Small-market supremacy: long live the Sacramento Kings

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For more than two years, basketball has been missing from my life.

I mean, it’s not like it went anywhere. It’s not like I couldn’t turn on the TV right now and watch the NBA Playoffs.

But for more than two years, I haven’t been able to enjoy basketball.

That’s because my time has been taken up with something else. You see, I’m a Sacramento Kings fan.

Ever since 2011, when the team’s current owners — the Maloofs — attempted to move the Kings to Anaheim, fans have been on red alert. Relocation rumors have persisted ever since then, and fans like myself have prepared to lose them at any moment.

And in January, the worst-case scenario occurred when the Maloofs announced a deal to sell the Kings to Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer, two Pacific Northwest billionaires that would have promptly moved the team to Seattle to replace the SuperSonics that the Emerald City lost in 2008.

The proposal was an outrage to Kings fans, and it immediately distracted me from the Kings’ play on the court.

Instead of going to games and arguing about lineup decisions with my friends, I’ve been checking Twitter and blogs for updates on what unnamed “sources” think will happen next. I’ve been glued to every word Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and NBA Commissioner David Stern have said over the past five months, hoping for a hint as to what would happen.

And sometime along the way, I got lost in all the politics and forgot about the fun of basketball.

When the Seattle deal was announced, my blood boiled.

How could the Maloofs do this? Less than a year before, those same Maloofs stood on center court in front of thousands of cheering fans to celebrate an agreement to fund a new arena with the city.

They backed out of that arena deal less than a month later, leaving the Kings to continue play in the old and decrepit Arco Arena. Meanwhile, whispers of relocation continued.

Throughout this saga, I could never worry about the fact that the Kings haven’t made the playoffs in seven seasons. There was no time to argue about coach Keith Smart’s nonsensical lineup decisions. Bigger issues were on my mind.

On-the-court performance — the thing that I and other fans love about the NBA — took a backseat to off-the-court politics.

When the deal to relocate the Kings to Seattle was announced, reporters immediately began acting like the move was already a sure thing. One reporter called it “first and goal on the one.” But in Sacramento, we knew better. We had been through these motions before — when the Anaheim deal looked like a sure thing. We had to save the Kings again.

Documentaries were made, rallies were organized and sellout nights were set up. More than 11,000 fans pledged to buy season tickets if the team changed ownership.

Kevin Johnson, a former NBA all-star and the current mayor of Sacramento, recruited an ownership group led by Vivek Ranadive, a Silicon Valley billionaire, to put together an offer that could compete with Hansen’s. Each group presented to the NBA, and all that was left was a vote.

In the end, Sacramento fans got what few of us are used to: victory.

The NBA rejected the proposed move to Seattle, and the Maloofs soon sold to Ranadive.

As a fan, it’s like I just won the lottery.

Maybe this is what winning the NBA finals feels like — although I wouldn’t know, because the Kings haven’t won it since 1951. Maybe this is what it feels like to seal a come-from-behind victory as an underdog with a buzzer beater twice in a row.

All I know is I’m excited for basketball again. For the first time in a decade, the Kings will be moving forward instead of backward.

Welcome home, Kings — even if you never really left.

Contact Riley McAtee at [email protected]