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That Kings-Lakers playoff series? It stuck with Greta Gerwig, too

Sacramento Stories: Horry’s dagger to Kings’ heart (May 26, 2002)

On May 26, 2002, the Sacramento Kings were looking to go ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers 3-1 in the Western Conference finals. Kings center Vlade Divac slapped the ball out of the key to the three-point line. The rest is history.
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On May 26, 2002, the Sacramento Kings were looking to go ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers 3-1 in the Western Conference finals. Kings center Vlade Divac slapped the ball out of the key to the three-point line. The rest is history.

Sacramento native Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age film “Lady Bird” earned glowing praise from critics and audiences alike. Back in 2002, though, she and the rest of the city were watching a different kind of slam dunk.

Gerwig discussed Kings basketball, the Sacramento accent and more with the film’s star Saoirse Ronan on The Ringer founder/CEO Bill Simmons’ podcast Jan. 19.

The women’s half of the episode, which can be heard on The Bill Simmons Podcast on YouTube or be downloaded on iTunes, mostly focused on drawing inspiration from other films, Ronan’s experience hosting “Saturday Night Live” and future career plans for each of them. But Simmons, whose 736-page tome titled “The Book of Basketball” was released in 2009, couldn’t resist bringing up the Kings’ lack of NBA championships and their closest brush with the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

“The Kings should have won the 2002 title. By the way, you could have snuck that in the movie,” he told Gerwig, who recalled Kings flags being hung in windows during her senior year at St. Francis High School and did include a B-roll shot of a Kings mural. “Yeah, it was the worst thing that ever happened to Sacramento.”

For those who blocked that series out of their memory bank, the Los Angeles Lakers shot 27 free throws in the fourth quarter to take Game 6 of the 2001-02 NBA Western Conference Finals from the Kings, 106-102.

Fans, pundits and head coach Rick Adelman blamed bad calls for the loss, and former referee Tim Donaghy – banned from the sport and sentenced to 15 months in prison for betting on games – later alleged officials conspired to extend the series to seven games. Gerwig called the loss “a heartbreaker” and “tragic” on the podcast.

The significance seemed lost on Ronan, who upon being told referees stole potential title away from the Kings responded, “Oh, no. How did they steal it from them if it’s a game?”

The Irish-raised Ronan has adopted a generic American accent for several past roles, she said, but had trouble with the monotone, pushed-together speech Gerwig and others from Sacramento use. The word “perfect” stumped her, she told Simmons, but she managed to pronounce the city’s name like a local.

One of my most proud things … of (Ronan’s) performance is she says, ‘Sacramen-o.’ People don’t say, ‘Sacramen-to,’ they say, ‘Sacramen-o.

Greta Gerwig, about “Lady Bird” star Saiorse Ronan

“One of my most proud things … of (Ronan’s) performance is she says, ‘Sacramen-o.’ People don’t say, ‘Sacramen-to,’ they say, ‘Sacramen-o,’ ” Gerwig said. “And she said it just right, and it makes me so happy when she says it because I think there’s a lack of precision. I think it’s a Northern California thing.”

Simmons wasn’t the first host to ask Ronan about her adaptation to Northern Californians’ manner of speech. She previously described the laid-back tone to Stephen Colbert, who had less-than-kind words to say about Sacramento.

The Kings’ decline into perennial cellar-dwellers began a few seasons later when stars such as Chris Webber and Peja Stojakovic exited their primes or were traded to other teams. Encouraged by the new arena and relatively new ownership group, though, Gerwig predicted brighter days in the team’s future.

“We’re coming back,” Gerwig said. “I think they’re going to turn it around. They’re going to surprise everyone.”

“Lady Bird” garnered Academy Award nominations for best picture, best director, best actress, best supporting actress and best screenplay on Tuesday. The film took home Golden Globes for best motion picture for a musical or comedy and best actress in the same genre earlier in the awards season, and Gerwig, Ronan and Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird’s mother – graced the cover of Entertainment Weekly’s Academy Awards issue released this week.

After the Oscar nominations, Marquee Media co-owner Jeff Joaquin posted an ad on 11 billboards around Sacramento congratulating “Lady Bird” on its nomination. The hashtag “#SacramentoProud” at the bottom of the billboard touched Gerwig, who thanked the city for “giving me roots and wings” in her Golden Globes acceptance speech and told The Bee she intends to film three more movies in her hometown.

To hear the Boston-raised Simmons tell it, Sacramento’s never won anything. “Lady Bird” flying away with one or more Academy Awards on March 4 might help numb the sting of the last 16 years, he said.

“There’s been a lot of losing there,” Simmons said. “If you win one of these Oscars, this would be the payback for the 2002 playoffs.”

One of eleven digital billboards congratulating local filmmaker Greta Gerwig for her film's recent Oscar nominations is displayed near I Street and Interstate 5 in Sacramento on Tuesday, January 23, 2018.

Late-night talk show host Stephen Colbert interviewed lead actress Saoirse Ronan on Tuesday, December 5, 2017, about the film "Lady Bird", which is set in Sacramento and directed by native daughter Greta Gerwig. After Ronan heaped praise on Gerwig

Benjy Egel: 916-321-1052, @BenjyEgel

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