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A wide range of Kings fans turned out throughout the region Friday night to meet this season's players.
From an 11-week-old fan who's barely got his eyes open to a law firm receptionist whose eyes were painted Kings purple, the fans came out to show their devotion as the team prepares to start its 2009-10 season. The team has a new coach, Paul Westphal, and six new players under contract.
Some of the team's biggest fans were kids. Jack Lyons, Matthew Jackson and several other big-eyed fourth-graders from Crocker/Riverside Elementary School in Sacramento posed for photos with first-draft-pick Tyreke Evans, a rookie point guard, and Lanny Smith, a training camp invitee.
"It's my first time meeting the Kings players," said Matthew, who borrowed a Kings jersey for the event at the Wells Fargo Center, 400 Capitol Mall. About 200 people showed up there, while more fans greeted Kings at Arco Arena, Raley's in Fair Oaks and an Orangevale football game. Kings players will show their fan appreciation Saturday as well. For more on Saturday's events and a contest to win Kings' tickets and a chance to sit in the press box, click here.
Land Park resident Amber Lyons, who's been a fan since high school, and her friend Geoff Brewer, a purchaser for the state Department of General Services, brought their four kids and the kids' friends to meet the players.
"We've always just been Kings fans," said Lyons. "I think we're really lucky to have a professional team in Sacramento, and I hope we don't lose them."
Felipe Martin, who works at the Wells Fargo Center, brought his three kids to meet the players. But it's his 12-year-old, Elizabeth, who's wild about the Kings. She became a huge fan three years ago, when her dad took her to her first Kings game.
A lawyer who also works in the building gave Martin two free tickets. The seats were in the center of the second row. Martin took Elizabeth, who'd just started playing basketball.
"I thought that they were cool — and they could really play basketball," she said. Friday, she had a photo taken with Evans and Smith, while her brother got a photo with Sacramento Kings Dance Team members Becca and Sasha.
She and her father have watched a few more games in person, although they sat in the cheap seats, high up in the stands.
"To me, I think live (games) is much better. More exciting," said Martin, 33.
Chris and Sharon Thompson of Eldorado Hills brought their three boys — 9-year-old Jack, 5-year-old Aaron and 11-week-old Cade. Jack and Aaron worked hard in the car on the way to the event, scrubbing souvenir basketballs clean with baby wipes, Sharon Thompson said.
Evans and Smith said they were grateful for all the basketball fans who came out.
"They're showing a lot of love so far," Evans said. "We appreciate them coming, and we'll try to do the best we can on as many games as possible."
Smith, a 24-year-old guard from Houston, said he loved seeing such "enthusiastic" fans.
"It's great to get out here and interact with the fans. Hopefully, that'll translate to them coming out and showing up at the games," he said.
All the players have been practicing hard, he said.
"We have a lot of good guys. The chemistry is really great," Smith said. "It makes it easy to play with each other and normally translates into good basketball."
The after-work crowd included many people from the law firm Kronick, Moskovitz, Tiedemann & Girard. Receptionist Anita Zanartu had been waiting all day to meet the players.
She proved it by wearing a purple shirt, purple earrings, a purple necklace, purple eyeshadow and eyeliner, even carrying a purple handbag while she got a schedule signed for her 10-year-old son. The schedule will now reside in an armoire in the living room, next to other Kings souvenirs, Zanartu said.
Bruce Scheidt, an attorney with the firm, welcomed Evans to Sacramento with a handshake. His business suit wasn't purple, but his excitement — and that of others from the firm — was obvious.
"We're all Kings fans," he said.
Suzanne Hurt is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press.