Sacramento's NBA fans deserve better than this — just as Seattle's fans did
Taking pro sports teams from cities isn't fair, especially to the fans who support those teams.
Times staff columnist
None of this is fair.
The whole idea of relocating sports franchises is disturbing and wrong. Families are robbed of a source of togetherness. Kids miss out on a fundamental joy of growing up. A city is robbed of that comforting notion that there is a team in town, a notion as reassuring as a heartbeat.
In 2002 Sacramento felt like the center of the hoop universe. Arguably, the Kings were the most attractive team in the NBA. They had the requisite stars in Chris Webber and Mike Bibby, and they were deep in role players.
They were the talk of the town. The Little Franchise That Could was heading to the NBA Finals.
And then Game 6 happened; that infamous 106-102 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers that evened the Western Conference Finals at three games apiece and changed the course and the karma of pro basketball in Sacramento.
It probably was the worst officiated big game in sports history. The troubled triumvirate of Dick Bavetta, Ted Bernhardt and Bob Delaney missed calls, whistled phantom fouls, protected Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal and robbed the Kings of a trip to the Finals. It was infuriating to watch.
In that series-tilting sixth game, the Lakers took 40 free throws and the Kings 25. Both Sacramento centers, Vlade Divac and Scot Pollard, fouled out.
The Lakers went on to win Game 7, then swept the New Jersey Nets to capture a world championship that should have belonged to Sacramento.
Believe me, I'm rooting for Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer in their quest to bring the Kings to Seattle. I hope they can find a way to tamp down the egoism of the Kings' owners, the mercurial Maloof brothers, close the deal to buy the franchise and move it here in time for the 2013-14 season. I'll gladly buy the first season ticket.
But I can't help thinking how rotten this deal is for Sacramento's basketball fans. They are the pawns in the Maloofs' get-out-of-debt negotiating game.
Seattle understands the pain of losing a team. This city lost the Sonics to Oklahoma City after more than 40 years. Baseball pirated away the Seattle Pilots after one season. And former owner Ken Behring briefly moved the Seahawks to Southern California in a clumsy, abortive attempt to get a new stadium. Imagine this city today without the Seahawks.
The arc of the Kings' franchise is similar to the Sonics'. They need a new building, just as the Sonics did before Howard Schultz sold the team to Clay Bennett.
Sacramento's building, like Seattle's KeyArena, practically was obsolete by NBA standards the day the doors opened. The Maloofs, like Schultz, love the show. Although they've been absent this season, they've loved sitting courtside and, like Schultz once did, they wore their frequent disappointments on their long faces.
But as their financial troubles began to mount, the Maloofs, like Schultz, let their team slip-slide to the bottom of the Western Conference. And then they began to ask the city for help.
Help or else. We in Seattle know about those threats.
Before the Kings' slide, Arco Arena, except for the annoyingly constant clang of the cow bells, was a great, intimate place to watch a game. Their frenzied fans gave the Kings one of the fiercest home-court advantages in the game.
But now the building is quieter. Sacramento fans are experiencing the same kind of anxious desperation that Sonics fans felt in the final season of the NBA in Seattle.
They are tortured and teased by arena deals that never come together and phantom ownership groups that don't have the clout to close the deal.
I think Sacramento eventually will lose its NBA team and, of course, I'd rather the city lose it to Seattle, a place that still has a passion for the game and never should have lost its team.
Sacramento will continue the fight, just like the legion of Save Our Sonics fans did in Seattle. The game isn't over for Kings fans, even though sometimes it feels as if it is. For them, hope flickers like the lights in a windstorm and the wins don't feel nearly as good as they once did and the losses don't seem to matter as much.
As Seattle grinds through its own waiting game, let's remember how raw this uncertainty feels for the families that have been coming to Kings games since 1985.
Sacramento's fans deserve better. Just like Seattle's fans did.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or email@example.com
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
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