Last game ever

In the end, perhaps, there was no more fitting a finale.

For a moment, however, we hoped for something different.

As the Sacramento Kings overcame a last-minute 20-point deficit to rally against the Los Angeles Lakers, we thought maybe we’d get a victory—on the court, and in the Maloofs’ decision regarding the team’s future in Sacramento.

But, classic Kings style, they lost the game in overtime and, barring an 11th-hour save on the part of a billionaire or the NBA Board of Governors, we lost the team.

The entire night was one steeped in anticipation and fervent wishes, frustration and sadness. Fans arrived early—the line wrapped around Power Balance Pavilion long before the doors opened at 6:30 p.m.—along with hordes of TV trucks and reporters on hand to document the drama.

Team owners George, Gavin and Joe Maloof opted to skip the game, leaving the role of villain to the seemingly thousands of Lakers fan who turned out to help make the spectacle a sold-out showdown.

Indeed, we were virtually surrounded by purple and yellow jerseys who took particular delight in slinging insults at the Kings.

Salt in the wound.

Until the last 10 minutes of the game, actually, it felt as if the Lakers fans were more into the scene than the Kings followers—the mood among the local fans seemed somber, sedate—not the rowdy display of nostalgia and loyalty that one might expect for a possible Last Game Ever.

It didn’t help that that the team kept slipping further behind. Chants of “Go, Kings” faded briefly to “Go, River Cats.”

But then the team, down by 20 points, started scrambling out of its hole at a breathtaking speed, and the hometown crowd rallied to its feet. The clang of the cowbells grew louder and on the floor, veteran radio announcer Gary Gerould jumped out of his seat to high-five fans.

And then, of course, a perfectly executed Kobe Bryant shot put the game into overtime—rarely the Kings forte—and just like that, it was over.

We sat in our seats, trying to come down from the adrenaline rush.

“Good game—I hope your team is back next year,” one Lakers fan said on his way out.

The clock reset to zero, and the sound system cued up Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” (again, salt in the wound), and even as the horde slipped through the exits, several hundred remained. A stone-faced child held up a purple-and-white jersey and, with his back to the court, couldn’t even pretend to smile as his father snapped a picture.

Eventually those who remained, even those who’d spent the game in the cheaper seats (the misery of goodbye knows no class distinction) came together on the lower level to watch as the Sign Lady wiped away tears and posed for pictures as Grant Napear shook hands with well-wishers.

The Maloofs’ absence felt stark and unkind. Salt in the wound.

Coach Paul Westphal briefly emerged to wave to the cheering crowd as we waited to see which players would come say goodbye. Even a few yellow-and-purple jerseys lingered, curious. Finally, Francisco Garcia, Tyreke Evans, Donte Greene and team newcomer Marcus Thornton joined the fray. Garcia took the mic and gamely thanked the crowd for its loyalty and love.

“No matter what happens,” Garcia said, “this is always going to be our home.”

But it’d been an hour since the game ended and it was, finally, time to shut off the lights. Carmichael Dave, the radio personality behind a grassroots campaign to keep the team in Sacramento, thanked the arena’s employees and asked the crowd to leave, peacefully.

A cry of “Here we stay” swelled and then faded, and then we were gone.