When The Kings Lay Down Their Crown


“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.” – Andy Dufresne (The Shawshank Redemption)

The last time it wasn’t depressing to be a Kings fan

I love The Shawshank Redemption, every darn second of it. Sure, I’ve seen it somewhere in the vicinity of 92 times – second only to viewing Rudy at least 1,279 times in my life – but if I’m flipping channels and see that it’s on, I’m watching it. All the way through, no exceptions. (Well, unless it’s playoff time.) I still get riled up when (*spoiler alert*) the Warden has the inmate who can vouch for Andy’s innocence killed and then feel an unexpected burst of joy when Andy comes out through the drain pipe and tastes freedom for the first time in decades. I don’t know why that is exactly, but if I had to guess, it probably has something to do with watching someone mired in the worst of circumstances (wrongful imprisonment) make the most of it (escape) and never, ever give up. Hope, like Bruce Willis, tends to die hard.

Except for us Sacramento Kings fans. For us, the promise of a better day and a new tomorrow is part of our past, not of our present. A decade ago, we were one Robert Horry buzzer-beating three-pointer (Game 4), NBA screw job (Game 6) or epic choke-fest (Game 7) from going berserk and hoisting an NBA championship banner in the rafters.[1] Now the night we look forward to the most is the NBA Draft Lottery, as we desperately hope for some stupid ping-pong balls to bounce our way to bring us our Moses (superstar) who will lead us out of Egypt (the dregs of the NBA). Invariably, we are left wanting.

That’s all about to change though. No, this is not the misplaced rambling of a Kings addict who truly and deeply believes, “Next year is going to be our year!” It’s the sound of someone who has resigned himself to the fact that his beloved team is moving on to rainier pastures up north in Seattle. Sure, Sacramento Mayor (and former Phoenix Suns star) Kevin Johnson is doing all that he can to keep the Kings in Sacramento but the reality is, the proposal that Johnson submitted is still very much speculative. The deal the Maloofs have in place with Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is contingent on only one thing: the franchise being allowed to relocate to Seattle. There certainly are fewer hoops – pun most certainly intended – in allowing the deal with Hansen and his Seattle-based group to go through. They would be rebranded as the SuperSonics and the Kings would be no more.

There is no shortage of irony to all this, of course. After all, it was not so long ago that Seattle was stripped of its team after new owner Clay Bennett moved the circus to Oklahoma City. Seattleites were understandably furious, especially after learning that Bennett had planed to move the team all along. Soon the roles will be reversed though. Seattle will have their Sonics once more and Kings fans will be left steaming. The circle of life for sports fans, I guess.

The whole thing got me thinking though. Will I continue to root for the Kings if they move to Seattle? After all, they are my team, even if they are in a different city. That question in turn sparked much larger ones. Why do some fans support some teams and not others? How do we choose which teams to root for to begin with? Let’s break each of those questions down, starting from the last and working our way back to the first…

How do we choose which teams to root for to begin with?

Unfortunately, there is precious little scientific evidence concerning how people become fans of specific teams, as most studies focused on sports fans veer more towards instances of hooliganism or drunk driving. That being said though, it does seem reasonable to believe that most people choose to support teams that fit into one of the following three categories: local, familial connection or frontrunners.

Supporting a local team is pretty easy to understand. Hopping on the 49ers, Giants & Warriors bandwagons enable Bay Area residents to share a common interest with other members of their work/school/community. In fact, according to Zillmann, Bryant and Sapolsky (1989), “Sports fanship can unite and provide feelings of belongingness that are beneficial to individuals and to the social setting in which they live.”[2] Furthermore, this desire for belongingness also explains why kids often times end up rooting for the same teams as members of their family. After all, if supporting a local team helps strengthen relationships with co-workers or friends, then adopting the favorite team of a loved one might also deepen the bond with them as well.

