In the end it may not change the outcome, but what the Sacramento Kings fans did Sunday night was show how much passion there still is for NBA basketball in that market. Which raises a lot of uncomfortable questions for the league.
Sunday night when the Rockets came to town was “Here We Buy” night at the Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, which follows the “Here We Stay” campaign of a couple years ago that helped stave off a planned move by the Maloof family (the Kings owners) to take the team to Anaheim. Now the Kings fans and community leaders are rallying behind keeping the franchise to keep it in Sacramento after the Maloofs have reached a deal to sell the team a group led by Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer, men with the intention of moving the franchise to Seattle.
Sacramento official are working to put forth a counter offer to the one the Maloof family will present to the league, a counter which when combined with some legal tangles might force the league and the Maloofs to reconsider the sale and look at potential local owners.
But part of that is convincing the league and the other owners — who have to approve the sale and moving of the team — that Sacramento is still a quality and passionate NBA market. Fans paid for extra tickets that went to area youth organizations.
It worked — the building was full, loud and you could hear the chants on the broadcast. Fans waved signs that said “Our City. Our Team” and “Let Us Match.” They were doing the wave — even the team. Tom Ziller at SactownRoyalty summed it up well.
But the damned crowd. 16,000 strong for a 17-win team in a seventh straight losing season with owners that just tried to sell us out after a history over the past two years of trying to sell us out. And those 16,000 people — you people — were loud. So loud. It blared through the TV. Constantly. It’s like the chants built to a crescendo. It was wild.
If you don’t think fan support helps, the Kings came back from 10 down in the fourth quarter to win that game against the Rockets.
The NBA and its owners have serious questions to answer — if there are legitimate ownership and new arena options to keep a team in a city, if fan support is there, should the league sanction a franchise move anyway? More bluntly, should an ownership group be allowed to run down a franchise to the point that it erodes fan support, then follow that with a sale to move said team without the league doing more earlier to prevent it? The league did step in and help set up an arena deal that got handshakes all around, then the Maloofs pulled out of it. Is it now okay for the to sell the team to whomever they want?
The Kings may well still be sold and moved before next season starts. We’ll see how it plays out. But how the league answers those questions is something fans of middle and small markets everywhere should watch.