting. Webber’s collegiate and professional career was what put him in the spotlight, but it would make even more sense for him to play for a team in a bigger market. Bobby Jackson and Lawrence Funderberg looked as if they belonged back in the middle of the country. Scot Pollard gave off the playboy vibes, having most of us believe he was stuck at a frat party in some college near his hometown of San Diego. And if Stojakovic, Turkoglu or Vlade Divac was handed a map of the United States when they first entered the league and was asked to locate Sacramento, it probably would have taken them the longest out of all the other 27 locations (‘Golden State’ would be an exception).
But what made the Kings the best at the time was the collective chemistry with the talent that they had. The post players could hit mid-range jumpers efficiently but the backcourt was even better from beyond the arc. The post players would also pass the ball better than any frontcourt in the league, so the offense would be continual movement of the rock until someone would be open for the best shot opportunity. And, who can forget, the variation of great of defensive players. By variation, I mean from the Doug Christie “Up-in-your-face” D to Divac’s masterful flopping techniques (which unfortunately, is no longer legal in today’s game).
With the way I am describing the Kings, someone who was just learning about them would be given the impression that they were ‘good guys’. And the ironic part about it was, they really weren’t.
They were in a way, a second coming of the Detroit Pistons squad back in the late 80’s. They were the “Bad Boys” and they enforced that cliché belief of nice guys finishing last. Hopefully the team picture above will help clarify their identity, but what most of the NBA fans remember about the Sacramento Kings at the start of last decade was that they were the team you loved to hate.
Here’s the thing about hate; it’s a sign of respect. People hated the Kings because they were so damn good and the attitude they carried around was something no fan from the opposing team would like to see. But at the end of the day, the Kings were a team you had to tip your hat off to.
After 2006, there was a lot less ‘hat tipping’ to the Kings. The franchise hasn’t come close to making the postseason and two seasons ago was the start of talks about the Maloof brothers moving the team elsewhere. While the Maloofs are given the stink eye by most fans, Mayor Kevin Johnson is looked at as a hero for keeping the Kings in Sacramento for the time being.
It has been over a decade since that Game 7 versus the Lakers took place. And for the citizens in Sacramento, it still haunts them till this day.