For the second time in three games, a protest outside Golden 1 Center overshadowed the basketball played inside the arena.
Approximately 4,000 fans, who entered before the arena doors were locked for safety reasons, watched the Kings lose to the Dallas Mavericks 103-97 on Tuesday, with about 13,600 seats unfilled.
Demonstrators blocked entrances to the arena in response to the death of Stephon Clark, 22, an unarmed African American who was shot by Sacramento police late on March 18. Officers were responding to reports of a man breaking car windows. They shot at Clark 20 times in his grandmother's backyard.
Clark's funeral is scheduled for Thursday, the day the Kings host the Indiana Pacers, and with marches planned for the weekend, emotions figure to remain high in the city.
"We know it could happen, it might happen, but we can' t let it change how we play," said Kings forward JaKarr Samspon. "We're allowed to protest and they're allowed to do what they do out there, and as basketball players, majority of us African American in the league, we understand what's going on out there. We respect that but we've still got to come in, be professionals and bring the same juice the same energy every night."
Tuesday's game tipped off late by about three minutes, compared to the 20-minute lag time during the protest last Thursday when they hosted the Atlanta Hawks to a crowd of about 2,400.
"The bigger issue is that we couldn’t get friends and family members in, so your biggest concern before you play a game is, ‘Is my family OK?’" Joerger said. "If they’re not able to get in or friends aren’t able to get in, the people you care about deeply, you’re wondering what’s going on with them. It’s not an excuse. We were awful."
The Kings (24-51) have lacked energy many nights this season, so that might have been a problem even if there had been a packed arena. Fans who entered the arena before the lockdown were invited to take the best available seats in the lower bowl before halftime. Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein said that helped him feel the "same energy" from the stands.
“When the ball is thrown up, that’s when everything shuts off in your mental anyway," Cauley-Stein said. "So anything before that, you’re still messing around before, in warm-ups you’re still doing shots that you don’t do in the game, you’re still joking around with your team.”
Dallas forward Harrison Barnes, who scored a game-high 20 points, said these extraordinary situations require players to be "professionals" and play through it. The Mavericks (23-51) figured out how to bring enough energy to win.
"The beauty of the game is that we have this platform to be able to speak about these things and to be able to speak about police brutality, citizen-police relationships, disproportionate amount of African Americans getting killed," Barnes said. "It’s important that we use that platform to talk about these things. Our hearts and condolences go out to the families of those of both sides that have been affected."
Clark's death was a topic on the court during last Thursday's game and Tuesday there was still a lot of discussion about social issues. Barnes noted how earlier Tuesday it was announced the police officers involved in the shooting death of Alton Sterling would not face charges.
Sterling, an African American, was shot and killed while being held down on the ground in an incident involving two Baton Rouge police officers that sparked nationwide protests in 2016.
Barnes said he talked with some of his teammates and some Kings players, such as Garrett Temple, about what they're doing in the community to help find "a resolution to this problem."
"Obviously it’s not easy. It’s difficult," he said. "But we just want more accountability all around, whether that’s community policing, whether that’s the policy makers and the people at the table have more conversations with activists. These stories can’t become a regular thing. That’s what the tragedy is, that they’re becoming the normal."
Barnes added it's important to keep the discussion going.
"If they were doing this somewhere else in the city, would they still be garnering the same attention?" Barnes said. "Would it be at the front of every opposing team that’s coming in here? Would it be national news that the Sacramento Kings are locking fans out of their stadium? Why are they locking fans out of the stadium? Oh, because this young man was killed. Then the dialogue keeps going that way.
"There’s never an easy way that’s easy for everyone who’s involved to accept it and be on board, but the point is to bring attention to something to start a debate, and that’s what they’re doing."