With an air of uncertainty hanging over the proceedings, a sea of purple-clad Kings fans packed Sleep Train Arena this evening for what could be the final game in the team's Sacramento history.
What was expected to be a sellout crowd chanted "Beat L.A.!" and "Sac-ra-mento!" as the Kings tipped off against the Los Angeles Clippers. Despite the strong ticket sales, there were still hundreds of empty seats midway in the first quarter.
The fans were at turns defiant and nervous about the likelihood of the team's returning for a 29th season next year.
"My faith is in our mayor, Kevin Johnson, and all the whales," said fan Greg Brown a few minutes before the game began.
Many fans said they were convinced the NBA would ultimately reject the team's proposed relocation to Seattle, but others said they were nervous about the Kings' future.
If the team leaves, "let's go out in style," said an anxious Nate Wigle as he and several friends huddled around a barbecue grill in the parking lot shortly after 5 p.m.
"Tonight could either be the end of the season or the end of an era," said longtime fan Bill Schmalzel, heading to his seat in a king's crown and full-length royal purple robe.
Many praised the mayor, who took his customary courtside seat just before game time, and the well-heeled investor group that has mounted a counter-offer to the bid the Maloof family has accepted from Seattle's investors.
"This would be the last game without the 'dream team,'" said Bik Dosanjh, all clad in purple, as he waited to enter the arena.
Inside the arena, longtime Kings broadcaster Grant Napear conducted a pre-game interview with Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, asking him if his players would be ready for "all the emotion and energy that's going to be in the building." Del Negro praised the rabid Sacramento fan base but added, "Seattle deserves a team, too."
It was the second time in three years Kings fans attended the season finale wondering if the team was leaving. In 2011, the club appeared bound for Anaheim, and the last game was an emotion-filled loss to the arch rival Los Angeles Lakers. This time, Napear - who famously choked back tears at the tail end of the 2011 broadcast - said he is confident the team isn't leaving.
"It feels different this year," he said during a commercial break.
Back in the parking lot, radio personality "Carmichael" Dave Weiglein arrived in his purple RV, fresh from his "Playing to Win" tour that took him to various NBA cities and the April 3 NBA owners' meeting in New York. A crowd of nearly 100 gathered to sign the van, pose for pictures, ring cowbells and take in the scene.
Among them was Marilee Marsh, who said the team will stay. "We have a better push with the fan support," she said, gesturing to the van.
There was some exasperation with news that the NBA's decision on Seattle vs. Sacramento might not come for two more weeks.
"I wish they'd hurry up and make a decision already," said Lisa Delgadillo.