SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- This is a basketball town.
Don't believe us? Guess who was elected mayor last year.
Sacramento takes great pride in the Kings, the team which made it a major league city upon its arrival in 1985. At a time when the community has been hit hard by home foreclosures and the team has struggled mightily on the court, attendance at Arco Arena has flagged in recent years. Rumors swirl that the Kings could move away if the city doesn't build a replacement for Arco. Yet the energy in the building remains palpable at a big game -- such as when LeBron James and the Cavaliers rolled into town Wednesday night.
Remember, Kings fans once made Arco the loudest arena in the NBA and sold out 354 consecutive games even though Sacramento is one of the league's smallest markets. The game experience at Arco remains organic, similar to New York or Golden State. Scoreboard gimmicks and promotions don't seem overdone. Fans in the lower bowl aren't too cool to whoop and holler. The game doesn't feel like a sideshow to the event.
When the Kings were at the zenith of success and popularity, I was taken aback by the unabashed passion of the team's fans. In my only previous trip to Arco, in December 2001, almost no one left the building early during a blowout victory over the Suns. I distinctly remember the crowd's erupting en masse when two of the last guys off the bench, Mateen Cleaves and Gerald Wallace, connected for a thunderous alley-oop in garbage time.
The core of that passion was still evident during Wednesday's 117-104 overtime loss to the Cavs. There were far fewer LeBron jerseys in the crowd than I expected to see, and the buzz usually reserved for a college game hovered in the building. Shaquille O'Neal was booed lustily, evoking his years of toiling for the hated Lakers, and questionable calls drew massive responses. Even as LeBron performed effortlessly to the tune of 34 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists, the Kings stood toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the NBA. Budding superstar Tyreke Evans scored 28 to lead Sacramento, which doesn't have a starter older than 23. As the Kings were outscored 13-0 in overtime, some fans headed to the exits a few minutes early.
Still, the NBA needs to find a way to remain in Sacramento. The community and the team are more closely intertwined than almost other any city and franchise in the country. What happened to Seattle shouldn't happen here. An irreplaceable part of the NBA's soul resides in Sacramento.