‘The pas­sion runs deep’ – how one night in Phoenix brought Kings fans to­gether

The Sacramento Bee - - Front Page - BY NOEL HAR­RIS nhar­[email protected]

A lit­tle more than six years ago, one tweet sent a shock to Kings fans and many oth­ers in Sacra­mento.

“So I hear that the Seat­tle Kings is of­fi­cially a done deal!” Daina Falk – a food and sports en­thu­si­ast who is the daugh­ter of sports agent David Falk – posted Jan. 8, 2013. “The Maloofs fi­nally sold the ail­ing Sacra­mento team. #NBA”

That Twit­ter post brought Kings fans to­gether in a push to keep the team in Sacra­mento.

In a city some 750 miles away, an­other group used so­cial me­dia to stage their own one-day rally in hopes of help­ing the cause in Cal­i­for­nia’s cap­i­tal city.

Lit­tle did those peo­ple know the long-last­ing ef­fect that meet­ing would have.

COM­ING TO­GETHER FOR SACRA­MENTO

Shannon Par­ring­ton grew up in Sacra­mento but has lived in Ari­zona since head­ing there for col­lege in the late 1990s. She’s been a Kings fan since they moved west in 1985.

When she heard the team could be leav­ing her home­town, she wanted to do any­thing she could to pre­vent the re­lo­ca­tion.

“Through so­cial me­dia, I had heard about groups in Sacra­mento try­ing to keep the team in town,” Par­ring­ton said, adding she didn’t know what to ex­pect when she tweeted her idea to have a night for the Kings in Phoenix dur­ing a Kings-Suns game there in 2013.

Af­ter hear­ing about fans in New York gath­er­ing in

sup­port of the Kings, she de­cided to see if she could make some­thing sim­i­lar hap­pen in Phoenix.

“I knew there were other Kings fans here. I’d seen them at games but we’d never come to­gether,” she said. “It was some­thing I could do here to show how much I ap­pre­ci­ated the Kings and how much I wanted them to stay in Sacra­mento. I knew how much the team meant to the city and fans.”

On March 28, 2013, it was ap­par­ent the team also meant some­thing to a large but un­de­ter­mined num­ber of fans in Ari­zona’s cap­i­tal. That night, Kings fans in Phoenix made their pres­ence felt at what was then U.S. Air­ways Cen­ter.

“There was a ma­jor turnout of Kings fans want­ing to do any­thing to keep the Kings in Sacra­mento, even though we live here in Ari­zona,” said Jared Slaff, who lived in Sacra­mento’s Lemon Hill neigh­bor­hood for nearly three decades be­fore mov­ing to the Phoenix area.

Sev­eral peo­ple in at­ten­dance held signs read­ing “Here We Stay” and “Sacra­mento in the house.” Oth­ers showed love to Kevin John­son, a Sacra­mento na­tive and the city’s mayor at the time. John­son played the ma­jor­ity of his NBA ca­reer with the Suns.

The fans con­gre­gated, chanted and later cel­e­brated a 117-103 vic­tory. It was well no­ticed away from the arena.

“We were be­ing vo­cal,” said Brent Sum­mers, a fan who re­sides in Phoenix and has also lived in Sacra­mento. He says one sign he cre­ated was fea­tured promi­nently on one of the main ‘Here We Stay’ videos that aired dur­ing the fight to pre­vent the team from mov­ing.

“To­ward the end of the game, we got to­gether and chanted, ‘Here We Stay,’” Sum­mers said. “Some­one on Twit­ter said, ‘We can hear you over the broad­cast.’ That was pretty cool that some­one in Sacra­mento could hear the vis­it­ing fans chant­ing for the team.”

Sum­mers, Par­ring­ton and nu­mer­ous other Kings fans met that night – and many have been con­nected since. One way is through a pri­vate Face­book group that has 20 of those peo­ple.

Af­ter all, so­cial me­dia played a big part in bring­ing them to­gether.

“I was try­ing to find other peo­ple who cared that lived in Phoenix, and that’s how I found the group,” said Au­dra Lepp, who grew up in Sacra­mento and has lived in Phoenix since 2004. She added it was nice to “meet new peo­ple that share the same love you have for the sport.”

For Par­ring­ton, the group is more than just a col­lec­tion of peo­ple.

“When you meet fans out­side of Sacra­mento, you’re kind of like your own fam­ily,” she said. “Kings fans have al­ways been a bit of a fam­ily, and that cer­tainly holds true in Phoenix.”

LOVE FOR THE KINGS

The group in­cludes long­time Kings fans with Sacra­mento ties.

Mike McCormick grew up 45 min­utes west in Fair­field and has been a fan “since the Mitch Rich­mond era.”

“Then, I re­ally got into the Kings in the 2000s, dur­ing the Chris Web­ber years, with Doug Christie and all them,” McCormick said.

The dis­tance McCormick had to travel to Sacra­mento pales in com­par­i­son to the trips Tyler Drake had to take. The Kelseyville na­tive said he and his dad would reg­u­larly make the two-hour drive to see games. They chose the Kings de­spite liv­ing in an area where most peo­ple sup­ported the Golden State War­riors.

“I’m prob­a­bly one of three peo­ple I know from there who are Kings fans,” Drake said.

Lepp said she was at­tend­ing games “first out of the womb.”

