Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé expresses sympathy and unity
Near the end of a dramatic and angry protest that forced Golden 1 Center arena to go on emergency lockdown for hours Thursday night, demonstration organizer Barry Accius got a surprise and slightly unnerving invitation.
A King's representative approached him in the plaza outside as the crowd dispersed, saying team co-owner Vivek Ranadive, former player Doug Christie and others wanted to talk to him.
Accius said he first thought he was going to end up "in handcuffs." He had just helped organize a sustained demonstration that had disrupted an NBA basketball game, blocking more than 10,000 fans from getting inside and costing the team untold money in tickets refunds and lost sales.
The demonstration was in protest of the recent fatal police shooting of an unarmed African American man in the backyard of the Meadowview home he shared with family. Stephon Clark, 22, was killed after officers shot at him 20 times. The officers were responding to reports of a person breaking car windows.
But instead of being arrested, Accius said, he was greeted by a hug from Christie, an NBC commentator, who thanked him for delivering a powerful message. Players Vince Carter and Garrett Temple offered their support as well.
Most notably, team principle Ranadive told Accius: "I appreciate you."
"He said, 'We have a platform, and we want to help you,' " Accius told The Sacramento Bee on Friday morning. "It was refreshing to have some billionaires talk to a guy that basically kind of disrupted their time."
The group spent more than an hour discussing how the team could contribute to change in Sacramento for African Americans, and how to best "educate (and) support our young people to encourage them to lift to the higher degrees," Accius said.
Ranadive told The Bee on Friday afternoon that he had wanted to talk to Accius so he could learn more about the protesters.
"I wanted to understand their thoughts and how we can be helpful," Ranadive said. "It was a privilege to be able to talk to him and to express our sustained commitment to do whatever we can do to make our community better."
Thursday night's protest likely represents the biggest disruption of a Kings' game in the franchise's 30-plus year history in Sacramento.
Protesters, who had marched earlier that day onto Interstate 5, requiring the CHP to close the freeway, descended on the arena plaza less than an hour before a scheduled game. The move, aimed at shutting down the game, was spontaneous, several protesters told The Bee.
Kings officials, in consultation with local police and city officials, locked the doors, keeping both protesters and most fans out, as hundreds chanted, “You shoot us down, we shut it down!”
Ranadive had been dining inside with the owner of the visiting Atlanta Hawks. "I went to check it out," he said. "I saw a whole wall of people outside the doors and the police inside. It was a difficult situation."
National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver, on the phone from New York, told the team to play the game, Ranadive said. During the game, several players asked team officials if Ranadive could say something to the crowd afterward, with them at his side. Ranadive agreed.
"I just said a few words from the heart," he said.
Standing center court, Ranadive told those in attendance that the team respected the protest, and that he and the players were unified in their desire to make the city a more equitable place.
“We stand here before you, old, young, black, white, brown, and we are all united in our commitment," he said. "We recognize that it’s not just business as usual, and we are going to work really hard to bring everybody together to make the world a better place, starting with our own community, and we’re going to work really hard to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again.”
Ranadive said on Friday that he was surprised by the strong reaction his speech had been receiving. "I’m blown away by the outpouring of affection from all over the world. I'm getting way too much credit. My team deserves the credit."
The dramatic night represents a fulfillment of Ranadive's frequent description of the arena and its plaza as a city gathering spot, "a communal hearth" for people around the region. He learned, though, on Thursday night, "you can't always dictate what the stories are that are being told around the fireplace."
The tougher part comes now. Tense and at times ugly, protests continued downtown on Friday.
Ranadive said he and others spent part of Friday talking about what specific steps the team can take, but have not yet come up with ideas ready for public discussion. "As we come up with it," he said, "we will share."