It seems like a lifetime ago, but my life used to revolve around the Sacramento Kings. I had a job as statistician for Gary Gerould and the radio crew. I attended every home game (for many years driving 90 miles from Chico), I would drive to Oakland when the Kings played the Warriors. I was in studio for a lot of road games. But when Sacramento almost lost their team this week, I didn’t really care.
I’m not really sure why that is. The town deserves their team, and the team deserves to be better. With the exception of a couple of good years in the early 2000s, the Kings have been pretty bad. They’ve been lovable losers for the most part, though, with fan support strong, just not several hundred sellouts in a row strong like they were in the late 1980s and well into the 1990s.
If you don’t know the story, the going-bankrupt-in-a-hurry Maloof family agreed to sell the franchise to a group that wanted to move them to Seattle. A Sacramento group led by mayor, and former NBA player himself Kevin Johnson lined up prospective buyers to keep the team in town, and put together a deal to build a new arena. The league said that was enough to keep the team, rejected the sale and relocation, and the Maloofs have just sold the club, but to a new group that keeps the franchise in California’s capital city.
I seem to have nothing but ambivalence for the Kings now. I had my job there for 11 seasons, but I’ve been gone now for longer than I was with them. I hardly watch them on television, but when I do, I see some of the same faces at the scorer’s table that were there 28 years ago. I think of the stat crew, the time clock operator, and those other folks, and think about the old times, and how they continue to love their Kings. I’m happy for them, but maybe not as ecstatic as I should be.
Gary Gerould is still the radio voice of the Kings, and for my money, there’s no one better. There’s a gift to being excited without yelling when there’s a great play, and there’s just a comfortable sound to his voice. That’s something that you can’t teach. He also has the knowledge, and vocabulary, to paint an unbelievable word picture, whether its something good or bad for the Sacramento faithful. I’m not sure if he would have gone to Seattle with the team had they left, but I know he’s thrilled that the Kings are still in Sacramento. I’m happy for G-Man, but maybe not as ecstatic as I should be.
Maybe it’s because this saga has gone on for so long. Rich people want new arenas but don’t want to pay for them, and meanwhile the team keeps losing. The Kings are the only major league sport in Sacramento, but their story, and their play, has become tired. General Manager and former NBA Rookie of the Year (and only sports executive who spells his first name like I do) Geoff Petrie still has a job (for now), even though they keep losing. The franchise has been through a lot of coaches, but Petrie has remained. I’m happy for him, too, but maybe not as ecstatic as I should be.
There are many others. Jerry Reynolds. He and Gerould are the faces of the franchise as far as I’m concerned. How about the Lukenbill family, who bought the team, and brought them in from Kansas City. They haven’t owned the franchise for years, but they are the ones who I’ll always think of as the owners. Gregg Lukenbill built Arco Arena, and even climbed into the rafters to fix a leak when it rained one night and delayed a game. I’m happy for him, and his sister who I worked with for awhile, but maybe not as ecstatic as I should be.
Kings fans are thrilled, and I still recognize some of the same faces that have been there the whole time. These are the people that makes sports what they are, that make an arena an exciting place to be. Being a part of that franchise, with sellout crowds, and exciting basketball is amazing, and even though I was a lowly statkeeper, walking through that tunnel and into the arena was something I’ll never forget. I’m happy for all that will still get to enjoy that part of sport, and make it an experience that it should be, and maybe, perhaps inside the new arena whenever that opens, if I get to experience that again, I’ll be as ecstatic as I should be.