Sacramento Kings fan Bob Dreizler would describe himself as a perpetual optimist. But as he left Sleep Train Arena on Sunday, having just watched the hometown Kings lose another game, he was not feeling particularly optimistic.
"Honestly, I'm sort of discouraged," Dreizler, a Sacramento investment adviser, said later by phone. "I feel like this is the season the team had to do well, otherwise the fan base is going to start to shrink. You (can) already see that."
The Kings have won just two of their first 10 games, their worst start in more than 20 years. Their home attendance has approached record lows, and discontent is a theme among fans, some of whom booed the team off the court after a recent loss.
The fans once described by NBA executives as among the most loyal in the league are dwindling. The Kings' average crowd of 12,490 through their first six home games ranks last in the NBA and is their lowest at this point in three seasons.
Still, it remains slightly higher than the arena's record-low average attendance of 12,050 for the first six games of 2008-09 the season they went on to draw the fewest fans per game since moving into the building in 1988.
Fans offer a host of reasons for their frustration. They find the play on the floor uninspired, the talent lacking or the pieces mismatched. The Kings have not made the playoffs in six years, and have shown little sign of improvement early this season while stumbling to the worst record in the Western Conference.
There's also the lingering resentment toward the team's owners, the Maloof family, who abandoned a tentative agreement for a new downtown arena this spring. Speculation continues that the team may be seeking to move to another city.
"I think it's the totality of all these things," said David Carter, a sports marketing expert and executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute. "Why should the team or anybody, to include sponsors or broadcast partners expect fans and viewers to be all in if the fans and viewers don't have the belief that the team is all in?"
The Maloofs have refused for months to discuss whether the team has a future here beyond this year. This week, Kings officials declined to discuss early-season attendance figures. Team spokesman Chris Clark instead issued an emailed statement, offering a hopeful note.
"We started out with a sellout in the home opener, and that was very encouraging," Clark wrote. "Overall, the numbers are slightly lower; however, there are a number of marquee games in the coming weeks that will bolster those figures, such as contests against the Lakers, Knicks, Celtics and Heat .
"Additionally, the holiday season is upon us, and that trends towards increased attendances."
When it comes to buying a ticket, though, Gene Endicott, a public relations consultant in Roseville and former season-ticket holder, said he is "not feeling that pull right now."
"To me it has to do not just with the wins and losses," said Endicott, 53, one of a range of Kings fans who responded to a request from The Bee to weigh in on the team's start.
"Not only 10 years ago was the team winning, I just found some of the players, they were interesting people," Endicott said. "They were fun, and they acted like they were having fun. I think that's a lot of what's missing with these guys."
Just three weeks into the season, two Kings already have been disciplined by the league. DeMarcus Cousins was suspended for two games after he confronted a TV analyst for the San Antonio Spurs on the court after the game. Rookie Thomas Robinson was suspended for elbowing an opposing player in the neck.
Some fans, and former fans, say they are suffering from the cumulative effect of years of losing seasons with no end in sight.
Since the Kings last reached the playoffs in the 2005-06 season, they have lost more than two-thirds of their games for a cumulative record of 161-325.
"I guess what's the most disconcerting is there's no plan for how you get better," said Josh Brister, 30, of Folsom. "Nobody really seems all that upset with how things are moving, and management doesn't seem to make any real professional efforts to make the team better. It seems like a lot of Band-Aids, and that's definitely troubling as a fan."
Greg Jensen, a San Jose accountant who grew up in Elk Grove, said he might feel more frustrated had he expected the team to make a playoff run this year. "But I've kind of learned better, to not have those expectations.
"I'm always going to be interested," said Jensen, 25. "But it's tough to stay interested day to day. Like when I come home to my family to visit, I'm not going to be as interested to go see a Kings game."
Besides the subpar play, the arena drama of the past few years has undoubtedly caused some fans to stay away, said Bill Sutton, a former NBA vice president who now works as a private consultant.
The Maloofs tried to relocate the team to Anaheim two years ago, but were essentially ordered by the NBA to stay in Sacramento and give leaders here one more chance to put together a financing plan for an arena.
This spring, the Maloofs rejected that plan, contending it didn't pencil out for them financially. Since then, rumors have spread that the Kings have been in talks with Virginia Beach and Virginia state officials, including the governor, about moving the team there.
"Sports asks fans for threefold investment your money, your time and your emotions," Sutton said. "The Sacramento folks are unwilling to invest their emotions into something that (they believe) is not going to be there very long. Obviously, they aren't investing their time and money. That is a logical response to me.
"Fans say, 'Hey, these people (the Maloofs) don't want to be here. Maybe I'll move on.' "
Remaining Kings fans worry about the dwindling crowds. By staying away, they say, Sacramentans may simply be giving the team owners more ammunition to argue to the NBA that the franchise is no longer viable in Sacramento, and should be allowed to move.
"Kings fans are hostages at this point," said John Marcotte, 41, a Web designer in south Sacramento. "There's a horrible product on the floor due to years of mismanagement, neglect and lack of money. But if we don't go, the Maloofs are going to use that as an excuse that, 'Hey, they don't support the team.' "
From his spot out on the court, Kings fourth-year player Tyreke Evans said he has noticed the smaller crowds at Sleep Train Arena.
"It motivates me to try and win more games so fans can come out and watch more games," Evans said.
Tonight's game against the rival Los Angeles Lakers promises to draw a good crowd. But it remains to be seen how many fans will be wearing black with their purple, as opposed to gold.