Articles | Kings History

Tales From The Drought: The Haitian Sensation

For one night, there was magic in the heart of the desert.

There’s nothing quite like attending an NBA game as an opposing fan. Sure, it’s cool to head down to the Golden 1 Center with a group of friends, drink some beers, and catch a game (okay, I’ve never actually done that; it just sounds cool in theory), but striding into enemy territory wearing a vintage Mike Bibby jersey offers its own unique perspective. Dapping up the bro rocking a Ron Artest throwback with no undershirt, casually trash talking with the hometown fans, and meeting up with supporters of the Kings Herald are the primary highlights of any given night. It’s a hell of a lot of fun.

And yet, purely from a basketball perspective, that experience has been a typical version of basketball hell in Phoenix. Over the last decade-plus, the Suns have ranged from just as bad to much better than Sacramento, with the Kings rarely sporting a significant talent advantage. Blowouts, embarrassments, and far too much garbage time, including a 129-81 point blowout that saw Steve Nash and his crew up by 50 points in the third quarter and profuse apologies by Suns fans at the exits, have led to mostly disappointing finishes. Most nights are capped off with a shake of the head, a long drive home, and hoping for a better outing next time.

Enter the Haitian Sensation, Skal Labissiere.

Heading into the evening, the rookie forward hadn’t made much of an impact in Sacramento. Skal received a DNP-CD in 49 of the first 56 games of the season and had played for more than 20 minutes just once in his short career. Two nights prior, Labissiere had put up 11 points and 7 boards in a win against the Orlando Magic, one of his best games to date, and it was becoming clear that his skill set was at least worth a look. And the Phoenix Suns certainly got a look on March 16th, 2017.

The first three quarters weren’t necessarily anything to celebrate from Skal’s perspective, as he didn’t attempt a shot in the first, scored six points in the second, and five in the third; however, the fourth quarter was a wholly different story. With the Kings trailing by a single point heading into the final period, things were looking ugly for Sacramento. Buddy Hield and Ty Lawson, the team’s two best available scorers, couldn’t hit a damn thing from the floor, Willie Cauley-Stein was Willie Cauley-Stein-ing, and Dave Joerger was even desperate enough to toss Georgios Papagiannis into the game for 13 minutes. The Kings needed a savior.

Enter the Haitian Sensation, Skal Labissiere.

Thirty-seven seconds into the final period, Skal began his complete and total dismantling of Phoenix’s game plan by knocking down a short jumper and managing to draw a shooting foul in the process. The made free throw should come as no surprise. Thirty-three seconds later, Labissiere once again made the Suns pay from the perimeter, hitting a thirteen-foot jumper courtesy of Tyreke Evans. The Kings led by two.

Just over a minute later, Skal drew another shooting foul, without the made field goal this time, but his two made free throws more than made up for the lack of an and-one. On the very next possession, Skal stripped Devin Booker and ended the possession by backing down Marquese Chriss in the post and sinking a hook shot right over the fellow rookie’s head. Forty-five seconds later, Skal once again flummoxed the Suns in the paint, drawing a shooting foul against TJ Warren. The free throws were nearly a guarantee.

Just over a minute later, Labissiere knocked down his only three-point attempt of the evening. At that point, he had scored all 13 of Sacramento’s points in just a shade under five minutes and the crowd, the Kings, and the Suns could feel it. Kings fans were screaming his name, Suns fans were asking who Skal Labissiere was, and the feeling, an all too rare one in the fandom, was euphoric. No matter what happened, no matter the end result, Kings fans, in the heart of enemy territory, were having a hell of a lot of fun. And Skal didn’t stop there.

After a few minutes of the Suns staff doing everything in their power to stop Labissiere’s scoring binge, and with the game’s leader pinging back and forth between Sacramento and Phoenix, the Kings rookie once again shouldered the team’s offensive burden. After a Willie Cauley-Stein layup put Sacramento up by two, Skal followed that up with a quick layup with 2:43 remaining. On the very next possession, Skal drew another shooting foul and sunk both free throws, and he capped off the night with a final made free throw to ice the game. The Kings walked away with a 107-101 victory.

In the end, the win didn’t mean much for Sacramento, nor did Skal ever live up to that performance again in his short NBA career, but for one evening, he was a man amongst boys, a god amongst mortals, and a few, select Kings fans got to witness such a masterful performance in person.

32 points and 11 points were certainly a sensation for the rookie.

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Carl
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August 24, 2022 10:40 am

That was the year I learned that garbage time extends for like 20% of the season and not just the last quarter of a blowout. I was fully on the Skal bandwagon and so, so horribly wrong.

KangzAteMyFamily
August 25, 2022 8:56 am
Reply to  Carl

Same same same. It was so fun in the moment though.

