It's not official, but the writing is on the wall. Get used to it, Kings fans—the team so many of us grew up admiring, cherishing and idolizing is indeed moving to Anaheim.
Joe and Gavin Maloof have their minds set, their bags packed, one foot out the door and their Mickey Mouse hats on in anticipation of what they hope is a lucrative and fruitful stay in Southern California.
Be damned to the fans of Sacramento. The same fans who never missed a single sellout from 1985 when the team arrived from Kansas City, until late 1998, when a grotesque, greedy lockout caused the NBA to miss half a season.
The same fans who posted another impressive sellout streak, beginning in November 1999 and lasting all the way until November 2007, which was right about the time the Maloofs began to trim the team's salary cap substantially. It was right about the time they began a run that has continued to this day of fielding a hardly competitive, junior varsity basketball team by NBA standards.
In all, despite a paltry record of 909-1168 since coming to Sacramento, the devoted people of Northern California filled ARCO Arena to capacity for an unprecedented majority of their time here. In a showcase of selfishness and perhaps a degree of panic, the brothers Maloof believe the grass is greener 400 miles down I-5 and are effectively issuing a middle finger to Sacramento at the worst possible time for a region downtrodden by unemployment.
The situation is eerily similar to that of Seattle, who lost their beloved Supersonics to relocation over the summer of 2008. For both, the looming threat of the team leaving was omnipresent for years, but in the fans' eyes was far-fetched and unrealistic. Towards the conclusion of the 2007-08 season (the Sonics' final campaign in Seattle), the clues became more clear and the fans began to sense momentum shifting towards a pending move to Oklahoma City.
Grassroots efforts were put in place to show support and give the new ownership group (who conveniently hailed from OKC) the indication that they were behind the Sonics and yearned for them to stay in Seattle.
Ultimately, it was a matter of too little, too late. A legal battle ensued, but in the end the Sonics completed their relocation to Oklahoma City. The ultimate undoing for Seattle was their inability to publicly finance a new arena for the Supersonics, a fatal flaw which has been a key cog in the Kings' pending move to Anaheim as well.
Both Sacramento and Seattle were generally regarded as two of the most passionate and dependable fanbases in the league, where sellouts were the norm and a terrifying presence for the visiting team was a foregone conclusion. As devastating a blow as the fine people of Seattle took when they lost their franchise, it hardly even measures up to the impact the Kings leaving Sacramento would make.
Many Seattleites quickly rebounded from their ugly divorce with the Sonics by supporting either the NFL's Seahawks and/or the MLB's Mariners. In 2008, the economy wasn't floundering the way it is today and Seattle was one of the few metropolitan areas that wasn't desecrated by the deep recession.
Sacramento, on the other hand, is dealing with the enormous pressures of its failing state deficit and record-high unemployment levels. Plus, with no other professional franchises to which they can distribute their allegiance leaves the capital city utterly clueless on how to handle losing the only pro sports team it's ever known.
Publicly, the only concrete fact is that the Maloofs have filed for an extension to the deadline for relocation, which was March 1. Nobody ever accused the Maloofs of being stupid businessmen—it's fairly obvious why they would request an extension. The pair of them realize the enormous negative impact it would have if they were to announce an attempt to relocate when there are still nearly a dozen home games to be played in Sacramento.
In a perfect world, the Maloofs wouldn't even have to answer the questions about Anaheim. The fact that the people of Sacramento are aware of the ongoing flirtations between the Kings and Anaheim is a nightmare situation for the ownership group. Over the past couple of months, an assembly of rumors have circulated regarding the validity of Anaheim's interest and courtship of the Kings.
Most notably, and perhaps the biggest carrot being dangled in front of the Maloofs faces, is an extremely lucrative television partner in Fox Sports West. They're desperate to throw millions of dollars at an NBA team to fill their now vacant programming slot, with the Lakers leaving them after the 2011-12 season. As it stands, the Maloofs are getting paid pennies in comparison to the affluent television package waiting for them should they transport to Anaheim.
The next important date for Kings fans to watch for is April 14 and 15—the days the owners of all 30 NBA franchises meet every year. The Maloofs will have to attain a majority vote from the board to approve the Kings' desire to leave Sacramento, and if history is any indication, they will get their majority vote with relative ease.
From the Maloofs perspective, the remaining 40 or so days of this lost 2010-11 season and of the Sacramento Kings as we know them is trivial. They're simply going through the motions. They've made many charitable contributions to Sacramento, but there won't be a damaged personal connection to the city by any means. These two won't have any issue getting sleep at night after ripping the heart out of Sacramento.
However, in fairness to them, they did make an honest attempt to build a new facility for the Kings in Sacramento—but those honest attempts stopped years ago.
