Kings players give each other high-fives after their April 15 game. (Photo courtesy of the Sacramento Kings)

Despite a Playoff Loss, a Winning Season for the Sacramento Kings

The team’s big season rallied a region

Back Web Only May 3, 2023 By Judy Farah

The purple beam above Golden 1 Center, lit whenever the Kings win a game, has been a frequent sight this season. (Photo by Brett Macadam)

Sometimes when things don’t work out the way you wanted, you’re disappointed — but you’ve still achieved far beyond what was expected of you. It has to be acknowledged that the 2022-2023 NBA season for the Sacramento Kings was a success.

The sting still burns from Sunday’s 120-100 loss to the Golden State Warriors during a frenzied, noontime Game 7 at a packed Golden 1 Center. But for the Kings, finally making the playoffs after 17 years and taking the defending NBA champions to a win-or-go-home Game 7 instead of being blown out in four games was an achievement. Of course, when Steph Curry, the best shooting point guard in basketball goes off for 50 points, breaking an NBA record, it’s hard to recover from that.

But despite a first round playoff loss, the wins the Sacramento Kings racked up this season are big. NBA Coach of the Year for Mike Brown. Clutch player of the year for star guard De’Aaron Fox. Rebounding champion award for center Domantas Sabonis. Keegan Murray broke an NBA record for most three points shot by a rookie with 206. And there’s the intangibles: the boost to small businesses, attendance records broken, making new friends at games, parents introducing a new generation — their kids — to their team.

And then there’s this: Game 7 between the Kings and Warriors on ABC drew the largest audience for the NBA playoffs first round game in 24 years, since 1999, per Nielsen. There were nearly 12 million people watching at its peak. On a Sunday afternoon! That means the rest of the nation were finally introduced to the Kings and saw what local fans saw all season.

“We wish we were still playing, but this is a part of the sport,” said Coach Mike Brown at the postgame news conference. “We’ll be better from this experience going forward. Our guys are definitely hurting right now, which obviously they should be, but I’ve got a lot of gratitude for every man in that locker room.”

The game started out appropriately enough, with the two Northern California teams running out to Tupac Shakur’s “California Love.” And party they did for the first half, with the lead ping-ponging between the two teams and neither one going on a run. But in the second half, Curry, a two-time NBA MVP, stepped into high gear, ending with 50 points, the most ever scored in a Game 7 in the NBA.

Fans were let down, but also thrilled that the team took the city and region on an exciting run, one they have been so hungry for. “I’m very happy that they finally made it, but disappointed,” said Ray, who came up from Los Angeles for the game. “It was a hell of a season,” said another fan.

And it was, not just because it was a winning one. The Kings found a way to connect and excite the region, giving fans something to rally around, unite and get a collective thrill from watching a dazzling purple beam shoot up into the sky after each win. Sacramento’s long sports slump was over. 

After the game, star player De’Aaron Fox took almost an hour to meet the media, Coach Brown explaining he had to talk to his disappointed young team, who are in their early 20s.

“Playing against this team in the first round was a blessing and a curse,” Fox says. “You can learn a lot, you’re not the favorite to win. We fought every game but they did what champions do.”

Hours after the game ended with a standing ovation for the team from the fans, grateful to finally having something to cheer about again, fans still mingled in the Downtown Commons.

“This season was great. I think next year and the future is great,” said Jake. “I think it’s a microcosm of what’s so great about Sacramento. It’s an amazing, beautiful city. Everything’s great about it. You want to be here.”

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