They didn't hide.
They didn't get skinned, either.
Now, imagine how much more civil the increasingly nasty arena conversation would have been if the Kings were something other than unwatchable for the better part of these past six seasons?
The Maloofs, the city, the NBA, the Kings
Sunday afternoon at Arco Arena um, Power Balance Pavilion was eerily reminiscent of the days when the Kings were good and the Maloofs were flush. The announced crowd of 16,012 directed its venom at the Portland Trail Blazers, for the most part internalizing or ignoring the ongoing spat about the downtown arena proposal that collapsed late last week.
These Kings are like catnip. That's why the NBA is so protective of this market. Give Sacramento fans even a whiff of a potentially appealing and marginally successful product, and they will surprise you.
Scratch that. They will amaze you.
After all these years and a lousy economy, repeated appearances at the draft lottery, a run of terrible basketball and business decisions, not to mention that eternal, insufferable arena situation Sunday started all about the owners and the arena, and ended with a thrilling Kings victory and a familiar postgame locker room visit by Gavin Maloof.
Joe and Gavin Maloof, in fact, were present throughout. The Kings' co-owners arrived about 30 minutes before tipoff and walked through one of the main doors instead of making their usual entry at the security gate. They didn't sit courtside but remained in their suite and were visible throughout pacing, cheering, speaking animatedly on their cellphones.
And the crowd reaction? Now that was interesting. Benevolent? Detached? Understanding? Tolerant? Controlled fury? The local shrinks must be having a blast with this.
Excluding a few shouts to "sell the team," there were few outward displays of displeasure directed at the brothers. (One of the more creative fans in Section 122 wore a grocery bag over his head with this suggestion in crayon: "Sign the deal. Just sign it.")
For an afternoon, anyway, it was mostly about the game. DeMarcus Cousins tempered his emotions and muscled inside for 23 points, including a late basket off a sensational hesitation spin move. Tyreke Evans defended well during the crucial sequences. Same for Terrence Williams. The diminutive Isaiah Thomas again demonstrated why he is a crowd favorite; the undersized rookie continues acting like a big shot, contributing steals, assists and physical defense. Marcus Thornton shook off his erratic shooting night and hit the winning jumper from the right side with 3.4 seconds remaining as the crowd erupted.
"We can say that none of this (arena talk) has been bothering us," Kings coach Keith Smart said with a slight smile after his postgame news conference, "but that's not human nature. Players have families. They hear things. Today, we were just able to put everything aside and just focus on the game."
Imagine, then, what would happen if the Maloofs, with a league-low player payroll, spent money on the roster this summer; if basketball president Geoff Petrie broke his recent losing streak; if Cousins and the more talented young Kings devoted the summer to conditioning and improving their games? You know? Like it used to be?
The last time the Kings reached the playoffs (2005-06), Metta World Peace known then as Ron Artest arrived in a midseason trade for Peja Stojakovic and bullied his new teammates into an entertaining first-round series against the San Antonio Spurs.
That was six years ago. Ten years ago, Robert Horry hit that three-point dagger that cost the Kings a trip to the NBA Finals. Ten years. Because of this lingering arena debacle, it only feels like a lot longer.
But that's where it starts, with the team, with the product, and with piecing together players who have complementary skills and personalities. On Sunday, it was mostly about the game. What a refreshing change.