A legacy cut short

Remember the Monarchs? Yeah, they were cool.

The Sacramento Monarchs are the only championship team in city history. So why did they have to go away?

The Sacramento Monarchs are the only championship team in city history. So why did they have to go away?

Illustration by Serene Lusano

37.6 seconds on the clock. Douglas sinks a three-pointer. Connecticut closes in on Sacramento, 59-61.

9.9 seconds on the clock. McWilliams-Franklin racks up her third personal foul. Penicheiro misses the first free throw, but lands the second. 59-62, Sacramento ekes out a three-point lead.

0.9 seconds left on the clock. In one last attempt to tie the game, Sales hoists a 22-footer … air ball. The timer buzzes. And with that, the Sacramento Monarchs triumph over the Connecticut Sun, delivering the capital city its first professional basketball championship. Thirteen years later, it’s still Sacramento’s only pro basketball championship to speak of.

Nearly nine years have passed since the Monarchs were disbanded. Struggling to stay afloat during an economic downturn, the Maloofs cut them loose in hopes that they could hang onto the Kings just a little longer. Since Vivek Ranadivé's acquisition of the men’s franchise and the completion of the Golden 1 Center, the question of a Monarchs revival has popped up occasionally. But a real, substantive answer has remained conspicuously elusive. Sure, Ranadivé has expressed some mild interest, but so far there’s no legitimate action plan. It’s the kind of radio silence that makes one wonder: Does Sacramento even want the Monarchs back?

Since its inception, the WNBA has met an onslaught of challenges and criticism. Even during the 2005 finals, Marcos Bretón of The Sacramento Bee pulled no punches in critiquing the Monarchs franchise and the “unwarranted” amount of coverage they had received during what was, by far, their best season.

“Let’s be honest,” he wrote, “let’s call the WNBA Finals what they are: a spectacle of limited interest. A niche event. Poorly attended games compared to the River Cats or even certain high school football games.”

Three days later, the Monarchs secured their historic championship in a flurry of purple confetti. But to Bretón, it wasn’t about victories. It was about numbers. Attendance, ratings, sales. Numbers that, to some extent, factored in the Monarchs’ demise.

Back then, I had a very different impression of women’s basketball. Maybe it’s because I was 11 years old and had no concept of advanced statistics or corporate budgeting. In the early 2000s, the Monarchs felt just as omnipresent as the Kings. Shooting hoops during recess was as much about channeling Ticha Penicheiro as Peja Stojakovi. My wall of posters wasn’t complete without taping Yolanda Griffith right up alongside Bobby Jackson. It never occurred to me that one team could exist without the other. For me, and many others, it was less about numbers and more about visibility. The Monarchs had a real presence, not just inside Arco Arena, but outside it too.

As role models and community ambassadors, each member left a significant impact on Sacramento. Read to Achieve, Court of Dreams—the list of youth empowerment and local enrichment programs goes on. When we lost the Monarchs, we lost more than just a great team. We lost a part of what made Sacramento great. It’s a pervasive absence that can’t be ignored.

High above the stands of the Golden 1 Center hangs the city’s lone championship banner. It’s a relic of the past, a bittersweet reminder of former glory days. Despite the center’s shiny visage, knowing the team that won that banner isn’t around to share the new arena is a hard pill to swallow.

Today, the WNBA is a different league. Marketing strategies have evolved, and the level of competition has increased. And while average attendance has declined over the last few years, further analysis reveals a range of factors that aren’t always tied to audience interest. So, it begs the question: Are the numbers there to support a Monarchs rebirth? Maybe there’s hope. Or maybe it’s time to just get over it and root for the Los Angeles Sparks. Really, it’s up to Sacramento.