I attended the Kings victory rally at Cesar Chavez Plaza last night, but I did so reluctantly. I am on record as being somewhat immune to Kings fever, to say the least. I appreciate them for what they do for the town, and I am sensitive to what their departure would mean for us as a city.
It wouldn’t be good.
But I’m not a fan. So I went grudgingly, mostly because I live nearby and it was on my way somewhere else. It was a news event regarding a crucial current concern. Why not?
I left, if not a believer, then certainly more engaged than I had been, and even a little moved.
I don’t love the Sacramento Kings, but I have loved the Giants of old, the A’s in their heyday and the 49ers when they were magic. I have tasted the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat – at least vicariously. I get it.
But I’d forgotten that feeling until Tuesday night.
That’s because Tuesday night’s rally, a high-tech extravaganza assembled by the NBA in a mere five days, starring all the major figures of the last month’s drama from mayor to Maloofs, former players to local rock stalwarts Tesla, did exactly what it was intended to do.
It made the case by speaking to the heart.
There was a stage, the likes of which Cesar Chavez Plaza has likely never seen (and which would be a terrific asset for the just-starting Friday Night Concerts in the Park series), with a huge video screen looming above it, below the antique clock tower of Old City Hall. There were impassioned speeches from professional commenters Gary Gerould and Grant Napear, appearances by former players Doug Christie and Scot Pollard, and shirt-sleeved fist pumping from amped-up pols Mayor Kevin Johnson and State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.
And throughout the crowd, there was a palpable sense of community, a shared interest that transcended the fact that it was, as I have said, “only a basketball team.” Rock bands, are, after all, “only rock bands.” It is what they evoke in us that matters. And in the depths of the worst economy this town has experienced in our lifetimes, we need whatever works to bring us together.
In the last month, through the efforts of everyone from our media-savvy mayor to little-known bloggers, a serious citywide effort was made to reach a seemingly unattainable goal. And the result surprised nearly everyone: The Kings are the Sacramento Kings for one more year.
While basketball doesn’t move me, music does, in ways hardly anything else can. So when Tesla took the stage at the end of the three-hour rally to play their hit “Signs,” backed by a video montage of 25 years of fans’ signs from Kings games giving a brief history of what is by any measure a powerful team/fan relationship, I was moved. When the band launched into its hit “Love Song,” and the video screens filled with clips of emotional, big-game moments, I have to admit that I choked up.
Sure, I was being manipulated – the high-quality production had NBA all over it – but it was a good kind of manipulation. It communicated the depth of the passion Kings fans have for their team, and underlined the history of this team’s time in Sacramento so well that even a fairly cynical, disinterested observer could FEEL it.
Now, feelings are not going to keep this team in Sacramento. And despite the mayor’s cheerleading, Chris Webber’s rich investor friends and the reluctant Maloofs’ reborn enthusiasm for Sacramento, keeping the team here seems like a long shot.
And the odds of the hard-pressed citizens of this city ponying up for the shiny new arena that the Kings require are not good.
But if the NBA and the Kings and everyone who really cares about the team can capture that lightning in a bottle and keep this fire burning until the March 1, 2012 deadline, I am not going to say it can’t be done.
Love and passion are powerful things. It’s going to be an interesting year.