Sacramento rallies for one final night of celebration

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Owners row at Sleep Train Arena featuring Chris Mullin, Shaquille O'Neal, Paul Jacobs and more. (Photo: Kimani David)

Purple glow sticks.

That was all that could be seen from the crowd  inside Sleep Train Arena after the lights dimmed during pregame festivities.  As the fans rumbled and waved those purple glow sticks, Kings majority owner Vivek Ranadivé took his place on center court.  With a mic in hand, he issued a simple, yet powerful message to the 17,317 in attendance.

“This is your team and it’s here to stay,”  Ranadivé said.

A thunderous ovation followed.

Talks of a move to Anaheim?  Gone.  Discussion of the SuperSonics’ rebirth at Sacramento’s expense?  No more.  Last night was the culmination of an epic fight Sacramento Kings fans waged and won.

“I’ve gotten teary eyed a few times today because it was a long 10 months,” Kings co-owner Phil Oates told Cowbell Kingdom following last night’s victory over the Denver Nuggets.  “That’s a lot that’s happened in 10 months.”

Indeed, it has been a long year.  To everyone outside this region, a move to Seattle was a foregone conclusion in January.  In fact, betting the Kings would stay was a fool’s errand to many.

While the rest of the world left Sacramento for dead, most people here kept the faith.  They kept fighting. They scratched and clawed their way back into a game they were supposedly destined to lose.

“Oh, it was surreal,” Fellow Kings co-owner Mark Mastrov said of the atmosphere inside Sleep Train Arena last night.  “To be able to be here with all of us that worked so hard to put this team together.  To be here with my family and pull out a W in a tight game like that, playing great defense under coach (Michael) Malone is surreal.  It’s just amazing.”

For the fans, last night was a final opportunity to release.  A chance to finally enjoy a game free of distractions.  To breathe easy without lingering doubt about the future of their hometown team.  Donning all purple everything, they brought back that fabled Arco thunder.

“This was unbelievable,” Kings owner Raj Bhathal told Cowbell Kingdom after the game.  “Great experience.  It’s so great for this city and the fans in this town and we are loving it.  I can’t even talk because I’m so full of excitement.”

Yesterday’s game was a time to rejoice for all those in attendance, but it was also a time to reflect.  Last night’s raucous celebration came to fruition because a community decided to say yes when everyone else said no.  And for that, the impossible became reality.

“I look out here to my friends,” Oates said on the court, turning his head left to where a slew of his partners gathered and were all smiles following the Kings’ two-point victory. “There’s Kevin Nagle, there’s Brad Jenkins, there’s Mark Mastrov, of course there’s Vivek, the mayor.  And I’m looking at all these guys that have worked so hard…And we did it.

“But you know what though?” he continued.  “This isn’t the top of the mountain tonight.  The mountain’s gonna be an NBA championship and we’re gonna see that some time.”

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