Daydreamer
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August 25, 2022 10:06 am
Reply to  Carl

But see the comment below by nonstripedzebra. NBA success is not the only criterion of success. Still, I understand Carl’s point that we as Kings fans put our hopes on a player as really improving the team, and he didn’t do that.

Marty
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August 25, 2022 12:29 pm
Reply to  Carl

It’s still expanding.

That was the year I learned that garbage time extends for like 20% of the season 

KingOfTheMonsters
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August 25, 2022 1:15 pm
Reply to  Carl

Years and years ago, I was in the stands when Tyus Edney had a career game against the Charles Barkley ’76ers. I was optimistic about the future of the Kings when my friend said, “You know, if Edney was on any other team, he’d be on the bench.” I didn’t believe him, but …

markdog333
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August 24, 2022 10:51 am

Skal was such an easy guy to root for. Being on the east coast, I turn off a lot of games at half-time, so I can get up early the next morning. I seem to remember watching that game live though. Maybe it was on an hour earlier in Phoenix.

Kosta
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August 24, 2022 11:40 am

Vlade may not have drafted the international guy in 2018,

but a lot of his draft picks have since gone on to play internationally.

Klam
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Nostradumbass 18
Nostradumbass 19
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Nostradumbass 18
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August 24, 2022 2:03 pm
Reply to  Kosta

So what you’re saying is that they are more famous worldwide than the current Kings roster? 😉

Rojoking
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August 24, 2022 12:26 pm

I remember watching Skal’s shooting mechanics and when he got his shooting elbow in the right position, his shot was pure!

aplumley
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August 24, 2022 1:30 pm

If you get on an NBA floor, you can play basketball. Skal never looked totally comfortable against NBA competition, but he still had moments that made fans think “What if…”. The difference between a legit NBA rotation player and a guy that doesn’t belong in the league is razor thin.

RikSmits
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August 24, 2022 1:43 pm
Reply to  aplumley

“What if…” is a Kings fan default state of mind.

aplumley
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August 24, 2022 1:44 pm
Reply to  RikSmits

Yeah. Hope that undrafted rookies turn into franchise changers.

Kosta
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August 24, 2022 3:53 pm
Reply to  RikSmits

Kings fan default state of mind

♫ “in Sactowwwwwn….
basketball hell where nightmares are made of
there’s nothing you can do
now you’re in Sactown
these trees will make you feel brand new
farm to forks will inspire you
let’s hear it for Sactown
Sactown, Sactown…” ♫

comment image

Last edited 1 month ago by Kosta
Hippity_Hop_Barbershop
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August 25, 2022 2:58 pm
Reply to  Kosta

I love it but….I’m gonna need a little more cowbell.

Bluejohn
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August 25, 2022 4:02 pm
Reply to  RikSmits

Rik I can’t say you’re wrong but I thought our default state of mind is……WTF?

outrider
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August 24, 2022 2:10 pm

Some teams find diamonds in the rough. We only find rough in the rough.

aplumley
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August 24, 2022 2:30 pm
Reply to  outrider

Bagley showed us we find rough in the diamonds

Mike120
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August 24, 2022 4:21 pm

I don’t understand how someone can post 32/11 and not be at least a rotational player.

TheGrantNapear
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August 24, 2022 7:41 pm
Reply to  Mike120

I think his physical skill set was there but mentally in terms of confidence something seemed off with Skal or maybe he just didn’t have a love for the game. Who knows.

RikSmits
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August 24, 2022 10:03 pm
Reply to  Mike120

I played at a low level here in the Netherlands. I was a 3 eh 2 and D guy.
But twice a year, the basket would suddenly have a magnet on it for me and I would score 30+ points.

i think Skal just had a hot night.

Greg
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August 25, 2022 10:18 am
Reply to  RikSmits

Rik Smits, you played many years in the NBA. Stop being so humble.

TheGrantNapear
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August 24, 2022 7:39 pm

I still remember commenting around the time of this game that I wouldn’t trade Skal for Booker lol. I was really high on Skal, thought he had a poor man’s Dirk potential.

Sacto_J
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August 24, 2022 7:54 pm

If I remember, Skal was a falling knife in the draft that year and we picked him with an additional 1st that year, late in the round. Had he turned into something it would have been for practically nothing and he definitely showed some flashes.
I thought he had a decent season (or 2) in Portland, too? Dude had a good frame, decent fundamentals, good motor, what seemed like good character. Its definitely remarkable how narrow the difference between a starter, a rotation guy, and even a fringe player.
Edit: never mind the first paragraph, Giles was the falling knife. I completely forgot about HGIII somehow.

Last edited 1 month ago by Sacto_J
Ellis5
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August 24, 2022 7:56 pm

I really liked Skal but not so much for his game. I liked Harry better. Chet though I didn’t want at all.

