Things are getting down to the nitty gritty in Sacramento. The Sacramento Kings, the city's only professional sports franchise, are likely headed out of the city in favor of Anaheim, California. Their loyal, loud fanbase is set to receive yet another NBA screw-job, and this former Houston Oiler fan can identify.
Back in nineteen and ninety-seven, the Houston Oilers scampered out of town to Tennessee, never to return. The 1996 season was a disaster. The fan base knew the team was moving, and the home crowds were sparse and quiet, naturally. But the fact that Houston and (most likely) Sacramento will be losing professional teams is just about the end of the comparison. There are few parallels to be drawn between the two moves, but enormous fan heartache is certainly one of them.
As a kid, I have few better memories than the ones made at the Astrodome with my family during three years of holding Oiler season tickets during the Run & Shoot Era. When Bud Adams would make his seemingly annual threat to move the team, I always rolled my eyes and wondered how long it would take for him to get what he wanted out of the city - a new stadium. Little did I know, Houston Mayor Bob Lanier would hold his ground - and the combination of these two evils would result in my beloved team leaving the city.
The now-infamous "rally" to keep the Oilers in Houston was one of the saddest sights ever seen on a news broadcast. People hated Bud Adams, and the move was a done deal, so barely a handful of people showed up to keep the team in town. That of course was later assumed to indicate that the Oilers had poor fan support, which is absolutely not true on any level. It's just that, it was over, and everyone knew it. More toothless, brainless hillbillies showed up to the "Fire Gary Kubiak" rally than showed up at the "Keep the Oilers" rally.
For Kings fans, the situation is even more sad. The Sacramento Kings are the only professional game in town. For mourning Houston Oiler fans, we at least had the recent two-time NBA Champion Hakeem Olajuwon-era Rockets, and a competitive Houston Astros team. Plus, you know, it's Houston. There's plenty to do here. Sacramento just doesn't have as much going on.
That's where the screw-job comes in. NBA Commissioner David Stern has kind of a goofy, Wade Phillips-esque persona, but make no mistake - David Stern is GANGSTA. If you don't build him a new arena or significantly, improve your existing one, he will stick a gun in your ribs, whisper in your ear to stay quiet, and sneak out the back door with your franchise. One of America's great cities, Seattle, knows this all-too well. They were a loud, supportive group of fans, but when Stern didn't get his arena, he did nothing to stop the move of the franchise to Oklahoma City (OKLAHOMA CITY!?!?). A great fanbase was left to wonder what the hell just happened.
The Kings are in a similar situation. They also have a fervent, vocal fanbase who supports that team to the end. Unfortunately, with sagging performance, their attendance numbers have been in steady decline. They finished near the bottom in 2011, but ARCO Arena is packed when the team is playing well. It's not like, say, the New Orleans Hornets who are headed for another playoff series, but are barely above the Kings in the attendance rankings.
Kings ownership has tried and failed to get public funding for a new arena. They are no longer exploring that option, which should tell you everything you need to know about whether or not there's a chance the team stays in town. April 18 is the current deadline for Kings owners, the Maloof Brothers, to request formal relocation approval. The decision seems to have already been made, however. Another loyal NBA fanbase is about to get their back doors kicked in, and David Stern has already pulled his ski mask on. *click-clack*