Sacramento, the city itself, is a bit of an oddity. The folks in and around the area take great pride in many seemingly small things. Sutter’s Fort was the start of the gold rush and every fourth grader must visit. Apple Hill is quite literally the greatest autumn experience one can have in the months of September and October. They’ll laugh at anyone who guesses San Francisco or Los Angeles as the capital of the state, and it is sacrilegious to talk about Sacramento in the same breath as the Bay Area. Add in the Railroad Museum, the weirdness that is the Old Sacramento Waterfront, Gunther’s vs Leatherby’s, and the pile of suitcases at the airport, and the small-town vibes pour out in a relatively large city. Sacramento enjoys celebrating itself in a very non-LA way.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the Sacramento Kings and their fans celebrate quite literally every single win, and every win is savored. Putting it into a non-Sacramento perspective, no other NBA team celebrates a regular season victory, and they certainly don’t shine an ultra-bright beam that can viewed from miles away to show the world. Why would they? Over the last 17 years, other teams have won plenty of regular season games, as well as some playoff battles. The concept of a nightly defensive player of the game would come across as lame and insincere to most other franchises. A regular season win is nothing exciting and nothing to celebrate for most.
And yet, even after making the playoffs last season, last night’s pummeling of the Utah Jazz felt no different than last season’s victories. Why, after a 48-win season, posting the third-best record in the Western Conference, winning the Pacific Division, and taking the Golden State Warriors to seven games in the playoffs, did a single regular season victory feel so validating?
Some of those feelings likely stem from the civic pride in the city itself. People in Sacramento are proud to be from the city and will let everyone know it. And for the first time in a couple of generations, the region’s one nationally recognized product, the Sacramento Kings, is worthy of that pride.
Another, more influential aspect, probably comes from the flood of offseason doubt heard from most NBA talking heads. The Kings were too healthy last season, their approach surprised everyone, they shot better than expected, Keegan Murray was more ready than people thought, a new coach always has that influence, Monte McNair didn’t make any major upgrades to the roster, the West had a down year with injuries, and so on and so forth. Kevin O’Connor already thinks the Kings need to upgrade over Domantas Sabonis. Hell, some pundits had the Kings missing the playoffs entirely and the Utah Jazz as one of the teams supplanting them in the Western Conference. After years of justifiable doubt and mockery directed toward the Sacramento Kings, the messages were similar after last season, despite the aforementioned 48 beam-certified wins. Very few national folks have yet to believe in the Kings.
But beyond those external influences, perhaps the greatest need for validation is internal for most fans. Many, myself included, spent the entirety of last season waiting for the other shoe to drop. The scars of seventeen years of misery and disappointment and bad players and bad coaches and bad management and bad ownership don’t exactly fade after 20 or 30 fun games. Even this past offseason, with the lack of roster bombshells and some struggles in the preseason, left the door open for another Charlie Brown football moment for this organization and this fan base.
And hell, all of those things could come to pass. The Kings could collapse, the locker room could fall apart, De’Aaron Fox could regress, injuries could happen, and the bench may be shallower than everyone believes. But those tragedies seem less and less likely to happen as the days pass and as the Sacramento Kings continue to prove themselves as a legitimate NBA product. The visions of the other shoe dropping continue to fade for most fans.
Yes, last night was just one regular season win, and the city of Sacramento will celebrate it as such – with beams and chains and GIFs and chanting and anything else our heart desires, because the simple joy of winning a basketball game certainly hasn’t lost its luster in Sacramento.