The Sacramento Kings are tied 2-2 with the defending Champion Golden State Warriors in the first round of the NBA Playoffs and I’m not quite sure my heart can handle the next 2-3 games.
It has been 17-years since the Kings reached the NBA Playoffs.
In 2006, I was 22-years-old and over-enjoying the first half of my Tommy Boy-esque college career. I was clueless about what was to come over the next almost two decades of life.
I am now almost 39-years-old and since 2006, so much has changed. I graduated college (eventually); worked a decade in radio; lost my father; bought a house; got married and now sell beer, wine and spirits while grasping on to the morsel of radio that remains in my life.
The Kings had a similar string of “life” changes in those 17-years. The franchise was sold by the Maloofs to Vivek Ranadive in 2013 for $534 million, an NBA record at the time. This sale came after the Maloofs tried to make a deal with investor Chris Hansen which would have included moving the team to Seattle.
The city of Sacramento rose up and did not allow that.
Today we’re one day away from a pivotal Game 5 at the Golden1 Center in Sacramento between the Kings and the Warriors.
The series has become a 3-game series and the Kings have two of those games in front of one of the most amazing fan bases I have ever been a part of. The possibility of a 2nd Round match-up with the hated Los Angeles Lakers on the table.
Now the question remains…why do I care about the Kings?
I’ve lived in South Carolina and Florida over the last 23-years of life, so I have explained my fandom at nauseum in person-to-person conversations. With the Kings’ return to the post-season, I felt the need to write it down for you all…mostly because I haven’t written anything in years and it was about time I did.
In the Summer of 1994, my family departed the (then) small wooded town of Hooksett, New Hampshire and moved to Folsom, California.
Twenty three miles outside of Sacramento.
Most people wonder how I wasn’t already a massive Boston Celtics fan, as I was already a decade old when we left New England…so let me answer that now.
We really just didn’t watch basketball much.
We were a very baseball-centric family with the Boston Red Sox as a major fixation and the Atlanta Braves as a personal fixation because I could watch them every single day on TV.
When we watched the NBA in those days, yeah, we saw a Celtics team with Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish, but we also saw Magic and the Lakers, Patrick and the Knicks and of course Michael and the Bulls. I grew up liking watching greatness more than simply rooting for a team when it came to the NBA.
Then with the creation of NBA Jam I liked players on almost every team.
My Kings fandom didn’t even take off immediately when we landed in Northern California. Initially, I still wasn’t all that into the NBA and with the move to California I was able to play baseball year round so as a baseball obsessed kid that’s all I could think about at 10-years-old.
My first trip to Arco Arena was with a new friend from school and his mother and it was the first NBA experience of my life.
The Minnesota Timberwolves were in town with the infamous Christian Laettner. The cool thing about that, is that this was when Christian’s Duke teammate Bobby Hurley was on the Kings. The little I knew about NCAA hoops at the time is what I watched in the tournament with my Dad. So I knew all about that Duke team and remember thinking about how cool it was to see these two play against each other.
That Sacramento squad featured future Hall Of Famer Mitch Richmond along with Spudd Webb, Olden Polynice and Walt Williams. They were not exactly a contender. The 1994-95 Kings finished the season 39-43 and out of the post-season.
The Kings won that night 109-89 and though I wasn’t immediately hooked and Kings crazy…I was definitely pulled in closer and the seed had been planted.
From then on going to Arco Arena was always a special experience, no matter what it was for.
I saw my first live wrestling event with my father at Arco Arena, a WCW Monday Nitro the night after Scott Steiner turned on Rick Steiner and joined the nWo. That night we saw Ric Flair and Brett Hart cut an epic promo and even got to see Sting rappel from the rafters.
That arena was special to me in my childhood, and as much as I loved professional wrestling and enjoyed that legendary Nitro…it was my father taking me to Kings games that truly made not only that building, but this franchise so important to me.
It started small.
We’d go to a random game here or there, but looking back the selections were definitely thought out. He took me to see the Pistons because he knew I was a big Grant Hill fan. We went to see the Pacers to both witness the greatness of Reggie Miller from beyond the arch but also to see the legend Larry Bird on the bench as Pacers head coach. He even took me to see the high flying Toronto Raptors with both T-Mac and Vince Carter.
In 1998, the NBA had a lockout that lasted 6-months, 2-weeks and 5-days. The 1998-99 season was reduced to just 50-games and didn’t begin until February of 1999.
The Kings took advantage of some opportunities that year.
They hired a new coach in Rick Adelman and brought in some big names like Chris Webber and Vlade Divac. That season also brought a fan favorite to SacTown, Jason Williams, who they drafted with the 7th pick in the 1998 NBA Draft.
The 50-game season provided a chance for the Kings to compete quickly and turn the franchise around and at that time, it seemed to be what the Maloofs wanted to give the fans of Sacramento.
One of those fans saw another opportunity…my father.
Pops decided to go halfsies with a co-worker on a ticket package for the shortened season and let’s just say we went to Arco Arena quite often that season.
We saw the rise of Peja Stojakovic as a lethal 3-point shooter, including one unforgettable buzzer beater against the Knicks to send the game into overtime. The Kings lost that game, but the euphoria of Peja’s shot bouncing up off the rim and dropping through the net is an experience I’ll never forget.
We listened to Hot Talk 1400 with wall-to-wall Kings coverage every day, but even more intently while making he drive from Folsom to Arco Arena. We experienced the creation of Jason Williams’ “White Chocolate” nickname and learned to hate the Jazz, Lakers and any other team that stood in our way of the ultimate dream…an NBA Championship for a fan base that never gives up hope.
