SACRAMENTO — Was this the end?
The chatter around Sleep Train Pavilion centered on that question Wednesday night. With NBA owners debating whether to approve the franchise’s sale and relocation to Seattle, the ever-faithful fans of the Sacramento Kings pushed the uncertainty aside and did what they have done for parts of four decades during a 112-108 loss in the regular-season finale against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Maybe for the last time.
Hope rang out in those trademark cowbells. Optimism showed through purple-painted faces and in the jerseys of players past and present worn throughout the announced sellout crowd of 17,317.
Stacey Petit-Williams, 32, held a hand-made sign that read: “TAKE MY LIFE BUT NOT MY KINGS.” Her husband, Kenneth Williams, 33, carried another that said: “BEST FANS IN THE NBA SINCE ’85.”
“The Kings are like our stepchild,” said Kenneth Williams, born and raised in Sacramento. “It’s like family. We’re here to cheer something we love.”
Fans cheered at full throat during player introductions and often shouted “Sacramento!” Dozens more held up signs at any stoppage with phrases such as “NBA Please Don’t Take Our Team” and “This is NOT goodbye.” Thousands stuck around for about an hour after the final buzzer, chanting “here we stay” and “save our team” while security guards lined the court with ropes to prevent fans from storming the hardwood again.
Coaches and players returned to the court after showering and getting dressed to thank fans for their support. Guard Marcus Thornton signed autographs with “See you next year.”
At one point, Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” blared over the loudspeakers as a tribute to the victims of the bombings during the Boston Marathon. Assistant coach Bobby Jackson, a former player, finally told the crowd: “Kings ain’t going anywhere.”