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Shaun Powell

Kevin Johnson, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson (left), with former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger last year.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Sacramento's wild ride with the Kings in its last-gasp days


Posted Mar 23 2011 10:29AM

The moving van is often a symbol of hope, reflecting the promise of a new frontier.

Or it's an 18-wheel hearse, taking whipped and weary tenants from a dying home and plopping them smack in the middle of a foreign land.

Which brings us to the Kings and a move that's looking more inevitable by the hour.

How could this ever happen to Sacramento, famously known for bear-hugging its only pro sports team? How could it happen to the Maloofs, those frolicking frat guys who were princes of the city? How could it happen to the Kings, once a small-market team with big and realistic ambitions?

It's all so confusing, kind of like a Name The Greatest Kings Player contest. Several years ago the Kings were playing in front of sellout crowds and engaged in spirited playoff games against the Lakers.

Now they're engaged in talks to move to the Lakers' shadow, in Anaheim, more out of desperation than desire.

"The slow death is almost over," Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson wrote in his blog on Tuesday.

This has been a perfect storm of economic disaster and bad luck. That made the Kings vulnerable to being contracted from the league or subtracted from their home of a quarter-century, and at this point, they're choosing the lesser evil. That won't necessarily mean all's well. But it does appear the halcyon days in Sacramento are over, barring a stunning turn of events.

The possible relocation of the Kings doesn't have a stench to it, like George Shinn taking the Hornets from Charlotte. It wasn't a bad idea to have them in Sacramento in the first place, as many claim was the case for the Grizzlies in Vancouver. No, this is really no one's fault. It's just the cost of doing business in a post-recession world where no mercy is heaped upon the weak and vulnerable.

That's exactly what the Kings are right now. Their owners, Joe and Gavin Maloof, are dirty filthy rich compared to 99 percent of Americans, but panhandlers compared to the Mark Cubans and Mikhail Prokhorovs and others who rule professional sports these days. It's a billionaire's game now; millionaires need not apply.

The brothers love their basketball franchise, so the Kings aren't suffering from neglect. They're in trouble mainly because of arena issues, the same poison that killed the Sonics in Seattle. What used to be known as ARCO Arena -- it's now Power Balance Pavilion -- is a nice place to see a game, not so nice when it comes to generating major dollars. And are there any wealthy people left in Sacramento these days to buy luxury suites even if the arena suddenly sprouted a few dozen more?

The recession was especially hard on the California heartland, which was rocked by the real estate industry. Folks who normally snapped up season tickets are protecting their nest eggs instead. That partly explains all the empty seats for a franchise that once had a 354-game sellout streak, which ended at the start of both the 2007-08 season and the Spencer Hawes era, short-lived as it was.

Remember when the Kings were must-see TV? Well, Vlade Divac and Chris Webber and Doug Christie and Mike Bibby got old, along with Peja Stojakovic's jumper, and the rollicking times on the court slowed to a crawl. This will be the fifth straight year the Kings miss the playoffs. A team that once was able to pay top dollar saw its payroll drop along with the talent level.

When the recession cost the team sponsorship cash, the Kings suddenly found themselves on the NBA's soup kitchen line.

We'll know for sure by April 18 if the Kings indeed are taking a one-way trip to Disneyland. If that happens, it'll be one more red flag for the NBA, given the recent shifting of franchises (Hornets, Nets, Grizzlies, Thunder) and the statements by David Stern that an alarming number of teams are losing money. Sacramento will surrender its only big-league ticket and won't get it back in our lifetime. It will be a sad day, because everyone knows how supportive Sacramento was in better economic times.

To put it in basketball context, Sacramento would beg to be beaten again by Robert Horry at the buzzer. That shot, a stab in the heart at the time, feels better than this.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. 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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