Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: Clippers bring another twist to Kings' regular-season finale

Published: Wednesday, Apr. 17, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Wednesday, Apr. 17, 2013 - 8:07 am

The Clippers keep crashing the party. They were here that first night and are here again tonight for what might be the final night of the Kings' 28-year stay in Sacramento.

So how many more twists and turns can this long and winding Sacramento arena ordeal produce? Bids and counteroffers. City Council meetings. More City Council meetings. Rallies in the park. A clash of software titans. Tears and anger and every other emotion imaginable. Feuding cities. Another decision delayed.

Perhaps NBA Commissioner David Stern, who retires in February, answers the Sacramento-Seattle riddle and rides off into the sunset a winner.

And, by the way, Stern started all this. Only months into his stewardship, the commissioner dropped into Sacramento for the historic opener. As a Clippers beat writer, I hitched a ride with him that night to the arena, and here is some of what we saw: Cows grazing in open fields. People celebrating in the parking lot. More than 10,000 folks crammed into a bandbox of a facility. Kings players in dreadful powder blue uniforms, local dignitaries in tuxedos and tails, and eventually, Don Chaney's Clippers rallying and ruining the ending.

"It was like being in a college gym," recalled longtime Clippers play-by-play announcer Ralph Lawler. "People were so excited to have a pro sports team in town, and everyone was screaming, cheering. Very, very exciting place."

Rookie Joe Kleine made his debut. Eddie Johnson and Mark Olberding missed crucial free throws. Assistant coach Jerry Reynolds hit the scene with a full head of white hair. And Reggie Theus made it official, scoring the first basket in Sacramento Kings history.

"Of course I remember," Theus said Tuesday from his cell phone. "I caught the ball, had a clean look at the rim and drove in and finished. What was funny, though, was that I didn't even realize the significance until someone asked me about it later."

Those Kings and Clippers would be linked in a number of ways in the future. Sacramento's starting backcourt of Mike Woodson and Larry Drew was traded to Los Angeles for Derek Smith. Theus, now coaching at Cal State Northridge, came back and coached his old team and guided the Kings to their most victories (38) in a season in the post-Rick Adelman era.

While Theus speaks fondly of both tenures in Sacramento, he initially felt as if he had been exiled to another planet.

"Cows in the field?" Theus said, laughing. "Are you kidding me? We used to go pheasant hunting out there. But once I got over it (shock), it became really cool because I'm an outdoors guy.

"When I think about what is happening now. … The city has come an awful long way. The Kings brought such an awareness. Sacramento became known as not just being the capital of California."

Theus, still close friends with Drew, Woodson, Johnson and several former Kings teammates, kept turning the conversation back to the fans. To all those sellouts. To the energy that inspired more home-court victories than the team's talent suggested. To the need for earplugs. Mostly, to the sense he was partnering in something special.

"Seattle is a good basketball city," Theus added, "but Sacramento should not lose its team."

So on it goes. Another night with the newly empowered Clippers, another possible finale, another week of waiting and wondering whether Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson's efforts to assemble an ownership group can offset the formidable presentation of the Chris Hansen/Steve Ballmer group in Seattle.

"I have really mixed feelings," Lawler said. "Long haul, is Seattle a better fit? You can make the case. But doesn't Sacramento deserve to keep its team after all the years of support? I'm not surprised the league is having a lot of trouble figuring out what to do."

Lawler can relate in another sense: He has been uprooted twice because of franchise instability. He was the voice of the American Basketball Association's San Diego Sails when the franchise folded in 1975 and the play-by-play man when the Clippers relocated from San Diego to Los Angeles in 1984.

"Left at the altar twice," he mused. "It's an awful feeling. It hurts whether you're a fan or an employee. And with the Kings, that team is the pillar of sports in the state capital. To lose the only team?"

Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin (916) 321-1208 and follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. She earned a bachelor's degree in political science from UNLV and a law degree from the University of San Diego before committing full time to journalism.

Her career includes stops at the San Diego Union, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and time spent as the backup beat writer for Dodgers and Angels, Clippers and NBA beat writer, sports columnist, along with numerous assignments covering international events and the Olympics. Ailene joined The Sacramento Bee in 1997.

Phone: 916-321-1208
Twitter: @ailene_voisin

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