After years of failed new arena concepts, the Maloofs grew tired and frustrated with the city officials of Sacramento, while they're once-booming hotel/casino business in Las Vegas wasn't ushering in the endless amount of greenbacks it once did. It required a perfect storm to get where we are today.
Over their 12-plus years of ownership in Sacramento, the Maloofs did a lot of positive things for this community. Unfortunately for the two, those contributions will be forgotten. You think Clay Bennett received any Christmas cards from the people of Seattle? The Maloofs will become public enemies No. 1 and 1a in Sacramento, surpassing Shaq, Kobe, Robert Horry, Derek Fisher and Gray Davis.
The people of Sacramento don't agree with it, but they understand the relocation conceptually. What they don't understand is the actual destination.
Anaheim? A city just 32 miles away from a city that despises the Kings dating back to their rivalry with the Lakers. A city that has one-third of the population of Sacramento. A city that has an NBA venue that is almost as old as ARCO Arena and can house only 291 more people (17,317 at ARCO Arena, 17,608 at Honda Center). An area that already has two NBA franchises, two NHL franchises, two MLB franchises and two major NCAA programs. An area that already has a team called the Kings. A city that will inevitably have an even harder time getting a new venue financed than Sacramento did.
The Maloofs spent Monday evening, the first home game since the rumors became widespread about Anaheim, careening around the issue and ambiguously saying how much they love the fans in Sacramento and how tonight is for them.
They are masquerading as two men who appreciate this city, but they don't know how good they had it. Reportedly, they felt unappreciated by Sacramento, but the reality is, in this economy there are few teams that draw unless they win. This isn't a chicken and egg proposition. It's black and white. If the Maloofs put a winner on the court, the fans would turn out in bunches to support their Kings. Our 26 year history with the club absolutely proves that.
Just as the golden years were ending, our rickety old ARCO Arena began to reach the end of it's formative shelf life (even though it was technically outdated the day it was built), and inconveniently the run and gun Sacramento Kings as we knew them had been replaced by a young, desolate club that didn't even resemble the high quality basketball the people of Sacramento were spoiled by from 1999 through 2005.
The fans watched Bibby, Christie, Stojakovic, Webber, Vlade, Bobby, Hedo, Brad, Artest, Bonzi, Martin and Landry pack their bags and had to do a Google search to learn anything about who we received in exchange.
The Maloofs, totally inexperienced on how to properly rebuild an NBA club, continued to sign marginal, insignificant players like Mikki Moore, Beno Udrih and Francisco Garcia to long term, full mid-level contracts, thus tying up our salary cap long term.
In so doing, it kept the Kings out of the playoffs and out of the top of the draft lottery, a locale no franchise wants to be. You want to be either competing for championships or building to get there, not meddling in the middle and heading towards neither.
By 2007, the fans watched the general composition of the roster turn from chicken salad into chicken—you know where I'm going. The fans realized they were paying ticket prices that were on par with the Lakers, the Cavaliers, the Suns, the Spurs and cried foul. Attendance declined precipitously, interest waned, victories were few and far between.
Four years later, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Kings' PA Announcer Scott Moak tries his damnedest every night to get the people excited during pregame introductions, while the fans whisper amongst themselves "Who is Jermaine Taylor?" and "We traded Carl Landry?"
The Kings have cleverly lowered ticket prices to bargain basement levels and gotten creative with ticket package promotions, but the people of Sacramento weren't fooled. They knew full well that the organization was just trying to decorate a lump of coal as a shiny present on Christmas morning—and they weren't biting.
The downturn in the economy affected everyone and everyone handled it the best way they saw fit. The people of Sacramento responded by choosing to spend their limited disposable income elsewhere rather than on a less than mediocre basketball team, while the Maloofs chose to cut their team salary to the lowest in the league.
Ironically, with the Maloofs and their 30th-ranked team salary, the club turned a sizable profit (and one of the few years that ended in profit since their ownership began in 1999) for the 2009-10 season.
The Maloofs went from heroes upon their arrival to goats for their deterioration of the team, and had the opportunity to come full circle and become the most beloved men in Sacramento by saving Kings basketball. Rather than step up to the plate when times are tough and reinvest in a community that invested in the Kings for so long, they opted instead to pack their stuff and head for the hills.
Just one request to Joe and Gavin—do not take the name "Kings" with you. Don't take the purple and black. Like the Oklahoma City Thunder afforded the city of Seattle and the Baltimore Ravens allowed the city of Cleveland, you must start anew. Let us keep the memories. Don't taint our reminiscence. Rename them whatever the hell you want... but the Kings name must remain in Sacramento.
This way, it's two entities headed in two entirely different directions. Sacramento loses it's basketball team, it's main employer, it's identity, it's lifeblood, it's heart and soul.
The Maloofs get the opportunity to simply hit the reset button, head to what they believe to be greener pastures, ink a richer television contract, a posh, wealthy locale and a fresh start.