Frontrunners occupy a slightly different space. Generally, people like to associate themselves with winners and avoid teams that consistently underperform. In fact, studies have shown that fans actually use vastly different language when their favorite teams win (“we dominated tonight!”) than when that same team loses (“they got crushed”). So it’s not a stretch to think that this phenomenon might also extend to how people (especially kids) choose to become fans of a given team to begin with. That is, they’ll avoid the perennial losers (i.e. Pirates, Raiders & Islanders) and align themselves with the contenders (i.e. Yankees, Patriots & Red Wings).[3]

For me, my love for the Kings developed out of a familial connection. My dad is from Sacramento and the majority of that side of my family resides there to this day. So while I loved watching Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, Vlade Divac and Peja Stojaković play a brand of basketball that can only be described as transcendent, part of the allure of rooting for the Kings was that it was not just my team; it was my family’s team.

Why do some fans support some teams and not others?

If you reside in the Bay Area like me, you probably have noticed an interesting phenomenon – there seems to be a ton more San Francisco Giants fans these days. Might this have something to due with the fact that the Giants have won two of the past three World Series titles? Of course!!!

In sports, we have a term for this: bandwagon fans. Someone is said to be a bandwagon fan if they support the team when things are going well, but abandon them as soon as things start to go south. Bandwagon fans are considered to be amongst the lowest of low amongst sports fans. Even fans of perennial contenders (read: Yankees) are held in higher regard.

The interesting thing about this is that we tend to demonize bandwagon fans even though nearly all of us behave this way in every facet of our lives not involving sports. Think about it. We oscillate between companies in various industries all the time. Sometimes we buy Stone IPA, other times we see that Arrogant Bastard is on sale, so we pick up a case. People don’t begrudge former PC owners for switching to Apple computers if they feel that Apple has a better product. (They do.) And yet, the thought of switching sports team allegiances to the best available option (read: best team) is nearly unthinkable.

And yet, most teams depend on these bandwagon (or fair-weather) fans in order to turn a healthy profit. Take the Cleveland Cavaliers for instance. The Cavs didn’t stop selling out games simply because they lost LeBron James to the Miami Heat. They lost fans because they were a historically dreadful team without him. Eventually, a significant amount of them (about 1 in 4) stopped coming to home games all together.[4] Seen in this light, it’s not that the majority of sports fans are like gold diggers – only there as long as the going is good – but a large contingent of them behave that way, making it difficult for teams to be profitable once they begin to lose their way.

This essentially is what happened with the Kings. A decade ago, they boasted one of the best teams in the NBA and, not surprisingly, the fans came out in droves. The team practically printed money for the Maloofs through the first part of the decade, selling out 354 straight home games over the course of almost eight years time. True, the Kings didn’t command the sort of local TV revenue of a team in a major market like the Lakers, but they were still making a large chunk of change on the backs of their attendance gate. When the product slipped way down though, some fans stayed home.

The great irony of all this is that the franchise will inevitably face the same problem up in Seattle: win or get left by the wayside. Sure, TV and radio personalities constantly remind us “Seattle is a great basketball city,” but the numbers really don’t support this idea. The Sonics fan attendance for the last three years (when they were losing) never rose above 95% per game, nose-diving all the way down to 13,355 per game during the 2007-2008 season. The truth of the matter is that Seattle isn’t that great of a sports town.[5] After the honeymoon phase is over (first five years or so), the Sonics will only be able to attract fans the same way that every other sports franchise does: by winning.

Will I continue to root for the Kings if they move to Seattle?

I can certainly empathize with former Sonics fans not wanting to root for the Kevin Durant-led Thunder as they marched all the way to the NBA Finals last year because that should have been their team. Sonics fans might not have known that Kevin Durant would one day become the best player on the planet not named LeBron James,[6] but it was pretty clear that he was going to be a superstar and that he and Russell Westbrook would help form a title contender. The question was less if, than when. Kings fans like myself can’t really say the same thing.

