Why are you still a Kings fan?

A writer quizzes die-hards like himself

John Flynn is a serious Kings fan. Here he is mouth agape at age 6.

John Flynn is a serious Kings fan. Here he is mouth agape at age 6.

Photo courtesy of dan and karen flynn

“They’re starting to build a nucleus that understands what winning is all about. And they’re going to bring an NBA championship in the next five years.”

About the time I started rooting for the Kings, my mom sat me on her lap and read me The Carrot Seed—a book about a little boy who plants a seed in the ground and patiently waters and weeds around it while people tell him repeatedly, “It won’t come up.” And yet, the boy keeps watering and weeding, certain that one day his efforts will pay off.

As the Sacramento Kings enter their 12th season without a playoff berth, I can relate.

Growing up in the early 2000s, I fell hard for the fancy-passing team that dueled with the pretentiously dominant Los Angeles Lakers and played with a love for the game, each other and Sacramento. Then Chris Webber blew out his knee. And the front office replaced the Kings’ winningest coach, Rick Adelman, with Eric Musselman, who promptly got a DUI, marking the first flurries of an incoming blizzard of rotten luck and abysmal decision-making.

And so, I spent my formative years devoted to a hopelessly bad NBA franchise. The happy memories hinge on flimsy justifications and appear amid stretches of desolation.

So with another rebuild commencing after a dozen years, nine coaches, two owners, one All-Star and 577 losses, I asked three very different fans: why do you still root for this team?

“It’s real as fuck to stick with something that’s really difficult to stick with,” said rapper and Kings fan Harris Rudman. “That love, that perseverance, that vulnerability can bring you to a place that other things can’t. It’s fortified my sense of loyalty to what I’m about and what I believe in.”

Rudman has lived in Sacramento for all but one year of his life, the year the team almost moved to Anaheim. In a dorm room at the University of Texas, he watched longtime broadcasters Grant Napear and Jerry Reynolds sign off for what could have been the final time with tears in their eyes and frogs in their throats. With the Kings as good as gone, Rudman stared silently in disbelief as a remote, yet cruel possibility neared reality. He said the only comparable feeling came on November 8, 2016.

Rudman admits it’s a bit much to compare what he sees as a devastating presidential election to the potential loss of a sports franchise. But I can relate.

“Kings fan” has always been part of my identity. As a kid, I shaved my head to look like Jason Williams. I’ve listened to Napear and Reynolds talk more than anyone outside of my immediate family. And I still have Webber’s autograph from when he made a random, unannounced visit to my basketball game at the Salvation Army in Oak Park.

The Kings helped me spend countless hours bonding over a mutual interest with my parents. I’ve maintained long-distance friendships simply through discussing draft prospects. I unabashedly welled up with pride when I saw the Golden 1 Center, a physical symbol of hope that things would improve—both for the franchise and Sacramento—in a way that seemed impossible only a few years before.

It’s Our Team

It might be hokey to tie together a franchise and its city. But that’s how the two exist in the minds of many. Taro Arai, owner of Mikuni Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar, came to Sacramento as a 15-year-old in 1985, the same year as the Kings. Since then he’s bonded with players over sushi, none more than DeMarcus Cousins, who Arai said could be unfailingly counted on for checks toward charity.

When he got traded, Cousins held a going-away party at Mikuni where he choked back tears and said that even though he would no longer wear purple professionally, “every soul in this city matters to me,” reflecting the loyalty that die-hard fans feel toward players who are often the biggest celebrities in town.

“There’s a core group that, through ups and downs, still stick with the Kings,” Arai said. “I’m one of those stupid guys. This is the only team we have. It’s ’til I die.”

During the recent back-to-school season, Vice Mayor Rick Jennings and Kings coach Dave Joerger orchestrated a 500-backpack giveaway to needy students. He tells this story to illustrate that the team doesn’t have to win in order to have an impact on the community.

Vice Mayor Rick Jennings decked out in Kings gear.

Kristopher Hooks

Jennings, a former Oakland Raider, loves sports in general and has been a Kings season ticket holder for the last decade. An optimist, he sees borderline delusional promise in the current Kings squad.

“They’re starting to build a nucleus that understands what winning is all about,” he said. “And they’re going to bring an NBA championship in the next five years.”

Bold prediction. But after a decade of the front office seeming to spin its wheels before making any decision, there does seem to be a coherent vision of the Kings’ future. Of course, I convinced myself that we could compete last year. And the year before. And so on.

Still, as I watched the new players congeal during the preseason, I couldn’t help but fantasize about eventually returning to the playoffs. I get chills thinking about Sacramentans unleashing years of pent-up pride during nationally televised games, screaming about being the best city—however ludicrous that idea is when talking about much other than urban canopies or our proximity to fresh produce.

For now, I take solace in the end of The Carrot Seed, when a carrot sprouts out of the ground that’s so big the little boy needs to carry it home in a wheelbarrow. Like him, I can’t help but remain devoted to Sacramento and the Kings—janky, imperfect and in-progress as both are. Because to me, there’s nothing better than seeing signs of life in a place where most believed nothing special could ever come up.