Blame Game

Time for fans to get tough on Kings

By R.E. Graswich
November 2021

There’s one rule in professional sports honored by every player, coach and team owner. The rule is this: Never blame the fans.

In private, free to speak their minds under the sanctity of the locker room, players, coaches and owners joke contemptuously about fans. But such words must never be spoken in public.

There comes a time when rules should be broken. It’s time to hold Kings fans accountable for enabling an awful team. It’s time to blame the fans.

Kings supporters bear heavy responsibility for letting the franchise limp through the last 15 seasons without a playoff appearance, for failing to reach (much less win) the NBA championships in 70 years, and for being one of the worst franchises in pro sports.

Why blame fans? Those everyday folks who support the Kings with ticket sales, merchandise purchases and media attention don’t write starting lineups and make substitutions. They don’t screw up trades or swoon over dumb draft picks. They don’t hire and fire the wrong coaches. And they don’t interfere in technical areas where their only basketball experience was years ago on a recreational level.

But fans must be held to account. They provide oxygen for losers like the Kings. They encourage lousy decisions and crummy performances via blind devotion given without consequence. There’s no way the Kings would have gotten away with being this bad for this long in any other town, not even Salt Lake City.

Everywhere but Sacramento, fans force teams to get better. Or else.

Imagine what would have happened to the Kings if they somehow switched places with the Warriors 15 years ago and played in Oakland and now San Francisco. On good days, Bay Area fans and media would ridicule the Kings. On bad days—which means most days—the team would be ignored.

Fans would stay away. Season tickets and advertising sponsorships would plummet. That fancy new arena on Mission Bay would be an empty lot, unless the team improved significantly by 2016.

It’s likewise easy to imagine the Kings’ fate if they played in Los Angeles. A case study exists. It’s called the Clippers—a franchise scorned and disregarded for decades until it finally changed owners and became competitive. Even now, the Clippers are treated as a second-class outfit. (And yes, the Kings would have to change their name in L.A. because the local NHL Kings established their legitimacy with Stanley Cup victories in 2012 and 2014.)

Thanks to history, I don’t have to create scenarios to imagine how responsible fans would treat the Kings. Consider what happened in Kansas City and Cincinnati, two communities with long sports memories and experience with good teams. Both regarded the Kings as a lightweight amusement. Nobody wept when the team packed up and left.

Once the Kings arrived from Kansas City in 1985, management counted on Sacramento’s wide-eyed fascination with a new toy to overcome serious performance deficiencies. The strategy worked. Amazingly, it still works.

Over the summer, I heard fans speak excitedly about the Kings’ success in a summer league. The conversation was a 1985 time warp. Serious fans know summer leagues are meaningless.

Local fans are not required to support whatever mess the Kings dump onto the floor. Once it becomes clear that the Kings aren’t serious about winning their division or ready to compete for the playoffs—say, around Christmas—it’s time to stop buying tickets and attending games. Season seat holders should make it clear they will not continue their charity.

A decade ago, Kings fans had good reason to believe the team would move to Seattle. Despite years of local support, fans meant nothing once the owners decided to sell. Luck and determination by Commissioner David Stern kept the Kings in place.

The only time fans matter is when a team knows it can’t take them for granted. The Kings have taken their fans for granted for 36 years. Sacramento fans aren’t victims. They’re accomplices.

R.E. Graswich can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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