We know that Tyreke Evans is not a point guard – no matter what he is listed as – and that he’s best suited to be a team’s fourth best player, not it’s second. We know that as much as we like Isaiah Thomas – a HUGE bargain at less than $1 million a year – he’ll never be half the player of the Bad Boys Pistons’ Isaiah Thomas. No, we know that we need a savior and though the last flickers of hope haven’t quite been extinguished, we’re relatively confident that his name is not DeMarcus Cousins.

We’ve seen Cousins plant himself on the low block, go off for 24 points, snatch 15 rebounds and control the game a superstar as he did against the Miami Heat a couple weeks back. Unfortunately, we also happen to be keenly aware that his shooting percentage (.454) in his best year nearly matches Pau Gasol’s worst year (.453) and that his unique abilities also extend to that of sexist wordplay which, coincidentally, led to him being ejected from a game during halftime, a feat which I’m quite confident may never be duplicated again. (Well, at least not by anyone else.) We’ve watched him get one coach fired (Paul Westphal) and bicker with a second (Keith Smart). Watching Cousins play is more infuriating than fun.

So when the Kings leave (and yes, they are leaving), do I see myself following them when they go to Seattle?

I don’t think so. Hope is indeed a beautiful thing, but this team – with this group of players – doesn’t even have a prayer.

[1] Nets fans, the Lakers swept you guys. We’d have beat you in six, at the most.

[2] Zillman, D, Bryant, J. & Sapolsky, N. (1989). Enjoyment from Sports Spectatorship. In J. Goldstein (Ed.) Sport, Games and Play, (pp. 241-278). Hillsdale, NJ: Laurence Earlbaum.

[3] Truthfully, there is probably a fourth reason that a person chooses to become a fan of a given team and that is when a star player/coach goes to a new team. However, the connection you have with that player/coach invariably develops from one of the three aforementioned instances.

[4] Surprisingly, the Cavs’ ticket sales in the year after James’ departure was remarkably similar to that of his last year with the team. (20,562 per home game for the 2009-2010 season vs. 20,112 for the 2010-2011 season.) However, it is common practice for playoff teams to ask season ticket holders to renew their tickets for the following season in exchange for reserving those seats for a team’s playoff run, meaning that a large majority of the Cavs’ 2011 ticket sales can be attributed to fans wanting to see the team during the 2010 playoffs. Predictably, the Cavs’ home game attendance slipped all the under 16,000 per game in the 2011-2012 season.

[5] Over the past decade, Seattle has consistently supported two teams: the Seahawks and the Sounders. While the Seahawks don’t have as many fans per game as other NFL teams, the stadium is always filled to capacity and offers the Seahawks the best home-field advantage in the NFL. The Sounders are far and away the most popular team in the MLS, though this can probably be explained by the fact that they operate in a completely unique way as compared to every other professional sports organization in North America. For instance, season ticket holders get to decide the fate of the Sounders general manager at the end of each season. Meanwhile, the Seattle Mariners have lost over 40% of their fanbase over the past 10 years.

[6] Deal with it Laker fans!

About Ryan Hallagan

Ryan Hallagan recently graduated from the University of San Diego with a B.A. in Psychology and English and plans to parlay that education into writing about his greatest passion: the big business that is professional sports. He also enjoys writing short stories, obsessively listens to bands like The Gaslight Anthem and actively wishes that a time-traveling DeLorean really did exist, so that he could go back to 1975, far away from all of the terrible music he hears on the radio today. Follow him on Twitter @rallyforhally
Posted in: Culture, Society
  • Josh

    I’m pretty sure that the black mamba would have something to say about 1) being the 3rd best player in the NBA and 2) being the 2nd best player in the NBA.

    Also, part of the reason some go to a front-runner is because their sports team doesn’t care about winning and trades/releases over 75% of their team that just lost in the WS.

    Really good article.

    PS – I do not blame you for not sticking with the Kings moving up to Seattle. Demarcus may be the most frustrating player in any league since Vincent Jackson… (for all of the same reasons)