“My mom and dad had sea­son tick­ets when the Kings moved to Sacra­mento back in ’85 and they (had them) un­til they re­lo­cated to the new arena down­town,” she said.

It goes back even fur­ther for Sum­mers. He was born in the Mid­west and said his fa­ther was a fan when the team was in Kansas City.

Be­ing fans of Sacra­mento’s NBA team isn’t the only love they share.

REP­RE­SENT­ING FOR REPUB­LIC

In 2014, Sacra­mento sports fans got their first look at a team they could root for.

That was the first sea­son for Repub­lic FC, a team which played one level be­low Ma­jor League Soc­cer, the top league in the United States. Be­cause Phoenix also had a team in the United Soc­cer League, it gave the group a new side to get be­hind.

Slaff said he’s “ab­so­lutely” a Repub­lic fan.

Slaff, who at­tended the Kings’ fi­nal game at Sleep Train Arena on April 9, 2016, was in town for the MLS block party five days later, when league Com­mis­sioner Don Gar­ber talked about the city’s plan to join MLS.

His photo was promi­nently dis­played in The Bee.

Slaff oc­ca­sion­ally trav­els to other cities to see Repub­lic play but said many mem­bers of their group show up in Tempe, where Phoenix Ris­ing FC plays.

“We usu­ally have a good pres­ence when­ever they come to town,” Slaff said.

Lepp said she’s been to sev­eral games in Phoenix, but none in Sacra­mento.

“We de­cided to see a game when they were here,” Lepp said. “I grew up play­ing soc­cer, so that’s al­ways been some­thing else I en­joy.”

Sum­mers is a big fan as well. His fam­ily’s in­volve­ment in the sport in­cludes coach­ing, play­ing and of­fi­ci­at­ing. They’ve at­tended games in Ari­zona and at Papa Mur­phy’s Park.

“I’m a Repub­lic fan un­til I die and I’m hop­ing they can get that MLS bid,” Sum­mers said.

COULD THE SUNS BE ON THE MOVE?

There’s been talk around Phoenix that these Sacra­mento fans know all too well.

The Ari­zona Repub­lic re­ported last month that the Suns could look to move out of Phoenix if Talk­ing Stick Re­sort Arena, one of the NBA’s old­est venues, isn’t ren­o­vated.

The team’s owner took to so­cial me­dia to dis­pute the ru­mors.

“The Phoenix Suns are not leav­ing Phoenix,” Robert Sarver said on the team’s Twit­ter page. “I’m

100 per­cent com­mit­ted and have been for the last four years to find a solution to keep them in down­town Phoenix, where they be­long.”

De­spite be­ing fans of Sacra­mento sports teams, the group said they would try to help keep the Suns in Phoenix, as they did in

2013 with their rally to sup­port the Kings.

“You just feel bad,” Drake said. “We went through it and al­most lost the team. It would be rough if it ac­tu­ally hap­pened.”

Lepp, who worked for the Suns or­ga­ni­za­tion for one year, also doesn’t want to see them go.

“I’d hate to see them leave the city,” she said. “I know how heart­bro­ken I would have been if the Kings left, even though I wasn’t liv­ing there. That’s what I grew up with and I know there are fans out here for Phoenix.”

Par­ring­ton, who was key in get­ting the Sacra­mento sports fans to­gether, agrees.

“I cer­tainly don’t want the Suns to move,” she said. “I think we’re all in agree­ment that teams should not leave their cities.”

A ‘BRAND-NEW EN­ERGY’

On the six-year an­niver­sary of Falk’s tweet, the Kings were in Phoenix for their sec­ond game this sea­son against the Suns.

There were sev­eral peo­ple sit­ting in sec­tions

104-108 wear­ing throw­back jerseys, scarves, hats and even the old baby­blue Starter jacket that was pop­u­lar in the ’80s. Some waved flags and an­other had a sign that sim­ply read, “Yeah Buddy.”

Al­though the re­sult wasn’t what the group wanted to see – the Kings com­mit­ted a sea­son-high

26 turnovers in a 115-111 loss – they’re still op­ti­mistic about the team.

“To see this re­ju­ve­na­tion has been un­be­liev­able,” Slaff said. “There’s def­i­nitely a lot of prom­ise in this sea­son. The fact that we’re still talk­ing about (play­offs) in Jan­uary, this is a brand-new en­ergy that I haven’t seen in years.”

McCormick says this is one of the best Kings teams he’s seen in more than a decade.

Par­ring­ton is ex­cited about what she sees.

“They seem to love to play with each other. You can see it when you watch them play and even how they in­ter­act on the bench,” she said.

Drake said re­gard­less of record, the group will con­tinue to show up for games.

“You can tell we’re Kings fans,” he said. “The pas­sion runs deep.”

‘‘

I THINK WE’RE ALL IN AGREE­MENT THAT TEAMS SHOULD NOT LEAVE THEIR CITIES.

Shannon Par­ring­ton, a Kings fan since at least 1985

From left: Brent Sum­mers, Randy Cliff Peter­son, Shannon Par­ring­ton, Mike McCormick and Au­dra Lepp.

Jared Slaff, cen­ter, who was born and raised in Sacra­mento but lives in Phoenix, joins a “block party” April 14, 2016, in Sacra­mento.

Phoenix res­i­dent Brent Sum­mers shows his sup­port for keep­ing the Kings in Sacra­mento on March 28, 2013, in Phoenix.

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