Thursday, November 10, 2011

The These Are The Moments... The Sacramento Kings

I love the Sacramento Kings.

Though I’ve never set foot in the building, I feel like I know every crevice of (if you think I’m calling it Power Balance Pavilion, you’re outta your damn mind) Arco Arena. I love the way the local cowbell-toters not only packed the place, but transformed it into a cauldron on par with any in NBA history. I love the early work of C-Webb and Slim Shady (always thought “White Chocolate” was lame) and developed an illicit mancrush on Mike Bibby in the spring of 2002. Hell, even Doug Christie… nah, even I can’t sap it up that much. Fuck that guy.

Strange words from a Laker diehard, I know, and for years the diametric opposite was true, but looking back, I, we, needed the raw emotion that the Kings inspired in the Lakers’ otherwise businesslike Lightswitch Dynasty. Plus, it’s important to understand that few franchises figured more prominently in the NBA experience of my generation of Laker Nation.

From the baby blue-clad lean years of the 1980s- when the league consisted of 23 teams, nationally televised games were rarer and League Pass not even a fantasy, and much of what you got were division matchups- to the electrifying dawn of the Webber era, the epic 2002 Western Conference Finals, ‘Reke (a Hype favorite) and #herewestay, it’s been a long and winding road whose apex, while brief, was as intense and traumatic as any I’ve experienced. Emotions run hot here.

Have these emotions and experiences biased my selection of the top highlights in Kings’ history? Probably. And I’m totally cool with that:

Mike Bibby's Game 5 Game-winner in the 2002 conference finals

As much as any we’ll look at in the days and weeks to come, this moment is etched in my mind. With the exception of Larry Bird, I have never feared an opposing player like I feared Bibby in 2002. I have written in the past that “if Chris Webber was the face of the 2000-04 Kings, Mike Bibby was their balls.” This is why.

Age 23 and taking part in his first NBA postseason, Bibby was unreal, assaulting the Lakers with haymaker after haymaker. On the heels of Robert Horry’s miraculous Game 4 winner, Bibby came through yet again, pushing the two-time defending champs to the brink, ensuring no worse than a Game 7 at home, in front of one of the most rabid crowds in NBA history.

Adding to the significance of this moment is the fact that so rarely are we able to identify the instant that a sports franchise reached the pinnacle of its existence. This is precisely that moment for the Sacramento Kings.

Jason Williams freezes Gary Payton

You see that guy in green? Y’know, the guy nailed to the floor, leaning the wrong way, getting whiplash as J-Will blows past him? That’s Gary Payton, one of the greatest perimeter defenders the game has ever seen- at the peak of his powers. What rookie does this?

J-Will’s perfect behind-the-back bullet to Peja

This pass perfectly personifies Jason Williams. This is a “basketball genius” play that provides a window into the superhuman confidence that made Williams special. How many players in today’s NBA would dare even try this? Kobe, Wade, LeBron, Nash… what, two, three others, tops?

I’m sure he sailed a few of these into the expensive seats, but the moments in which everything was clicking for J-Will made it all worthwhile.

Tyreke Evans' halfcourt Game-winner against the Grizzlies

Holy “holy shit!,” Batman!

As great as it is to see the sublime take place on a big stage, I would argue that nothing tops a genuine bolt-of-lightning moment in a game that has no business getting one. A December 29 tilt between the 14-17 Memphis Grizzlies and the 5-23 Kings is just that game.

O.J. Mayo buried a pretty awesome one-legged fadeaway runner to give the Grizz a one-point lead with a second and a half remaining, justifying my decision to stick around with this game. Down one with no timeouts remaining, the Kings found Tyreke Evans, who let fly from 55 feet… splash. Pandemonium.

Adding to the fun here is Donte Greene’s prescient sprint off of the Kings’ bench- seriously, how did he know?

Chris Webber's spin and scoop winner against the Nuggets

At his best, there was virtually nothing Chris Webber was incapable of on a basketball court.

Here, with 27, 10 and 9 already in the bank and clock running down, Webber receives the ball on the wing, and in less than three seconds executes a picture perfect pivot (who says I don’t like subtle nuances?) to shed a double-team, puts the ball on the floor as comfortably as few big men ever have and takes to the air to split another double-team. All this and no mention of the incredible scoop that won the game and sent a great Arco Arena crowd (remember, this was a meaningless April game against a lottery-bound opponent) into a frenzy.

A final note: I really want to hear from you. Let me know what you think by chiming in on the highlights I’ve put forth, or supplying your own. I not only welcome your feedback, I eagerly await it.


dave m.. said...

This is a great series... although a diehard Lakers fan, this particular era Kings team was one I always tried to watch. Plus, there was such a potent rivalry going on. And J-Will's passes... and the look on Adelman's face when they sailed into the loge section. Good times.

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