A home game sell-out used to be a foregone conclusion for the Sacramento Kings. 19 out of 26 seasons, the Sacramento region flocked to Arco Arena to watch basketball – regardless of how well or how poorly the team played. Of those 19 sell-out seasons, the Kings made the playoffs only 10 times, eight of those coming in one stretch beginning in the late 1990s.
The team has struggled mightily for more than half-a-decade now, lining up each season for NBA lottery handouts. Last year was supposed to be the start of anew. Armed with Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins, two top five picks in 2009 and 2010 respectively, the team mantra was Here We Rise.
The promise of improvement quickly faded as the Kings finished 2010 with six wins and 23 losses. Gone was the Arco Thunder. Gone was the crazy fanbase that carried this franchise through good times and bad. And all of this happened before the fans learned the team was considering a move to Anaheim.
A normal fanbase would wane. A normal fanbase would show disapproval for a team threatening to leave, by clearing out the building and leaving their team to play for a few thousand die hard loyalists.
But that is not the Sacramento way.
Be it a fighting spirit or a nostalgic goodbye, fans showed up in droves to support a lame duck franchise on its way out.
The story did not end the way most thought. The NBA and the Kings ownership decided to give Mayor Kevin Johnson and Sacramento one more shot to get a new building financed. While the city scrambles to get a plan in place, something interesting has happened. The fans are back and ready to continue their love affair with the Kings for a 27th season.
It’s only two games, but the franchise happily announced yesterday evening that they have sold out the second home game of the season against the Chicago Bulls. This marks the first time since 2007 that the Kings have sold out back-to-back games.
Gone is the lockout discussion. Gone is the relocation talk (at least for now). The fans are coming back to watch an improved, albeit young team that’s deeper than past seasons.
After 19 sell-out seasons, it’s somewhat sad that back-to-back sellouts are garnering celebration, but that is reality. There are only 3,000 seats remaining for Saturday night’s match-up against Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks. The Kings have moved the start time to 5 pm to work around the New Year’s holiday and are even offering $4 beers before the game to get the party started.
The Kings are hoping for a big turnout to finish a rocky 2011. On Sunday, they ring in New Year’s Day against the New Orleans Hornets, in a rare home back-to-back. Chris Paul is gone, but the Hornets have a talented roster that includes Eric Gordon, Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, Chris Kaman and former King Carl Landry. If the Kings can show well on the court tomorrow and Saturday, filling the stands for Sunday’s contest should take care of itself.