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A packed house watches one last game (for now?)

None of the sell-out crowd which packed Sleep Train Arena on Wednesday night knew precisely what was ending.

Was it simply the 2012-2013 season, which ended with a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers? Yes, but was it also the very existence of the Sacramento Kings? Possibly. We’ll find out next month when the NBA Board of Governors makes their decision on whether the Kings are sold to an investment group that intends to build a new arena and breathe life into the franchise, or whether the team is sold to a different group who intend to move the team to Seattle, Wash.; kill the franchise; and resurrect the Seattle SuperSonics.

The loss itself, 112-108, was relatively easy to take. The game was close and exciting, and the final score was almost an afterthought to the emotions of the event. With 2:31 to go in the game, the Kings held their last lead, a slim one point. They played lockdown defense on the Clippers’ next possession, and it seemed like the jubilant crowd would carry the Kings to victory. Then, at 2:08, with one second left on the shot clock, Jamal Crawford hit a fallaway three-pointer. The momentum switched, and that small gap lasted the rest of the game.

For the Clippers, the game meant that they would retain the important home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

For the Kings, the game meant that, despite playing without the recently injured Tyreke Evans, they were able to battle on even terms with the motivated, division-leading Clippers. Coach Keith Smart’s team has shown consistent improvement during the course of this season.

For the fans, the game was a chance to relive the old days. Mitch Richmond was there. Brad Miller was there. Cowbells were there. Chants of “Beat LA!” were there. The loud energy, which made Arco Arena famous and feared throughout the NBA, was generated from tip-off to final buzzer to — well, maybe, it’s still there. A large number of fans stayed in the arena and continued chanting and cheering as players like Travis Outlaw came out to mingle. In the parking lot after 11 p.m., crowds were still congregating and cheering.

Individual players had some noteworthy statistics.

All-Star Blake Griffin was held to seven points, four rebounds and four turnovers. Jimmer Fredette, among the league leaders in free-throw percentage, missed his only attempt, and is now two for his last 10, a percentage that even Dwight Howard would sneer at.

DeMarcus Cousins was DeMarcus Cousins. Big Cuz set career records in three categories: 36 points (leading scorer for the game and leading scorer for the team at 17.1), 22 rebounds (leading rebounder for the game and leading rebounder for the team at 9.9) and one technical foul (leading the league at 16).

Travis Outlaw (17 points and four assists) ended the season with three consecutive and powerful games, upping the chances that the Kings will opt to retain him, or that he will have no trouble finding a new home if the team does not.

The raucous crowd could not have asked for a more exciting game, just a less disappointing final score.

How did a Sacramento native Kings fan become a villain?

For some reason, Sacramento native Matt Barnes (who grew up loving the Kings and dreaming of joining his idols, and was terribly disappointed when the team traded him) was loudly booed.

There’s Donté!

Earlier this month, Sac Press asked “Where’s Donté?” and gave an update based on an exclusive interview with the popular former King. In it, he talked about his progress in recapturing his NBA shape and his hopes for the future.

Greene has just signed with the playoff-bound Memphis Grizzlies. Their first game is April 20 against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Looking backward, looking forward

During Coach Keith Smart’s first full season, the Kings have certainly improved. They won the most games (28) and had the highest winning percentage (.341) since Reggie Theus coached the Kings during the 2007-2008 season.

Equally certain, improvement has been modest.

Nonetheless, “disappointment” is not the overriding emotion for Kings fans. Without a doubt, the season will be better remembered for the turmoil over relocation than for the Kings’ actual record.

A handful of fans were asked to describe, in one word, their feelings about the past season and the coming summer.

Looking backward, Bill Vannett of Sacramento said, “anxious,” because he is so worried about the team’s future.

Jackson Dwelley of Davis labeled the season “eventful,” while his emotions looking forward were “excited.” His sister, Madison, counts as a Kings fan despite sporting a shirt honoring Blake Griffin. Although he’s her favorite player, she said she would prefer watching the Kings win than watching Blake Griffin beat them on a last-second shot. Her emotions entering the summer are “hopeful.”

Bik Dosanjh and Peter Masih are from Yuba City. Dosanjh described the season as “exciting” and his emotions as “excited,” while Masih said the season was “shocking,” but he now feels “rejuvenated,” because the team won’t move, the Kings will get better, and Kevin Johnson has done everything possible to keep the team. He continued, “The Maloofs have been messing with our emotions the last couple of years, but enough is enough, let us keep our team. That’s why I feel it’s going to be rejuvenated.”

Sergio Armenta, of Sacramento, described the season as “unrealistic” because of the clash between two realities: the foreboding that “this will probably be our last game,” and the optimism over how “the city came together.” The net result is that he’s now “nervous.”

Armenta is married to Luis Delgado’s sister, and took his brother-in-law to the game. Armenta groomed Luis as a Kings fan all season (much to the chagrin of Luis’s sister who is a Laker fan).

Luis had a more youthful and upbeat perspective: The season was “great” and the summer will be “fantastic.”

Lili Solis’s family drove in from Winnemucca, NV. The 7-hour drive is a measure of the depth of their support for the Kings. Solis said the season was “good,” but looking ahead, she’s “scared.”

Lindsey Read, now 33, grew up using her family’s season tickets to watch the Kings. The season was “exciting,” and the future looks “hopeful.”

Brothers Stefan and Chris Falcon drove up from Stockton with their friend, Leroy Madarang. Stefan Falcon used “resilient” to describe the season, but “unknown” to describe the off-season. Chris Falcon said the season was “amazing” (“Every game I came to, it was great. It was crazy.”). Like Read, the future looks “hopeful” to him. Madarang said the season was “uncertain,” but looking forward, he’s “excited.”

When the game was over, the fans simply wouldn’t leave. Their overriding hope is that the Kings, too, simply won’t leave. 


: Thanks to George Young for all his great photographs in this article and throughout the season.

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