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Scott Howard-Cooper

Kings fans
The fans in Sacramento showed Wednesday they can still bring it.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

With cheers, tears, Sacramento sends Kings into the unknown


Posted Apr 14 2011 1:53PM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Turning from the busy street into the quiet lane and then rolling slowly past the guard checking IDs from the parking booth, it is impossible to know at 1:15 on Wednesday afternoon what to expect.

The parking lot for Power Balance Pavilion, the former Arco Arena, is basically empty some 6 1/2 hours before tipoff of what could be the last NBA game in town. That's 6 1/2 hours before what could be the end of the great love affair between the Kings and fans who regard them as part of the community fabric. Even in the most imperfect times of the relationship, these years as the team has flailed about and dropped to shocking depths in attendance, the bond remains unique in a region that has no other major-league sport and little interest in college sports. So the night is as emotional as it is potentially historic.

Maybe fans come together and take a final game to celebrate the memories before the Monday deadline for the Maloof family to announce whether it will move the team to Anaheim. The faithful have surely earned the release. Maybe the frustration and anger of losing the team boils over. Joe and Gavin Maloof have stayed away because the tension was palpable, even in February.

Security has been increased, partly because the Lakers, the most heated of rivals, are the opponent. It is impossible to know what to expect. Only that it will be a long day that will never be forgotten.

2:37 p.m., about five hours before tip. Confirmation comes that the Maloofs have headed to New York for the Board of Governors meeting without knowing how much they will be required to pay in relocation fees.

These are the reasons people here still have hope that the Kings will stay. Perhaps the payout will be more than a franchise hurting for money can swallow, the team will have to come back for 2011-12 and everyone has another year to work on an arena deal. No glimmer of hope is too small.

Logic, though, dictates the Maloofs know of a ballpark figure. No way David Stern lets the Anaheim talks go this far -- possibly to within hours of an announcement -- and then submarines the deal in unveiling the price tag.

3:09 p.m. Kobe Bryant emerges from the tunnel at one baseline and slowly walks across the court, wearing a gray sweat suit, heading to the visitor's locker room at the other end.

"Memory lane," he calls out, looking around the empty building for what could be the final time.

3:18 p.m. Bryant is back out on the court. He played 37 minutes the night before against the Spurs, the Lakers got to their Sacramento hotel at about 1:30 a.m., but he shows up long before anyone to get in some shooting.

He goes for about 15 minutes before walking to the sideline to do a pair of interviews, one for radio and another taped for that night's TV broadcast, mostly to discuss being fined $100,000 by the NBA for an anti-gay slur directed at referee Bennie Adams. At 3:49, he returns to shooting.

4:07 p.m. Grant Napear, the Kings play-by-play man on TV, is three minutes into his drive-time radio sports-talk show on KHTK, the team's flagship station.

"For 23 years, I have driven to this building for every single basketball game played. I have not missed a game. Every single game since 1988, I have been in this building. And as I drove here today, sad would be an understatement. My boys were in the car with me. They have known nothing other than being a Kings fan in this building. The emotions are running high for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it could be the last game ever played here in Sacramento. As a matter of fact, I would say that the odds of the Kings moving to Anaheim, if you were going to put it to me right now, I would say 85-15 that they're gone."

4:13 p.m. Bryant takes a break on one of the baseline seats. No Kings are in the building. Forget on the court. None is even in the locker room with Kobe is nearing an hour into his workout.

6:21 p.m. Phil Jackson is asked what he would say to fans in Sacramento.

"Good luck. We've had a great time. We had a lot of fun."

6:27 p.m. "There's a million different emotions going on in this building tonight," Kings coach Paul Westphal says while sitting near the home-team bench in his usual pre-game routine. "I'm not that sensitive of a person, but even I'm sensitive enough to know that. There's a lot of nostalgia, a lot of hopes and dreams, a lot of love and conflicted emotions -- all those things -- happening tonight."

7:22 p.m. The beginning of what may be the final game is about 15 minutes away.

"It feels like an out-of-body experience," said one long-time season-ticket holder. ".... It's like you just can't believe this is happening."

7:38 p.m. The Lakers' starting lineup is introduced. The crowd is amped. Not 2002 playoffs amped, but serious kinetic energy. Fans will not be going quietly into the night.

8:03 p.m., 2:22 remaining in the first quarter. The announcement flashes on the video board above mid-court.

All merchandise in the team store, 50 percent off.

The message would be repeated later.

8:41 p.m. Halftime. Lakers, 56-48.

8:56 p.m. Just before halftime ends, a guy in a replica Doug Christie jersey and a guy in a replica Peja Stojakovic jersey come down the aisle closest to the baseline side of the Lakers bench.

They start ringing cowbells.

9:11 p.m., 4:55 remaining in the third quarter. A guy wearing a gold Lakers T-shirt returns to his courtside seat. A courtside seat that belongs to the Maloofs. He settles in next to a guy wearing a black Lakers T-shirt and Dodgers cap. Also in a Maloof seat.

Whether the fans got the tickets from the family or the Maloofs gave the seats to someone else, and those people then flipped the prime real estate to Lakers backers, is not known. But it looks really bad, and a lot of people notice. Another PR hit for the owners who once had immeasurable popularity and now have given it all away.

One of the Maloofs, Joe and Gavin's sister, is eventually spotted. Good. At least someone from the family showed.

Wait.

She has a camera crew in tow. She is there, in different parts of the arena, to film a bit for a reality TV show.

"The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills."

Southern California this, Southern California that.

9:20 p.m., the end of the third quarter. Lakers lead 88-70. This is going to end so badly for the locals.

9:48 p.m., 2:11 remaining in the fourth quarter. But wait.

Marcus Thornton attacks the rim for a driving layup and a 95-95 tie. The crowd erupts as fans stand and donate their vocal chords to the cause. A lot of people are going to be leaving with throbbing ear drums, just like the old days.

9:57 p.m. Overtime.

10:17 p.m. Final score: Lakers 116, Kings 108.

10:18 p.m. The Kings leave the court to an appreciative ovation, hardly typical for a 24-58 team. Typical is not spotted much on the night.

10:25 p.m. Maybe Jackson or Westphal has come out from the locker room to speak to the media, Jackson against a wall in a corridor near where the Lakers are changing and readying for the charter flight back to L.A. to begin playoff prep in earnest and Westphal at a podium in what is ordinarily the media dining room. Very soon, the press will be let in to interview players. Several could have interesting comments.

But the arena itself is still the place to be, courtside and all the way to the upper bowl. The statements here are better than anything that will come from the locker room.

Fans are not leaving. Some are snapping photos, some are mugging for the cameras making the rounds for the news shows, some are simply standing, squeezing everything from the night.

10:33 p.m. Inside the Kings locker room, some players ask about the noise out by the court, some 30 yards away. They are told about the rally. Jason Thompson and Donte Greene are moved to not only see for themselves, but to acknowledge the crowd. The response from 5,000 of their closest friends is loud applause.

10:38 p.m. Westphal comes out. More applause.

10:50 p.m. Nearly 35 minutes after the game ended, the party continues. There's probably 3,000 people still inside.

11:10 p.m. The old gym has finally emptied, save some workers. What began with the likelihood that it would be a historic night as the final game in Sacramento ended as magical. The Kings lost, but fans got to witness a hearty comeback and the Lakers being pushed one more time. They even got five minutes of extra basketball out of it.

It was good, because they didn't want to leave.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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