The Sacramento Kings closed out their season with a very emotional home loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. At the time, there was a strong possibility that it was last game in Sacramento after 23 years as the team‘s owners, Joe and Gavin Maloof, looked to move the franchise to Anaheim, California. The Kings broadcasters broke down on air, and fans organized a protest by refusing to leave the arena after the contest’s conclusion. Kings players returned to the court to address their adoring fans. There was great sense of empathy amongst sports fans online in seeing a team ripped away from a fan base.
Former NBA player and current Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, husband to controversial ex-DC school chancellor Michelle Rhee, made a last ditch attempt to save the team in California’s Capital City. His presentation to the NBA was more impressive than the Maloofs‘, the potential TV money from their deal with Anaheim being inflated. Money discrepancies are not surprising with the Maloofs since their bad financial dealings have led them to this current predicament and their financial stake in Palm Casinos Resort, which is now down to a paltry 2-percent.
Johnson was able to convince the NBA’s relocation committee to give him a chance to secure a funding plan for a new arena, and after the Maloofs pulled their bid to relocate, the Kings will remain in Sacramento for at least 2011-12.
When the move appeared imminent, I caught up with Washington Wizards head coach Flip Saunders and swingman Maurice Evans to ask about their personal experiences playing in Sacramento. In the video below, Saunders talks about the Sacramento Cow Bells, and Evans provides a funny antidote about a passionate Kings fan that still supports him every time he returns.
In his stints coaching for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Detroit Pistons, and Washington Wizards, Saunders has an overall career record of 29-23 vs the Kings, 10-15 in Arco arena, now called Power Balance Pavilion. Saunders’ T-Wolves opened the 1999-00 NBA season against Sacramento by splitting two games in Japan.
As mentioned by the coach in the video, the most significant battle, however, between his team and the Kings came in the 2004 NBA playoffs when Minnesota defeated Sacramento four games to three in Western Conference semi-finals. Game three provided a thrilling 114-113 overtime road victory for Minnesota, highlighted by a great Kevin Garnett-Peja Stojakovic duel. The final boxscore is a trip down the NBA aughts memory lane.
When Chris Webber’s three-point attempt to tie Game 7 rimmed out in the closing seconds, Garnett jumped up on the scorer’s table and pounded his chest in celebration. Another noteworthy event of the series came when Sacramento’s Anthony Peeler took a elbow swing at Garnett in Game 6. Considering subsequent revelation of the Big Ticket’s on-court prickish behavior in recent years, he probably deserved it. The video account of Game 7 by Wolves superfan Jonny Voss, along with a recap of the Peeler forearm shiver to Garnett, remains pretty hilarious.
Minnesota went on to lose to Los Angeles Lakers in Western Conference Finals, largely due to an injury to point guard Sam Cassell. Garnett won his only MVP in 2004 and did not return to the playoffs until donning a Celtics uniform four years later. In the following November, Latrell Sprewell made his infamous “feed my family” comments, using his kids as props at a press conference. He would never play in the NBA again. Saunders was unceremoniously dumped by GM Kevin McHale after starting the 2004-05 season with a 25-26 record. The T-Wolves have not seen post-season play since.
In a somewhat notable relation to today’s current financial squabble, Kevin Garnett made $28 million and Sprewell earned $13.5 million in the 2003-04 season. Seven years later, and not including normal economic inflation, Lebron James makes about half of what Garnett did and almost the same as Sprewell, but labor costs need hacked in order for NBA to survive. OK then……
Evans played just one season with the Kings, 2004-05, his second in the NBA, and appeared in 65 games compiling a stat line of 44-percent FGs, 33-percent 3PTs and 76-percent FTs, while averaging 6.4 points, 3 rebounds, 0.7 assists, and 0.6 steals per game. His best performance with Sacramento came in a 104-100 win at Boston on February 13, 2005. In 30 minutes, Mo accumliated 17 points on 3-4 from three-point land with four rebounds and two steals. Evans scored 13 points in Game 3 of Sacramento’s first round playoff matchup versus Seattle. The Sonic prevailed four games to one, sending the last Kings team featuring Chris Webber and Peja Stojakovic home in defeat. Current Wizard Rashard Lewis averaged 16.4 pts, 4.4 rbs and 2.2 asts for Seattle in the series. Sacramento made the playoffs behind the scrappiness of Bonzi Wells, Ron Artest and Kevin Martin in 2005-06, but fell to San Antonio in the first round and hasn’t sniffed the playoffs in the five seasons since.