1. Brian Grant returns to Sacramento:The new Kings regime doesn’t botch marketing opportunities too often, but they pretty much caught everyone off-guard with Brian Grant’s appearance during the Lakers’ visit last Wednesday. His is a story that can’t receive enough attention. The Kings’ 1994 first-round draft choice – Geoff Petrie’s first pick as general manager – has Parkinson’s disease, and he was invited back to Sacramento to discuss his illness. While seated courtside during pregame warmups, he talked about how happy he was that the Kings remained in Sacramento. Then, while looking at the entourage surrounding the new owners, he asked me to point out Vivek Ranadive. I couldn’t help but think that someone else should have made the introduction.
2. Sacramento loves Peja: Do people still love Peja Stojakovic or what? My next-door neighbor’s mother named her cat “Peja” after the slick-shooting Kings small forward, and that was more than a decade ago. So, here’s to the folks with good memories. Peja, 37, still has the sweetest temperament and the widest smile this side of, well, Serbia. I spent two weeks with him in Thessaloniki and Athens, Greece, before he came to the United States in 1998 and started to feel like I owned a limousine service. Practice, games, practice, games. Peja drove me everywhere and waited patiently while I interviewed his relatives, coaches, teammates. I will never forget his question to former Lakers (and then Greek) star Byron Scott after tossing a game-winning assist: “Am I ready for NBA or what?” Scott, who coincidentally joined the Kings coaching staff a few months later, told Peja, who spent two seasons in Greece after being drafted by the Kings, it was time to make the move.
3. Peja hasn’t been back to Sacramento for a while, and it was interesting to hear him finally open up about his lingering back issues. Petrie traded him (for Ron Artest) partly because a bulging disk in his back was causing problems, and as it turns out, that was only the beginning of the medical saga. Peja, who wore running shoes that matched his grey suit during Sunday’s Kings-Mavericks Sunday, walked with a slight limp and said he has a bulging disk in his neck. He said the discomfort probably traces back to the compound fracture he suffered in his right leg shortly after being drafted by the Kings in 1996 – an injury that his coach at the time (Scott Skiles) still refers to as one of the most gruesome he’s seen. One joint compensating for another, so to speak, though three All-Star selections, a Long Distance Shootout title and an NBA Championship with the 2011 Mavericks aren’t too bad. And, next season, the Kings will retire his No. 16 jersey. Not bad for one of the game’s all-time great shooters and one of the most humble, appreciative people in the league.
4. Veterans lead Dallas: The Mavericks are a bunch of old guys, but their visit to Sleep Train Arena created a playoff atmosphere. They’re closing on a playoff spot and the Kings already have secured a berth in the NBA Lottery. But seeing Peja sitting courtside next to Ranadive brought back memories of the infamous Peja-Dirk Nowitzki shootouts of the previous decade. Nowitzki still is a long, lean 7-footer, even at 35. Fellow starters Shawn Marion (36) Samuel Dalembert (33) Monta Ellis (28) and Jose Calderon (32) are getting up there, too, which explains why they played with a passion that isn’t seen in Sleep Train too often of late.
5. Cardinal lose to Huskies: Finally, while it’s been a tough week for sports-minded northern California women, among them Tara VanDerveer’s Stanford Cardinal who again were ousted in the NCAA Tournament by Geno Aueriemma’s Connecticut Huskies, here’s a shoutout to Anjali Ranadive, the Kings owner’s only daughter. I am not a music critic, so I am not about to critique her performance during the Bollywood-themed halftime of the Kings-Lakers game last week, including the sequence where she coaxed her father onto the court as her dance partner. But I give her props for two things: (1) She earned her college degree as promised (marine biology, Cal) before delving into the toxic entertainment environment, and (2) she seized the day. Those of us who lost our fathers (cancer) before we reached our teens never experienced that first dance. So, we settle for the Big Dance at the Final Four.