SmallBallReject
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August 25, 2022 1:48 am

OT Big Papa has slimmed down, moves pretty well for man his size and seems to have become a good defender in Euroleague:

Kosta
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August 25, 2022 6:59 am

Greek freak!

916ickness
August 25, 2022 12:00 pm
Reply to  Kosta

He’s the rim protector we need! Get on the phone Monte! 😉

KangzAteMyFamily
August 25, 2022 4:53 pm

he looks like a different dude

fossilizedflatus
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August 25, 2022 5:48 am

Skal, has a different, but also beloved personality. But the mind set and skill set on the court weren’t there -enough. Look at a couple of the the others in this series- Ike Diogu and Derrick Williams: sparks of potential that never sustain a fire.

It’s all about consistently of performance, isn’t it?
The differences between bench, starter, All-Star are about consistency and production of whatever your role/abilities allow.

Skal, like Harry Giles III makes us swoon with “what if’s”. And then the luster fades and we find a new flame to fan.

Last edited 1 month ago by fossilizedflatus
Hippity_Hop_Barbershop
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August 25, 2022 3:01 pm

Harry was so easy to root for. His excitement of being at the show was palpable.

nonstripedzebra
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August 25, 2022 7:31 am

When I think of Skal I cant help but think about issues that are at the core of a lot sports media and discourse as we deem a player a success or a failure to suit a preconceived notion. I am a fan who can stress the team construction aspect of fandom. That can lend to strong opinions on players as they relate to the kings future. Even still those are opinions informed by a very narrow parameter which in my case is the correlation to the Kings. Correctly thats not the orientation for the players.

In the same token it’s important to contextualize a player on their own life. Or better yet understand that the qualities needed for top echelon performance are not necessarily the healthiest incentives or ones the most of us would want to aspire to.

Cases like Skal demonstrate a real need for the sports landscape to mature in its discourse around busts and or equating a lack of extreme highs professionally with a personal and mental inability. Its discrediting and far more complicated than that more often than not. Or even more diminishing to a far more interesting story.

Skal made it. This is a kid who was trapped underground with his family almost loosing his legs post a 2010 Haiti earthquake. He worked himself from one of the most troubled countries in the world to be a deserving 1st round pick and the top recruit in the US. Made life changing money, hopefully generational wealth for him and his family. However much he might not have worked out for the Kings even the NBA longterm, he did well.

Last edited 1 month ago by nonstripedzebra
Kings-Rebuild
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August 25, 2022 9:28 am

Very disappointing to hear about Chet Holmgren being out for the season. I wasn’t that high on him and had real concerns about his NBA viability but this is really unfortunate for him, OKC and the league. Hoping for a full recovery and he proves me wrong in the future.

Gregoryl
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August 25, 2022 11:19 am
Reply to  Kings-Rebuild

What a disappointment, I was really looking forward to watching him this season. Big guys with feet issues don’t usually turn out well. Another reason I hate when NBA guys play in all these international games and exhibitions.

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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August 25, 2022 1:50 pm
Reply to  Kings-Rebuild

It is disappointing, but he might be better for it. He’s gonna get a year of NBA coaching, training, and experiences. Here’s hoping he can work with a trainer, bulk up, study the game, and hit the ground running next season. It worked for the likes of Embiid, Simmons, and Blake Griffin.

ArcoThunder
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August 25, 2022 10:12 am

I will never understand how this dude didn’t make it in the league as at least a permanent rotational player for 15 years. So much a smooth player. I was fully on the Skal train. Like not in a healthy level

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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August 25, 2022 1:55 pm
Reply to  ArcoThunder

I’m a little surprised he isn’t in the league as well. He always had that kind of Channing Frye vibe to me. A smooth and long player that could be valuable off the bench. Not a starter necessarily, but a contributor.

aplumley
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August 26, 2022 9:39 am
Reply to  ArcoThunder

I never saw it in Skal. He always looked a little lost, like he couldn’t keep up with the pace of the game. There are so many examples of guys that have the tools, but for whatever reason just can’t fit. The kings seem to attract them. Jimmer, T-Rob, Bagley, Giles, Papa-G, and you could throw Derrick Williams, Ben McLemore into that group as well. Heck even Tyreke never produced to his full potential.

TerzoM
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August 25, 2022 2:41 pm

Chet injured and out 2022-23 Season. Chet + Wems 2023-24 Season?

OfficerPolynice
August 26, 2022 9:02 pm

So many jerseys. So many traded players. I swore after Tyreke never again would I buy another current player’s jersey. Dodged a bullet when I almost bought a Cousins jersey only for him to be traded a few days later. I was done. But along came Skal. Those magical games made me believe. Sigh…another jersey on the pile.

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