Your Chico Kings
If you don’t xlike them, you don’t like NBA basketball!
It starts in late-August. Not the NBA season, not even the pre-season, and training camp is still over a month away. Like Christmas decorations the day after Halloween, it’s the NBA pre-season guides, appearing in stores a full two months ahead of time.
Made by companies you never heard of, these glorified betting guides are shiny and slick on the outside, with thin gray pages of stats, rankings and a dozen full-page ads for fantasy basketball leagues and betting tip hotlines on the inside.
They’re obsolete as soon as training camp rolls around in October, with teams trading and dropping players every day, and they’re expensive (six to seven bucks apiece!), but I buy every one. And the first thing I do is open up to the post-season predictions to see where the Kings are at. From there it’s on to the laser-focused number crunching, checking stat versus stat to rationalize the yearly pronouncement that, “This is the Kings’ year.” It’s an addiction. It’s a sickness, and over the last few years it’s been spreading.
Sandy Miskella is the office manager at Chico State’s University Public Events office. She’s sweet and calm looking, so you’d never guess that an obsession was restlessly hiding below the surface. “I do have all the dates [of games] on my calendar, so I don’t schedule anything that would be a conflict,” Miskella confessed. “Family of course comes first, but that’s when I take the radio.”
With her devotion knowing no bounds, Miskella admitted to once bringing a little television set to a Chico State Court Theatre fund-raiser. “This is really bad. A friend of mine and I sat at the back corner and watched the playoffs.” When possible, her co-conspirator and she will even make the trip to Arco Arena, making sure to “go early to take pictures at the shoot-around.”
They’ve also come up with a plan to try to watch the Kings in other cities. “We did go to Phoenix last year,” she said, “and we were going to try to go to the ‘Texas Triangle’ [Dallas, San Antonio and Houston], but we haven’t made the commitment yet.
It’s entirely possible that there wouldn’t be so many Chico fans if the team hadn’t done so well over the last five seasons. I can’t really remember anything about the Kings before that, so maybe that says something. But no matter! After the strike of 1998-99, when a labor lockout shortened the season by 32 games and the Kings made their improbable run against the Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs, suddenly there were a whole lot more Kings fans around here, myself included.
They were just so fun to watch! Predrag (or Peja) Stojakovic (sto-YA-ko-vich), the Serbian with the Larry Bird-like outside shot, had just arrived, as had pouty yet spectacular all-star power forward Chris Webber, flashy rookie Jason “White Chocolate” Williams, and the rock in the center, the other lovable Serb and the king of the “flop,” Vlade Divac. That season the Kings led the league in scoring (over 100 per game), they had the scrappy “Bench Mob,” and they had the loudest and most energetic crowds in the league. Showtime! had returned to the NBA.
Of course, over the course of the same time, the originators of Showtime! have joined the Kings and returned to the top of the heap themselves to create what has turned into one of the best NBA rivalries since their ‘80s teams did battle with Bird’s Boston Celtics: the Los Angeles Lakers. (If the hairs on the back of your neck just stood up and your palms are sweaty, you’re a true Kings fan.)
The pain and suffering wrought by the three-consecutive-playoffs dispatchings at the hands of the three-time consecutive NBA champion Lakers wells up each season like a belly full of garlic fries and eight-dollar arena beer. The pleasure and pain of being a Kings fan are always hand in hand—in one of those hands is the team that makes the extra pass to find the open man, and in the other hand are the “Cardiac Kings,” the team with the 20-point lead politely letting its foot off the neck of its opponents in time for them to come heart-murmuringly close to all the way back.
“Hardcore!” is how bartender Nick Frudden characterized the Kings crowd that packs The Graduate for every game of the season. Added doorman Zak Wallenburg, “Oh yeah, even if they’re not playing the Lakers, this building will be full.”
Although not a big basketball fan himself, Justin Hughes, the co-general manager of the restaurant, is nonetheless very grateful for the business the Kings games bring in. “We really staff up. I’m really thankful that basketball season is starting, especially with the Giants and the A’s floundering in the playoffs.”
It’s still only pre-season, but this night it’s the dreaded Lakers playing the Kings in Las Vegas before the teams come home for one last week of practice before the season starts. The place is full of almost nothing but Kings fans happy that their team wins the game, but without all-star shooting guard Kobe Bryant playing for the Lakers and with nothing on the line, it doesn’t really mean anything. “I’m here two hours before every game,” says Chico State student Brian Boyes in between sips from a pint of beer, only to be interrupted by an irate buddy screaming, “Why does Shaq get special rules!?!”
The sentiment is common in King-dom, driving a bitter anti-Lakers resentment into the hearts of even our far-north fans. Which is great in a town that has a student population that is represented by a significant number of Southern California transplants who bring their Lakers pride with them into places like the Grad, Scotty’s, Team Players and Riley’s Pub. During regular-season match-ups between the two teams, these public places take on the energy of the arenas, with the fans competing with one another as their teams do the same.
Gabe Gholson, a firefighter and Kings fan with “Laker Hater” ironed on the back of his sweatshirt, is at the Grad tonight, but usually he’s at Riley’s for the Kings/Lakers battles. “We’ll sit over here on this side of the bar, and they [the Lakers fans] sit on the other side, and we just yell at each other all night,” explained Gholson. “We always shake afterwards.”
If you want to be properly obsessed, beware. The team still hasn’t replaced one of its local cable television carriers, so instead of around 70 regular season games, between ESPN, TNT, ABC and UPN fewer than 40 will be televised locally. To catch the rest you’d better get on eBay and be prepared to empty your wallet for someone’s season-ticket table scraps (Milwaukee Bucks, anyone?). If you don’t opt for purchasing a NBA League Pass (satellite only) for a couple hundred bucks then you better get to the bar early and secure a spot, or settle for tuning in to 1140 AM and spending an evening with Grant, Jerry, Koz and the rest of the KHTK crew.