I can’t help but feel for Sacramento Kings’ fans. The only major professional sports team in the capital of the nation’s most populous state, and it’s about to be gone. The Kings appear headed for Seattle, and there’s really nothing the fans can really do about it other than soak in low-price seats in the franchise’s final days in California.
The NBA confirmed the sale of the Kings to a Seattle-based group this morning, and all signs point to that group, headed by Chris Hansen, some hedge fund dude, and Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, filing for relocation by the league-imposed March 1 deadline. The team is even expected to be moved into Seattle, a great sports city, BTW, by next season, with a renaming to the SuperSonics also imminent.
As bad as you have to feel for Sacramento, it’s great for Seattle. I mean, if you watched one Seahawks game this season, you know how much professional sports mean to that city. And watching the Sonics be ripped away to Oklahoma City, a low point of David Stern’s otherwise remarkable (besides for the whole Tim Donaghy thing) tenure, in 2008, only to see that team, their team, advance to the NBA Finals less than four years later.
No matter how many lawsuits were filed, nothing was stopping the Sonics from leaving Seattle. And all early indications are that the Kings, at season’s end, will no longer be the Kings and no longer call Sacramento home.
It’s unfortunate. I’ll always have a soft spot for Sacramento, for the Kings’ teams of the late ’90s and early 2000s, with players like Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, Peja Stojakovic, Doug Christie, Mike Bibby, Bobby Jackson, Hedo Turkoglu — the list goes on. The teams whose continues battles with the Lakers, in those days on Sunday afternoon NBA on NBC broadcasts, first drew me to professional basketball. It’s a shame those Kings could never quite get past Los Angeles, or, more specifically, poor officiating and Robert Horry’s clutch 3-balls.
Those Kings are no more. These Kings are in a clear rebuild, with no clear direction. Their most promising player, DeMarcus Cousins, doubles as a head case and has, given his persistent bouts with head coach Keith Smart, even been rumored to be on the block. Furthermore, the Kings don’t yet know what they have with Tyreke Evans, who has bottomed out since a stellar rookie year and, with no extension, appears on his way out this offseason.
I faintly remember when the Expos left Montreal, a less-than-2-hour drive, mostly spent waiting to cross the border, from my upstate N.Y. home, in 2004. Nobody faulted Major League Baseball; the team was hardly successful, not since 1994, and only a few thousand, if that, fans were coming out to Olympic Stadium any given night to see the home team. Hell, I remember watching professional baseball games for $1.50, and then, once nobody came, moving down to first row dugout seats. For $1.50.
But that was in an already-small market where nobody really cared about baseball; the Montreal Canadiens are routinely among the top teams in NHL attendance. Yeah, sure, the Kings are dead last this year among the NBA’s 30 clubs in attendance. But they’re still drawing close to 13,200 a night, a far cry from the thousand or two the Expos were drawing 10 years ago.
It might appear like a good move, in a business sense. But that doesn’t lessen the pain for Kings fans.
Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.