When the Memphis Grizzlies played the Sacramento Kings on Sunday afternoon, April 7, the game was meaningful, ugly, exciting and disappointing.
Meaningful: Hopelessly out of the playoffs, the Kings are desperate to solidify their recently improved play. Since the All-Star break, they went from 16th to first place in scoring and from near-the-bottom 29th place to 13th place in assists. The game was even more important to Memphis, who are currently seeded fifth for the Western Conference playoffs, but are only one game out of third place.
Ugly: At the half, the Kings were shooting 32 percent, had only one fewer turnovers than assists, and yet were leading the Grizzlies. Certainly, there were some defensive highlights, but there were also a good deal of squandered opportunities. The final box score had both teams with almost as many turnovers as assists.
Exciting: Although the Kings were down by 12 points during one possession in the second quarter, they were close behind or ahead for most of the game. After all, 2012 All-Star Marc Gasol normally shoots .548 and scores 18.3 a game, but was held to 15 points on .400 shooting. All-Star Zach Randolph, who averages 15 points on .522 shooting was held to nine points on .308 shooting. With 44 seconds left in the game, the Kings took their first lead of the fourth quarter.
Disappointing: In the final 30 seconds, DeMarcus Cousins missed a lay-up that would have regained the lead. Isaiah Thomas later completed a lay-up, but by then, the Kings needed a three-point basket to tie the game. With only five seconds left, Coach Keith Smart sent Jimmer Fredette, Marcus Thornton, Toney Douglas, Thomas, and Cousins on the court, needing a bucket to tie or a trey to win. Thornton’s three was stuffed by Gasol, the Grizzlies 12th block of the game The Kings lost 89-87.
(1) Fredette scored 13 points in 15 minutes.
(2) Offensively, Jason Thompson (two points on one-for-five shooting), John Salmons (two points on one-for-four shooting), and Tyreke Evans (five points on one-for-seven shooting) all had off games.
(3) Patrick Patterson, who might have made the difference in a close game like this, had a sore lower back and did not suit up.
(4) Thanks to Ron Nabity for the action photos.
Donté Greene was one of the most popular players for the Kings from 2008 to 2012. His energy and enthusiasm spawned the Goon Squad, still to be found jumping in the stands at the start of games.
Greene was not retained by the Kings this season and, just as he was about to sign with the Brooklyn Nets, he fractured his right ankle. Surgery and rehabilitation followed.
Though not yet back to his NBA form, Greene has fully recovered from the injury and is playing for Atléticos de San Germán in Puerto Rico. Things are “good, and getting better every day,” and he’s especially working on his low post game.
Greene’s engaging personality was always on display when he interacted with young fans. Indeed, one of the upsides to his injury has been the opportunity to spend more time with his two sons, first in their hometown of Baltimore, during rehabilitation, and now down in Puerto Rico.
Another aspect of his personality is his enthusiasm, which led naturally to his role as “chief dapper” when the starting five were introduced. Greene’s ebullient and encouraging fist dapping, flying butt bumps, etc. energized the team and the fans. (James Johnson assumed that role this year.)
Have you ever wondered about the routine of kisses and touches that Greene performed every time he entered the game? Greene shed light on his ritual, explaining that he has the names of various family members (his sons, his grandmothers, etc.) tattooed on his body and he is basically kissing and honoring all his family, ending with an outstretched arm to the Lord.
Greene does not get to follow the Kings much, but is up to date on the relocation issue and hopes the team stays in Sacramento, which he describes as “my second home.” He misses his friends and remains in consistent touch with his best friend on the Kings, Jason Thompson.
Greene also misses the fans, whom he describes as “some of the most passionate in the NBA,” and sends a special greeting to the Goon Squad.
The Goon Squad
It was Alan Edwards (Greene calls him “my guy!”) who first got the idea of jumping along with the Kings at the start of games. Other founding members of the Goon Squad are Edwards’ wife, Tonette, and Mr. and Mrs. Sign Lady, who fortuitously have season tickets right in front of the Edwards.
Actually, Alan says that the first person to start jumping was Samuel Dalembert, who was simply impatient to get into the game.
Edwards felt, “well, if he’s going to jump the next game, we’re going to jump along with him. So, Donté started jumping and we started jumping and they just enjoyed the hell out of it.”
Their enthusiasm is infectious and fans, both surrounding them and around the arena, often join in. Edwards quotes Jason Thompson as crediting the Goon Squad with “bringing a college environment into the NBA that all the other teams are jealous of.”
The Sign Lady
The visual focal point for the Goon Squad is always The Sign Lady, with her creative and attractive signs.
Actually, she is Barbara Rust, a retired kindergarten teacher. She and her husband, Niko, have created about 325 colorful and sparkly signs. Obviously, they don’t bring all those signs to every game. Rather, they bring about 30 at a time, but at least one for each player.
The couple has a genuine affection for each Kings player, so they retain signs of players who are traded or otherwise leave the team. These former Kings “usually give me a smile or nod when they see their signs again,” Barbara explained. “It’s just my way of telling them we will always appreciate the time they played for the Kings.”
Although Barbara gets the most visibility, she confides that Niko is a full and equal partner in the conception, the design and the fabrication of the signs. He sometimes proudly sports a Kings jersey with “Mr. Sign Lady” on the back.
The couple’s love for the Kings is selfless. As Barbara Rust pointed out, they don’t ask for autographs, “because I see my role as giving support to the team, rather than asking them for things. However, I have been surprised by receiving several items from players over the years as their way of saying thank you, and these treasures are priceless to me. This goes with my personal philosophy of life that what you put out in the world will come back to you. That philosophy is also the reason that our signs are always positive because that’s the energy we want to put into the arena for the team.”
One of the side benefits of being “The Sign Lady,” however, is that her visibility helps connect her to former students. She adds, “they know exactly where to find me. This has become a wonderful way to keep in touch with them. Many are adults, some live far away, and are home visiting when they come to a Kings game and find me. It really makes me happy when they tell me that even though they live in New York or wherever now, they are still Kings fans because I taught them to love the Kings in Kindergarten!”