words // Brennan Hiro Williams
images // Moe Tang
Despite five straight losing seasons, ownership turmoil and a severely outdated arena leading to a relocation quagmire that has lasted the better part of the past two years, one single factor remains constant with the Sacramento Kings - the amazing relationship between the players and the dedicated fan base.
Beginning shortly after the arrival of forward Donté Greene, every home game is jump started by the Goon Squad, a group of spirited season ticket holders next to the Kings bench, including founding member Barbara Rust, known to the majority of Kings fans as The Sign Lady. Usual collaborators like Greene and Jason Thompson dance along with the Goon Squad, providing a dose of fun and renewed optimism for each game, even in the face of record low win totals.
As the 2011 season came to a close, I sat in the Goon Squad section for, possibly, one of the team's final games in Sacramento. I looked around after the final buzzer, saw the Sign Lady proudly hoisting her "We Love This Team!" poster, and witnessed real fans crying real tears. The NBA lockout creates a perception that the players and the owners are a bunch of rich, callous divas, leaving everybody else out in the cold. Maybe that assessment is accurate, but Kings players, dating back to a re-born Chris Webber in 1998, seem to always recognize the importance of the fans - their passion and dedication, bringing in not just paychecks, but moral support through the good times and the bad (and there has been a lot of the latter).
Donté Greene, the recipient of so much of that moral support over the past few years, did his best to return the favor to the fans this past weekend, organizing the appropriately titled "Goon Squad Classic" charity exhibition game at nearby UC Davis.
Sole Collector was on hand for the Nike-sponsored event, which featured current and former Kings including Greene, Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, Jimmer Fredette, Jason Thompson, Hassan Whiteside, Spencer Hawes, Matt Barnes, Isaiah Thomas and even John Wall (who unfortunately took a DNP for the contest). Like many games on the recent exhibition circuit, the Goon Squad Classic was full of dunks, long three pointers and a complete and utter lack of defense. The festivities included a half time rookie hazing/dance off between Jimmer Fredette and Isaiah Thomas, along with Greene tossing out several signed pairs of Nikes into the crowd. It wasn't NBA baskeball, but it still carried significance.
A fan-favorite rookie point guard. A power forward with attitude and the ability to finish at the rim. Euro steps and ill-advised three pointers. An enthusiastic and lovable group of players. Maybe it was living in the past, but it meant everything to the die-hard fans. Eventually, everybody returned to the realities of lockout basketball, and while Sacramento might never see these players on a home court again, for a few hours on Sunday night, everything was all right in the world of Kings basketball.