Sacramento won its first playoff game since 2006 in front of a boisterous Golden 1 Center crowd.
Sukh Sandhu, a Sacramento State alumnus who bought tickets for himself, his wife, Pavan, and their infant son, Veer, to see the Sacramento Kings play in their first playoff game in 17 years, used that phrase a lot. Sandhu lifted his son into the air like Simba from “The Lion King,” allowing him to see the Sacramento Kings’ thrilling 126-123 victory against the reigning champion Golden State Warriors, the team’s first postseason triumph since 2006, in full.
According to Sandhu, “the fact that my son can say he grew up watching the first Kings playoff game will mean more than he can ever imagine.” I’m going to show him these photos. We’re incredibly fortunate.
The jerseys a team’s supporters wear can swiftly reveal its success and history. Attend a Laker game and you’ll likely see lots of LeBron and Kobe — champions. For their Finals MVP and four-time champion Steph Curry, Chase Center, as well as Oracle Arena before it, were frequently crowded with No. 30 jerseys.
The plan is less obvious for the Kings, however. After all, Sacramento has yet to produce a champion.
Before Friday night’s playoff opening, you could see the jerseys of more than two dozen different players if you looked around the fervent Golden 1 Center. De’Aaron Fox, a current fan favorite, took home the plurality, but the names on the jerseys ranged widely. The jerseys of players who symbolized dead ends for the team — head-scratchers that made you wonder, “Oh yeah, he played for the Kings, didn’t he?” — were also visible. These included legends of the franchise like Mitch Richmond, Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, and Mike Bibby.
Hurley, Bobby. Caron Butler. Stavros Koufos. Akal Labissiere. who used to play basketball under the name Ron Artest.
The fact that they are proud enough to wear them to a home playoff game in 2023 says a lot about the Sacramento fan base, as does the fact that they endured so many false dawns that eventually led to heartbreak.
Fans of the Kings have been trying to find the end of the tunnel for 17 years by trying a series of unmarked doors, only to have them closed in their faces. When Curry’s one-legged 3-pointer caromed off the rim to seal the Kings’ Game 1 victory, that disappointment—nearly two decades of agony and torment—came to a visible, loud end.
Cowbells rang out. The burden was removed. The beam had been lighted.
Elijah Brown contacted his father, Kings head coach Mike Brown, before the game had begun to remark that “the energy in the arena is unbelievable.” Trey Lyles of Sacramento said on Fox that it was “the loudest arena I’ve ever played in.” The 17 years were transformed by the supporters into a tangible energy that put the stadium on par with any sporting venue.
“We obviously want to win for ourselves, for each other, and for everybody in this organization,” said Fox, who finished with a game-high 38 points in the victory. “But doing this for the fans, just knowing that they support this team through thick and thin — like really thin — I think it’s just a testament to the way they are,” the speaker continued. Absolutely, the atmosphere was fantastic tonight.
The whistles that Kings supporters frequently thought weren’t going their way could scarcely be heard due to the loudness of the arena. The media had to stand in order to see over the crowd, which grew with each lofted 3-pointer and developing fast break. Sacramento was filled with joy and cries of “LIGHT… THE… BEAM!” as soon as the last buzzer rang. They eagerly anticipated this and relished every second of it.
Former Kings lined the sidelines and occupied the luxury boxes, so it wasn’t only fans who were there to see the victory. During a timeout, loud applause greeted the introduction of Jason “White Chocolate” Williams, Vlade Divac, and Bobby Jackson. Jason Thompson and Stephen Jackson, both former Kings, were present. Regardless of whether their former Kings teams were successful or not, the Sacramento alumni have been welcomed by both the fans and the present players.
Harrison Barnes, who joined the Kings in the middle of the 2018 season, stated that simply seeing Bobby, Vlade, and J-Will on the baseline tonight was significant. I speak to them frequently. They had a big impact on my ability to comprehend Sacramento’s culture and the significance of the fans. The ability to rush out and play tonight and clearly win is something that I believe comes from failing year after year. It was large.
In case you hadn’t guessed it by now, Saturday’s victory involved far more than just Xs and Os. But the Kings played well on the court, weathered repeated Warriors assaults that have destroyed other teams over the last decade, and relied on Fox, the front-runner for the first-ever Clutch Player of the Year award, to lead them to victory.
Curry was shown a box-and-one, which Brown claimed the team purposefully neglected to practice much.
He said, only half-joking, “We don’t really know what we’re doing. “That might mislead the opposing team.”
With 32 points from a tenacious Malik Monk and four clutch 3-pointers from Lyles, the bench carried them at times. The team mostly followed the two straightforward rules of physicality and tempo, which Brown promised to emphasize throughout the series.
The joy of a Saturday night is ephemeral, much like the transient character of professional athletics. On Monday night, the second game begins as joy gives way to introspection and improvement.
Sacramento is deserving of a place at the table. The current difficulty is keeping it.
“Throughout the regular season, both teams and I have gotten to know one another very well. The primary characters are known to us,” Barnes remarked. “I believe that for us, it just comes down to who will handle the minor stuff. I believe that the final results of each of these games will be determined by the rebounds, turnovers, and 50-50 possessions. Who is going to be more motivated to think of those?
Nevertheless, they will always have this night, regardless of how the series pans out. The reciprocal sustenance flowing between the Kings and their devoted fans is undeniable, regardless of whether the next playoff series begins in seven days or in another 17 years.
I salute our supporters,” Brown remarked. “We’ll require them. We’re going to need them to stay by our side every single night. because it’s difficult. We must continue moving forward one step at a time. We need Sacramento’s support, which I believe we have, and it is a long trip.