The Big Nasty Corliss Williamson had grown into the player we all hoped he could be and now he had a squad around him…Sacramento’s time had come.
The Kings made the playoffs in the shortened season and fell short in a Game 5 overtime loss to the Jazz. The post-season disappointment continued in 1999-2000 with another tough Game 5 loss, this time to the Lakers.
That season came with even more Arco Arena experiences with my father.
Pops was able to get some amazing seats to see Karl Malone, John Stockton and the Jazz take on our Kings on the NBA on NBC game of the week. Little Arco was absolutely rocking for this game. After taking a tough loss, we had the opportunity to go into the Kings lounge for a while and met some really cool people, but none as cool as the one we met as we walked back across the court to leave the arena…John Stockton.
Stockton was a legend…yeah he was the “enemy” at that point because the hatred for the Jazz was real…but he was John Stockton.
My father was nearly giddy when he noticed we were just feet behind this basketball superstar and called his name. Even in “enemy” territory getting chased down by a grown man and a teenager dressed head to toe in black and purple, Stockton couldn’t have been nicer.
He talked with us for a good 10-minutes and went on his way.
Dad and I were flying high on that drive home.
In Fall of 2000, my father had to take a new job and we left Sacramento for South Carolina, but the obsession with the Kings that we had built came with us. At this point the hope and belief were at an all time high for Sacramento fans, even the experts were taking notice and giving our Kings praise, further feeding our hope for greatness.
The 2000-01 season ended and the Kings had earned home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs against the Phoenix Suns. They made quick work of that series, defeating the Suns 3-1 in a 5-game series.
Up next…the Lakers.
The Kings and Lakers rivalry was at fever pitch at this point after the Lakers eliminated our Kings the year prior. Shaq and Kobe had taken over for Malone and Stockton as the main villains in our favorite team’s current story and now our boys had another shot to take down the dynasty and take over the west.
Instead, they were swept in 4-straight games by the eventual NBA Champions.
Heartbreak. Frustration. Anger.
We felt almost every emotion as Kings fans after that abysmal showing against the Lakers, but somehow it didn’t erase our hope and led to even more hype when it came to the Kings. A hype that exploded when the Kings traded Jason Williams to the Vancouver (Yes, Vancouver) Grizzlies for Mike Bibby.
Bibby, Christie, Peja, C-Webb, Divac.
This team not only gave us fans hope, but they delivered the goods all year. They were a force in the west and finished Pacific Division Champions and the #1 seed in the Western Conference.
This was absolutely going to be the year glory came to Arco Arena.
My father and I talked about the Kings almost all the time at this point. Sure we still talked about other sports and our love for the Red Sox was growing more and more into an amazing era in Boston, but there was still something special about what we had in Sacramento with the Kings.
During the 2002 Western Conference Finals…which I will avoid spiraling down the rabbit hole about…Pops had a 50+ baseball league tournament in Atlanta. We were staying in a hotel that was right next to our favorite Sacramento area restaurant called Chevy’s, so it seemed like fate. The Kings were going to dispose of the Lakers, we were going to have some fajitas and all was right in the world.
We were on our feet, barely holding it together. The ball was in the air, swatted away…the Kings were about to go up 3-1 on the Lakers with Game 5 at home in Arco Arena…and then Robert Horry happened.
The hotel room was silent.
Little did we know that the Robert Horry buzzer beater in Game 4 wasn’t going to be the most heartbreaking part of the 2002 Western Conference Finals.
Game 5 went to the Kings and then the controversy began.
Game 6 might have been the most disgusting display of referee fixing you could ever imagine. Again, I’ve already digressed enough so we’re not going to dive into this right now. Just know that the Kings got robbed and the Lakers were handed the Western Conference.
My father and I knew this to be true from the moment it happened. There was no other logical explanation for what we had just seen. I mean, Kobe elbowed Bibby in the face! How could this have happened?
Of course we got the typical “you’re just being a fan” response anytime we talked about it over the next handful of years, but we knew…we knew.
In the next two seasons the Kings looked great again, but lost in the second round each year to the Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves respectfully. This was followed by back-to-back first round outs and the end of the era of magic in Sacramento.
The love for the Kings stuck with my father and I though. Maybe not as fever pitched, we had a lot of life going on as well as a lot to celebrate with a few other teams at this point, but we always would randomly end up talking about what was going on in Sacramento.
This was true when the team we loved was slowly dismantled, this was true every time the Kings ended up with a superstar that made us think “maybe, just maybe” this team could be bouncing back.
It was true up until Dad passed away in February of 2017.
Our last Kings game together was at Amway Arena in Orlando as the Kings took on the Magic and I used my connections to make sure we could go to that game. The Kings won the game 105-100 and we even got to hang with my good friend Clemson Tom, but the best moment happened before the game.
We decided to grab some food before the game and ended up at a restaurant on Church Street near the arena. While we ate, randomly we heard somebody yelling “DITTI! HEY DITTI.” Initially I ignored it because why would anybody be yelling for me, but somebody was.
A man came over and introduced himself as Stephen and said he was a listener to the sports talk radio show I produced in Orlando. It was the first time I had ever been approached by somebody in public as a radio personality. It was very early in my career.
Dad thought it was the coolest thing ever.
I’ll never forget how proud he was in that moment.
The 2022-23 Sacramento Kings have given us Kings fans back something we’ve been missing for quite some time…hope.
Maybe not immediate hope of a championship, but hope that being competitive year in and year out is a possibility and that building a contender in Sacramento is still an achievable goal.
Pops would love this team and I’d give anything to be able to talk to him about them (and hate on Draymond).
So yes, really.
The Kings are my favorite NBA team.
And they always will be.