Sports

How a night in Phoenix brought together Sacramento fans: ‘The passion runs deep’

Kings fans who live in the Phoenix area attend the Kings-Suns game Jan. 8 at Talking Stick Resort Arena. From left are Brent Summers, Randy Cliff Peterson, Shannon Parrington, Mike McCormick and Audra Lepp. All have lived in the Sacramento area.
Kings fans who live in the Phoenix area attend the Kings-Suns game Jan. 8 at Talking Stick Resort Arena. From left are Brent Summers, Randy Cliff Peterson, Shannon Parrington, Mike McCormick and Audra Lepp. All have lived in the Sacramento area. nharris@sacbee.com

A little more than six years ago, one tweet sent a shock to Kings fans and many others in Sacramento:

“So I hear that the Seattle Kings is officially a done deal!” Daina Falk – a food and sports enthusiast who is the daughter of sports agent David Falk – posted Jan. 8, 2013. “The Maloofs finally sold the ailing Sacramento team. #NBA”

That Twitter post brought Kings fans together in a push to keep the team in Sacramento.

In a city some 750 miles away, another group used social media to stage their own one-day rally in hopes of helping the cause in California’s capital city.

Little did those people know the long-lasting effect that meeting would have.

Coming together for Sacramento

Shannon Parrington grew up in Sacramento but has lived in Arizona since heading there for college in the late 1990s. She’s been a Kings fan since they moved west in 1985.

When she heard the team could be leaving her hometown, she wanted to do anything she could to prevent the relocation.

“Through social media, I had heard about groups in Sacramento trying to keep the team in town,” Parrington said, adding she didn’t know what to expect when she tweeted her idea to have a night for the Kings in Phoenix during a Kings-Suns game there in 2013.

After hearing about fans in New York gathering in support of the Kings, she decided to see if she could make something similar happen in Phoenix.

“I knew there were other Kings fans here. I’d seen them at games but we’d never come together,” she said. “It was something I could do here to show how much I appreciated the Kings and how much I wanted them to stay in Sacramento. I knew how much the team meant to the city and fans.”

On March 28, 2013, it was apparent the team also meant something to a large but undetermined number of fans in Arizona’s capital. That night, Kings fans in Phoenix made their presence felt at what was then U.S. Airways Center.

“There was a major turnout of Kings fans wanting to do anything to keep the Kings in Sacramento, even though we live here in Arizona,” said Jared Slaff, who lived in Sacramento’s Lemon Hill neighborhood for nearly three decades before moving to the Phoenix area.

Several people in attendance held signs reading “Here We Stay” and “Sacramento in the house.” Others showed love to Kevin Johnson, a Sacramento native and the city’s mayor at the time. Johnson played the majority of his NBA career with the Suns.

The fans congregated, chanted and later celebrated a 117-103 victory. It was well noticed away from the arena.

“We were being vocal,” said Brent Summers, a fan who resides in Phoenix and has also lived in Sacramento. He says one sign he created was featured prominently on one of the main ‘Here We Stay’ videos that aired during the fight to prevent the team from moving.

“Toward the end of the game, we got together and chanted, ‘Here We Stay,’” Summers said. “Someone on Twitter said, ‘We can hear you over the broadcast.’ That was pretty cool that someone in Sacramento could hear the visiting fans chanting for the team.”

Summers, Parrington and numerous other Kings fans met that night – and many have been connected since. One way is through a private Facebook group that has 20 of those people.

After all, social media played a big part in bringing them together.

“I was trying to find other people who cared that lived in Phoenix, and that’s how I found the group,” said Audra Lepp, who grew up in Sacramento and has lived in Phoenix since 2004. She added it was nice to “meet new people that share the same love you have for the sport.”

For Parrington, the group is more than just a collection of people.

“When you meet fans outside of Sacramento, you’re kind of like your own family,” she said. “Kings fans have always been a bit of a family, and that certainly holds true in Phoenix.”

Love for the Kings

The group includes longtime Kings fans with Sacramento ties.

Mike McCormick grew up 45 minutes west in Fairfield and has been a fan “since the Mitch Richmond era.”

“Then, I really got into the Kings in the 2000s, during the Chris Webber years, with Doug Christie and all them,” McCormick said.

The distance McCormick had to travel to Sacramento pales in comparison to the trips Tyler Drake had to take. The Kelseyville native said he and his dad would regularly make the two-hour drive to see games. They chose the Kings despite living in an area where most people supported the Golden State Warriors.

