SACRAMENTO -- De’Aaron Fox stepped to the free throw line late in the fourth quarter of the Kings’ 128-125 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves and the fans started chanting “MVP, MVP, MVP.”
Fox is certainly the Kings' MVP this season, but he isn’t in the running for the league-wide award, especially with the team’s record being where it is. That didn’t matter. Kings fans were in the building, having a good time and repping their guy.
This was just the Kings' second home game this season with fans, although Tuesday night was reserved for only frontline workers.
Not to take anything away from the good people who have made an incredible difference in our world during the coronavirus pandemic, but there was a difference Wednesday night when 1600 fans were allowed in the lower bowl and additional folks made their way into the suites and lofts overlooking the action.
A young lady walked by wearing a Bobby Hurley No. 7 jersey. A man sat with his son sporting a Georgios Papagiannis t-shirt. These were the real fans that have shed tears for this team and were willing to jump through any hoop to get in to see the Kings play, regardless of their place in the standings.
“It’s definitely great, just the energy is definitely a lot different with having fans back in the arena,” Fox said after the win.
It started with a live rendition of the National Anthem for the second night in a row, but everything in the building felt more authentic. From Slamson the Lion’s antics to emcee Scott Freshour trying to build the excitement in the building, this was the atmosphere that we’ve become accustomed to in Sacramento.
The team wasn’t allowed to pack the house, but it’s amazing what even a 10th of capacity can do for the feel of the building.
“It’s special having the Kings fans here,” Buddy Hield said during the broadcast following the game. “We as players, we feed off the fans' energy. Hopefully the world can get back to normal and we will have the fans back to full capacity to help us win more games.”
As the Kings erased an 11-point deficit late, the fans were on their feet at Golden 1 Center. They were yelling and screaming and giving each other high fives while surrounded by cardboard cutouts.
“Harrison [Barnes] making a big three, Ty [Haliburton] making a big three, we getting steals, getting stops and the fans were getting into it,” Hield said. “It was 2,000 fans, but you could hear the energy and the joy. I think that gives, especially for a team like this, life.”
For Haliburton, it was his first real experience with Sacramento fans, outside of the support he’s received on social media. He was smiling from ear-to-ear when speaking on the subject.
“Anybody who knows me and watched me play growing up knows that I really love that entertainment factor of basketball, I love to play in front of fans and put on a show,” Haliburton said. “It’s been really fun to play in front of Kings fans. It just feels good to have fans in the arena again.”
Haliburton said that while he’s played in front of small groups of fans on the road, having a home crowd cheering for you, instead of against you, was a welcomed treat.
“That wing three I hit, it felt like, man, it just felt so good, it felt like I was back at Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum in front of 17,000,” Haliburton said. “We were only in front of like a thousand today, but it just felt good to be back in front of fans and loving what I do.”
It’s going to take time to get more people in the building, but things are slowly starting to return to normal. Spectators aren’t allowed food or beverage at their seats. They have to go through stringent reviews to get into the building, but the group of folks who were allowed in to watch their team, it was clearly worth it.
They booed the officials, cheered on a rally and made an impact, even if it’s a meaningless game at the end of a long season. They may have even helped their squad get over the top.
It’s the first of many steps, but it felt good to be surrounded by live bodies, even if they were socially distanced and had their faces covered by masks. Our new normal is still evolving, but there is hope.