As we spend this month looking back at some of the best times, moments, and players from the Sacramento Kings 16-year playoff drought, lets rewind to late November 2006. The Kings were at the very beginning of the drought, but no one knew it yet; after losing to the Spurs in the 2006 playoffs, Rick Adelman was canned, Eric Musselman was brought in, and the organization (at the cusp of the Maloof tomfoolery era) tried to move forward with an aging but still semi-promising roster. Mike Bibby, Kevin Martin, Ron Artest, Kenny Thomas, and Brad Miller were the starters to begin the season, and Shareef Abdur-Rahim and John Salmons rounded out what looked like – on paper – another hopeful playoff squad. And then on November 22, Ronnie Price announced his name to a sellout crowd in Sacramento as he dropped one of the most memorable and obscure dunks in Kings history.
Arco Arena went bonkers, Grant Napear gave his signature catchphrase and called it the dunk of the year, and Jerry Reynolds cackled “How do you like that, Mr. Boozer?!” Meanwhile, I was visiting my grandparents in Chico. I was trying to be more reserved than normal, as my grandfather was napping in the room as I watched that game; Price’s dunk ended all silence in the house and may have led to my grandfather removing me from his will.
Indeed, Price’s dunk did more than just light up the Arco crowd; it spurred a big belief in me that Price could be a real contributor to the next era of Kings basketball. Ronnie was in his second year with the team and was trying to prove he deserved further minutes, and throwing down a tomahawk on Carlos Boozer (an All Star that season, albeit one who averaged just 0.3 blocks that year) seemed like a great way to jumpstart his young career. And I was still a relatively young basketball fan at that point; I jumped on the Kings bandwagon during Game 1 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals, and hadn’t yet seen “bad” Kings basketball. Price’s dunk was proof that he could be a great player moving forward, because those were the types of players the Sacramento Kings had always had during my fandom. I truly believed that between him, Martin, Francisco Garcia, Quincy Douby, and Justin Williams (Justin freaking Williams!) the Kings had strong young talent moving forward. But I’d missed the grit and grind of Sacramento basketball in the 90s, and only ever saw the Golden Era of the squad – I was stuck in a form of basketball exceptionalism.
But sometimes a dunk is just a dunk. Despite the fact that the Kings were up 74-59 after that dunk, they eventually lost the contest 110-101. That dropped their record to 5-5, and while they hovered around .500 for a few more games, by the middle of December that hope was gone for good. Price even left Sacramento for Utah a year later. His masterpiece dunk is still one of my favorite Kings memories, but it was a near bookend for the 16 years of failure that followed.