“I’m probably one of three people I know from there who are Kings fans,” Drake said.

Lepp said she was attending games “first out of the womb.”

“My mom and dad had season tickets when the Kings moved to Sacramento back in ’85 and they (had them) until they relocated to the new arena downtown,” she said.

It goes back even further for Summers. He was born in the Midwest and said his father was a fan when the team was in Kansas City.

Being fans of Sacramento’s NBA team isn’t the only love they share.

Representing for Republic

In 2014, Sacramento sports fans got their first look at a team they could root for.

That was the first season for Republic FC, a team which played one level below Major League Soccer, the top league in the United States. Because Phoenix also had a team in the United Soccer League, it gave the group a new side to get behind.

Slaff said he’s “absolutely” a Republic fan.

Slaff, who attended the Kings’ final game at Sleep Train Arena on April 9, 2016, was in town for the MLS block party five days later, when league Commissioner Don Garber talked about the city’s plan to join MLS.

His photo was prominently displayed in The Bee.

IMG_RP_SOCCER_fan_2_1_QO7QVLNP_L213233066.JPG
Jared Slaff, who was born and raised in Sacramento but now lives in Phoenix, holds up his Republic FC scarf during a ‘block party’ April 14, 2016 in Sacramento. The city is still hoping to be awarded an MLS franchise. Randy Pench Sacramento Bee file

Slaff occasionally travels to other cities to see Republic play but said many members of their group show up in Tempe, where Phoenix Rising FC plays.

“We usually have a good presence whenever they come to town,” Slaff said.

Lepp said she’s been to several games in Phoenix, but none in Sacramento.

“We decided to see a game when they were here,” Lepp said. “I grew up playing soccer, so that’s always been something else I enjoy.”

Summers is a big fan as well. His family’s involvement in the sport includes coaching, playing and officiating. They’ve attended games in Arizona and at Papa Murphy’s Park.

“I’m a Republic fan until I die and I’m hoping they can get that MLS bid,” Summers said.

Could the Suns be on the move?

There’s been talk around Phoenix that these Sacramento fans know all too well.

The Arizona Republic reported last month that the Suns could look to move out of Phoenix if Talking Stick Resort Arena, one of the NBA’s oldest venues, isn’t renovated.

The team’s owner took to social media to dispute the rumors.

“The Phoenix Suns are not leaving Phoenix,” Robert Sarver said on the team’s Twitter page. “I’m 100 percent committed and have been for the last four years to find a solution to keep them in downtown Phoenix, where they belong.”

Despite being fans of Sacramento sports teams, the group said they would try to help keep the Suns in Phoenix, as they did in 2013 with their rally to support the Kings.

“You just feel bad,” Drake said. “We went through it and almost lost the team. It would be rough if it actually happened.”

Lepp, who worked for the Suns organization for a year, also doesn’t want to see them go.

“I’d hate to see them leave the city,” she said. “I know how heartbroken I would have been if the Kings left, even though I wasn’t living there. That’s what I grew up with and I know there are fans out here for Phoenix.”

Parrington, who was key in getting the Sacramento sports fans together, agrees.

“I certainly don’t want the Suns to move,” she said. “I think we’re all in agreement that teams should not leave their cities.”

A ‘brand-new energy’

On the six-year anniversary of Falk’s tweet, the Kings were in Phoenix for their second game this season against the Suns.

There were several people sitting in sections 104-108 wearing throwback jerseys, scarves, hats and even the old baby-blue Starter jacket that was popular in the ’80s. Some waved flags and another had a sign that simply read, “Yeah Buddy.”

Although the result wasn’t what the group wanted to see – the Kings committed a season-high 26 turnovers in a 115-111 loss – they’re still optimistic about the team.

“To see this rejuvenation has been unbelievable,” Slaff said. “There’s definitely a lot of promise in this season. The fact that we’re still talking about (playoffs) in January, this is a brand-new energy that I haven’t seen in years.”

McCormick says this is one of the best Kings teams he’s seen in more than a decade.

Parrington is excited about what she sees.

“They seem to love to play with each other. You can see it when you watch them play and even how they interact on the bench,” she said.

Drake said regardless of record, the group will continue to show up for games.

“You can tell we’re Kings fans,” he said. “The passion runs deep.”

Noel Harris: 916-321-1602, @SacBeeNoel
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