Optimism abounds for any season opener, and it was palpable Wednesday night at Golden 1 Center.
Kings fans filed in, then packed into seats that were awash with purple. People young and old pulled on T-shirts that were draped over seats, gifts of appreciation for loyalty to get game-ready for the Houston Rockets.
Patience might be a part of the package, too. Kings faithful have endured much more than they’ve celebrated. The apparel read, “Where Proud Is King – Opening Night 2017-18”
The 33rd Kings season in Sacramento started earlier than any other as the NBA moved its schedule up to better space out games, and all the more reason to jump-start a new era.
“We’re so ready for better days, because we’ve suffered,” said Milton Jones, 56, a contractor from Folsom who has attended games since 1988. “We’re due for better times.”
The best of times seem so long ago. The Kings last reached the playoffs in the 2005-06 season, the last of Rick Adelman’s eight seasons as coach. Since moving west from Kansas City in 1985, the Kings have experienced just those eight winning seasons under Adelman, and just 10 playoff campaigns overall.
Since that last postseason, the Kings have cycled through nine coaches, absorbed 577 losses and fielded one All-Star: DeMarcus Cousins, who, for all of his good charitable work in the community, wore out teammates, staffers and referees with his antics.
The negative energy that went out the door with Cousins was like a vacuum, and in his place is a collection of fresh faces, such as this year’s fifth overall pick, De’Aaron Fox. Cousins was traded by general manager Vlade Divac, who played center for the Kings during their most successful run in Sacramento.
Fans, players and coaches stressed that basketball is a needed respite from those really suffering with heartache and loss.
Fox is from Houston, and the mention of his hometown brings mixed emotions. He is proud of the city, but anguished by the death and destruction from Hurricane Harvey this summer.
“We’re doing as much as we can to help still,” Fox said. “It’s life. Things happen in the world. But it’s something we’re not thinking about when we’re on the court, a release and hopefully fans are not thinking about (tough times), either. As far as sports, people can get together and watch games and enjoy.”
Fox and teammates have also been aware of the fires that ravaged parts of Northern California.
“We had a delayed flight to Golden State (for a preseason game) because of the smoke,” Fox said.
Kings lead assistant coach Elston Turner has a home in Houston. He knows people who have regularly frequented the Napa region and feels for those who have lost so much.
“We were evacuated for six days in Houston,” Turner said. “No water got inside our house. A lot of people lost everything. Craziest thing happened, though. Come back to sunny California to our Roseville home and the water pipes had busted. Ceiling down, water all over. Survived the hurricane and sunny California got me.”
Turner said he is impressed with the energy and maturity of the young Kings.
“They understand what’s going on outside of basketball,” Turner said. “They give their time to help, donate their money. If they don’t understand what’s going on out there (with disasters), we’re going to let them know. That’s real life out there. People who lose family members or friends or everything they’ve worked so hard for, that’s real life.”
Druing a timeout in the first quarter, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg acknowledged a group of weary Urban Search and Resources Task Force members who stood with him at midcourt. They received a standing ovation.
Gary Gerould has been the radio voice of the Kings since the first game in old Arco Arena in 1985. The joy in his face was evident. Even the old guys get wired for this, he said.
He feels the highs and lows of fans as they reach out to him at the grocery store, in the parking lot, at restaurants.
“I’m fired up, man!” Gerould said. “It’s the first time in a decade that we have a real sense of direction here. Of course, the concern is the fans might be expecting too much. It takes awhile for young teams to grow.”
What Gerould knows is this: Fans demand effort.
“If the Kings play as a unit, together, fans will lap that up,” he said. “They always have. And they’ll make you a hero for it.”