BASKETBALL CLUB, INC.

The Sacramento Kings are a very important franchise. It's the team that goes unnoticed.
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Sacramento Kings co-owner Adrienne Maloof, with RHOBH co-star Kim Richards, follows her husband Paul through a swarm of very unhappy Sactown fans. [Image via]

I'm not sure if the generic beer, a white can with all-caps "BEER" stamped across it in industrial-strength typeface, is an urban legend, a Simpsons concoction, or something I glimpsed once while doing community service at a North Carolina recycling plant with the Boy Scouts. Regardless, it has become a useful touchstone for a decidedly square, and unhappy, kind of "no logo" branding. Marketing and image fall to shambles, and we're left with the possibility that BEER is the most attractive face one can put on the product; its most crass, and oblivious, associations masquerading as literalism.

So, as my friend and colleague David Roth likes to say in perpetuity, Sacramento Kings how u?

A week ago, the Kings got their sole nationally-televised game, a late Thursday tilt against the mighty Oklahoma City Thunder. It was basketball, but it was also civic. Sacramento is in the middle of one of those nasty arena spats; the OKC game was a chance to show the world that, indeed, these fans love their team and want them to stay. Mayor Kevin Johnson was on camera a lot. So were the Malooves, the very people threatening to relocate the franchise if they don't get a new building. Warring factions came together to convince each other, or at least the rest of the country, that there was no reason things shouldn't work out. Love, or at least the brokered pantomime of it, conquered all, stands were thick with all-black tees, Chris Webber choked up on the call, and the noise level up there with the days when Arco doubled as a brain-splitting torture device.

It's unclear exactly what this spectacle was meant to accomplish. National audiences have short memories when it comes to cities losing teams; certainly, David Stern could not give less of a shit about leaving a fanbase weeping on their doormats. His single-minded devotion to the Hornets is, at this point, less about post-Katrina justice and more about proving he was right to have enforced this imperative against all good economic sense. Otherwise, Stern doesn't do public relations anymore. In his dotage, the first thing to go was concern for the opinion of anyone he couldn't squelch or expect to diminish over time. The second was his ability to hide disdain.

The Kings upset the Thunder, a totally unexpected win that proved just how much potential, and fire, this young team has going for it. It was a show of force that gave Kings fans reason to cheer. However, the lopsided matchup probably kept a lot of folks outside of Sactown from even watching the game. It was a great day for the Kings, but it hurt them on the messaging front. DeMarcus Cousins had the kind of game that could change the largely negative view of him as an immature, coach-killing, head case; as Rob Mahoney noted in his spot-on dissection of Cousins's playing style, the second-year big man is startlingly original, effective, and well worth the head of one journeyman coach. But that's basketball. Cousins is a symbol, a cliche, and that far outstrips whatever he's actually doing on the court. And none of this will ever change unless the Kings command attention.

The thing is, the Kings—in a gently phantom way—just may be the most talked-out NBA team this side of the Knicks. Actually, "team" isn't right at all. They are the most talked about franchise, a chip, a pawn, a commodity, whose specifics rarely enter the picture. Cousins is a sulky jerk; the Kings are a professional sports club, a business entity.

This saw Bravo's Real Housewives of Beverly Hills wrap up with the third part of a prolonged, Stalingrad-esque reunion show. RHOBH, as it's affectionately known, needed at least that much time to unpack a season so wracked with misery and genuine disaster that it turned a manufactured reality into fractured commentary on real-life unpleasantness. Taylor Armstrong may or may not have been brutally abused by her husband Russell, a grifter who killed himself while the show was in production. Taylor revealed in the reunion that her orbital was now held together by a patch of steel mesh, the only time in the show’s history that surgery hasn’t been played for laughs. Kim Richards, a stunted child star of Escape from Witch Mountain fame, spent the season in an alcohol and heavy meds-induced stupor; her sister Kyle, who acted alongside her in 1977’s The Car (most notable for James Brolin lead and Anton LaVey’s consultant credit), was her own study in horrid psychology, hitting on a particular obtuse form of denial that treated addiction as a personal affront.

And then, sitting blankly through much of the reunion, was Adrienne Maloof, the non-courtside Maloof sibling and co-owner of the team. The Kings are referenced constantly in RHOBH as a marker of Adrienne’s supreme wealth. They are “a basketball team,” and as her character has grown more harried, mundane, they make up about half of her identity. Adrienne is rich enough to not need fame. The show is a marketing tool, a public relations tentacle. Once, the ladies went to a game and met Ron Artest. This season, Adrienne and a couple of others confronted the horror that was … fans upset that the Malooves might relocate the team. This show airs weekly and has no shortage of chattery viewers. Its nondescript invocations of “Adrienne’s team” and an angry city that threatened her life when she flew in for what, at the time, looked like it might be the last home game. The messaging may have been impenetrable, but the Kings have been rendered so nondescript, so generic, that this almost seems like nit-picking.

The Kings are also a popular discussion topic with NBA fans in Seattle, who this week learned that a plan to build a new arena is being actively considered. The thinking is, if there’s an arena, the NBA has no choice but to bring a team here, since Seattle is an important place with money. This “if you build it, they will come” mantra plays on the logic that Clay Bennett used to steal the Sonics away to Oklahoma City. I’ve heard sports talk hosts say, seriously, that “the ball is in the NBA’s court.” And with Sacramento’s vote coming up in two weeks, the Kings are the most likely option. The Kings would become the new Sonics if they moved. The Sacramento team represents a placeholder: a spot in the NBA, a ticket back into the action. There has been precious little consideration of the players this city would inherit, some of whom are on long-term deals that would make their presence a given. Maybe it’s jumping the gun to talk about Cousins or Tyreke Evans, but it furthers this view of the Kings as BASKETBALL TEAM. They make rich women sparkle and right history for deserving cities. There is, however, next to no interest in the team itself.

Sports is a business, and the number of people who would be impressed by Adrienne Maloof owning an NBA team, or fondly remember going to Sonics games as a child, far exceeds those who want to talk about whether Keith Smart is just the right amount of permissive for a team that both needs direction but plays best loose. And yet perhaps the most compelling case to be made for the Kings sticking around is that their fans just plain get the NBA. Fine, everybody loves the home team, especially when they are winning; a small market represents a captive audience. But over the last decade or so, the Kings have had some mightily interesting teams, and fed off of this excess of personality. Tom Ziller, a good pal of mine and the all-time champion of NBA team blogging, said the other day that “DeMarcus Cousins is the most GIF-able player in the league.” He’s right, and the comments section of his Sactown Royalty are full of examples.

Is this about DeMarcus Cousins in particular? No, but the ability to latch onto this quality in players is anything but a given. It’s only a BASKETBALL CLUB if you view it that way.


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