They were the Kings. The small-market dream.
Sacramento was as powerful as Los Angeles, as consistent as San Antonio and as energized as Utah, Seattle and Portland.
From 1998-99 to 2005-06, the Kings were as automatic as anyone in the NBA. Playoff berths each season, three Western Conference semifinals appearances and one trip to the conference finals.
The latter arrived in 2002. When cowtown rivaled Hollywood. When Sacramento was temporarily stronger, deeper and more talented than Los Angeles. When the Kings took the Lakers to the brink, grabbing a 3-2 series lead and coming so close to the promised land that the memory of what never came to be still burns.
Sacramento qualified for the postseason four consecutive years after eventually falling 4-3 to Los Angeles in 2002. But the Kings were never the same. Coach Rick Adelman departed, replaced by a revolving door of names, losing records and lottery picks.
And after scuffling near the bottom of the NBA for the past three seasons in wins and attendance, Sacramento is now on the verge of extinction. Another small-market casualty in a league that banks on big names. Another reminder to teams in similar-size areas such as the Jazz and Blazers that incredibly close is never good enough.
Today, all that appears to separate the Kings from changing crowns and relocating to Anaheim, Calif. giving the Los Angeles area its third NBA organization and topping New York City is a franchise relocation request that must be filed by Sacramento owners Gavin and Joe Maloof by April 18.
The Kings are nearly gone. Long live the Kings.
"It would really be unfortunate," said Utah coach Tyrone Corbin, who played two seasons for Sacramento. "I think it's been a great NBA city. They've done a tremendous job of supporting the team over the years. I don't know the economics of where they are now what each side is looking to get, or not get, out of the deal. But I think it'll be a tremendous loss for the city."
Tale of two cities • Earl Watson has seen it before.
The veteran Jazz guard was on the Seattle SuperSonics when the team jetted for Oklahoma City. He grew up in Kansas City, Mo., burned in 1985 when the Kings first departed for Sacramento. And after going to college at UCLA and spending his NBA summers in Los Angeles, Watson knows exactly what Kings fans are going through.
There's a flip side, though: He also knows exactly what Anaheim could be getting.
While just 26 miles separate a city known more for Disneyland, Orange County and a professional hockey team whose mascot is a duck from its much more famous counterpart, Watson swears that Los Angeles is at least two hours away from Anaheim in a car. And that's on a good day.
"It's not really as close as you think," said Watson, whose Bruins attempted to play as many games as possible in O.C. to build a following with Anaheim's basketball-devoted fan base. "It's definitely almost different cities, different states. â¦ Put it like this: In the offseason, I live probably 15 minutes from downtown [Los Angeles]. It takes me 45 minutes to an hour and a half any day of the week just to get downtown. So Anaheim is further than downtown."
The separation between the two cities was highlighted by Todd Ament, president and chief executive officer of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, during a Tuesday City Council meeting. Ament based the city's desire to acquire Sacramento's Kings on the promise of more jobs, a strengthened community and a positive financial impact.
Citing a 2008 report by economist Lou Hatayima that indicated that the Sonics contributing $188 million to Seattle's economy, Ament pointed to increased revenue for everything from restaurants and hotels to banks, realtors and transportation companies.
"The addition of a new professional sports team would increase Anaheim's entertainment options for the 3 million Orange County residents and nearly 45 million annual visitors, further adding to Anaheim's distinction as a world-class destination," Ament said.
He added: "With those factors in mind, the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce fully supports the actions of the City Council to enable a second professional sports team to be housed at the Honda Center."
Which would leave Sacramento without a pro basketball team at Power Balance Pavilion, formerly known as Arco Arena.
Once praised for its raucous crowds, the outdated facility is now an anomaly in the glitzy NBA. Six long miles, a stretch of freeways and an abundance of farmland separate the 26-year-old building from downtown Sacramento. Built cheaply and still only possessing one service level for paying customers, the arena has become an albatross.
To play hockey, ice must be created before each game. The NCAA will no longer use the facility for tournament play. And the city's inability to fund a new, modernized facility a process that has dragged on for years and fell apart on the heels of an economic recession has NBA supporters in Sacramento desperately searching for a last-minute savior.
"To even threaten to move the franchise and see them go through all that stuff is really pretty hard," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
"A great basketball city" • Ronnie Price said it's crazy that Sacramento might not have an NBA team next season. Price got his start with the Kings, evolving from an undrafted rookie trying to make a living in the league to a six-year veteran with Utah.
"Sacramento's always been a great basketball city," he said.
So has Salt Lake City. But Jazz president Randy Rigby said any attempt to compare the franchises is "apples and oranges."
Yes, both cities have been nationally defined by their passionate fan bases. Yes, each has dealt with playoff heartbreak. And, yes, the better days of both clubs are currently in the past. But Sacramento is Sacramento. SLC is a whole other basketball world.
"We have no issues at all to even think about those issues at all," Rigby said. "We're here to [stay]. We're the Utah Jazz."
With an NBA Board of Governors meeting set for April 14-15 in New York City, it appears increasingly likely that Sacramento will be without a professional basketball team next season. Meanwhile, Anaheim could give Southern California its third NBA team, with the Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers and an as yet unnamed club separated by just 26 miles. Kings owners Gavin and Joe Maloof must file a franchise relocation request by April 18.
The Kings qualified for the postseason eight consecutive seasons from 1998-2006, peaking with a 4-3 Western Conference Finals loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2002.
Without a crown
Sacramento hasn't had a winning record since 2005-06 and has only posted 63 victories during the past three seasons.
Jazz at Kings
P At Power Balance Pavilion
Tipoff • 4 p.m.
TV • ROOT Sports
Radio • 1320 AM, 1600 AM, 98.7 FM
Records • Jazz 36-40; Kings 21-54
Last meeting • Jazz, 109-102, OT (March 5)
About the Jazz • Utah has lost a season-high seven consecutive games and has been eliminated from playoff contention. â¦ The Jazz must win five of their last six contests to prevent a losing season for just the second time in 29 years. â¦ C.J. Miles is averaging 18 points during his past 10 games.
About the Kings • Sacramento had won four consecutive contests before dropping two straight to Denver. â¦ Rookie forward DeMarcus Cousins is averaging 14.1 points and 8.6 rebounds but is shooting just 42.4 percent from the field. â¦ Guard Tyreke Evans has averaged 12.4 points, 5.6 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 26 minutes during five games since returning to action after a foot injury.