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  • PAUL KITAGAKI JR. / pkitagaki@sacbee.com

    Kings fans keep the faith at sold out Sleep Train Arena. Sacramento kept the game close, but the Los Angeles Clippers won to lock up home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

  • JOSÉ LUIS VILLEGAS / jvillegas@sacbee.com

    David Marquez, 11, of Lincoln wears the Kings' colors outside Sleep Train Arena. The game, possibly the Kings' final one in Sacramento, drew an announced sellout crowd. The NBA has extended its talks regarding the bids from Sacramento and Seattle for the franchise.

  • JOSÉ LUIS VILLEGAS / jvillegas@sacbee.com

    Kings coach Keith Smart and Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro meet before the game. Smart's contract has one year left, but his fate is up in the air given the uncertainty over the team's ownership.

  • PAUL KITAGAKI JR. / pkitagaki@sacbee.com

    DeMarcus Cousins throws his shoes to fans as he exits the court after the last game of the regular season. Cousins scored 36 points.

Kings fans in full voice during possible last game in Sacramento

Published: Thursday, Apr. 18, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 14A
Last Modified: Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013 - 11:09 am

They cheered like there was no tomorrow.

Brimming with optimism but still not completely sure what the future holds, a sea of purple-clad Kings fans on Wednesday rocked Sleep Train Arena for what could have been the final game in the team's Sacramento history.

Hours after the NBA's top executives said it could take at least two more weeks to decide whether the team moves to Seattle, a packed crowd watched the Kings lose 112-108 to the Los Angeles Clippers.

"Tonight could either be the end of the season or the end of an era," said a smiling Bill Schmalzel, wearing a king's crown and full-length royal purple robe. "I'm here for the moment."

Thousands chanted "Sac-ra-men-to!" in the waning seconds of the game - and segued into "Here we Stay" a few minutes later.

Most stuck around after the final horn to hear Kings guard Isaiah Thomas address them on the public address system.

"You guys are the best," he said.

It marked the second time in three years that the Kings played their season finale under a cloud of uncertainty about the team's fate. In 2011, the Maloof family was preparing to relocate the Kings to Anaheim, and the crowd seemed almost resigned to losing the team.

This time, there was a sense of hope and even defiance, with many fans insisting the team would be back for a 29th season in Sacramento next year.

"My faith is in our mayor, Kevin Johnson, and all the 'whales,' " said longtime fan Greg Brown, referring to the deep-pockets investors the mayor helped recruit to launch a counteroffer for the team.

Kings broadcaster Grant Napear, who choked back tears as he signed off during the finale in 2011, said he's sure the team will stay put.

"I feel like this is not the last game I'm going to broadcast," he said. "It feels different this year."

Fifteen minutes after the game ended, Napear led a crowd of several thousand in a chant of "Here we stay."

A half hour after the game, Thomas, and teammates Tony Douglas and Travis Outlaw came out of the locker room and tossed T-shirts into the stands.

Taking his customary courtside seat, a confident-sounding Johnson praised the fans and told reporters he took heart in the NBA's possible invitation to both Seattle and Sacramento to return to New York for another round of presentations to the league's owners.

Still, some fans said they feared the NBA would be swayed by the deal that Seattle investor Chris Hansen has struck for the Maloofs' controlling share of the team. Hansen added $16 million to his bid last week, to a total of $357 million.

If the team leaves, "let's go out in style," said an anxious Nate Wigle as he and several friends - all fans from the team's first year in Sacramento, 1985 - huddled around a barbecue grill in the parking lot well before tipoff.

The rare sellout crowd of 17,317 included two former Kings, Brad Miller and Mitch Richmond, and the fans showered Richmond with a huge ovation when he appeared on the video board during a timeout.

An emphatic blocked shot in the fourth quarter by the Kings' DeMarcus Cousins brought a roar that made the old building sound like it was 2002, when the team was a contender.

As the Kings closed in on the Clippers in the final two minutes, the fans seemed to put aside the possibility the team would leave and focused on the raw emotion on the floor. But the uncertainty around the team was never far from the surface.

"It's a movie," said season ticket holder Dustin Dekuirel. "We're going to win or we're going to lose."

Throughout the arena, fans gushed over the investor group, led by Silicon Valley software tycoon Vivek Ranadive, trying to keep the Kings from leaving.

"This would be the last game without the 'dream team,' " said Bik Dosanjh, who arrived with a sign that said, "Thank you KJ!!! Thank you Dream Team! Here we stay."

The arena took on an almost festive atmosphere. Radio personality "Carmichael" Dave Weiglein, fresh from his tour of NBA cities, arrived in his purple "Playing to Win" recreational vehicle before the game and was greeted by a rock star. A crowd of nearly 100 fans gathered around him to sign his RV, ring cowbells and pose for pictures with him.

But even amid the celebration, there was exasperation about the news that the NBA's decision was being put off. "I wish they'd hurry up and make a decision already," said Lisa Delgadillo as she and a friend approached the RV.

Call The Bee's Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Dale Kasler



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