How Kings' past NBA experience played role in postponed Pelicans game

How Kings' past NBA experience played role in postponed Pelicans game

In the last nine days, the world has dramatically changed. One-fifth of Americans are under lockdown due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. More are likely to meet the same fate in the coming days.

We’ve also had nine days to digest the night the NBA shut down.

In his latest piece, NBC Sports’ Tom Haberstroh tells the story of the events that unfolded that evening at Golden 1 Center as the Kings prepared to host the New Orleans Pelicans on March 11. Some of the information that is beginning to trickle in is interesting, to say the least.

As the Pelicans sat in their locker room preparing to face the Kings, they were watching events unfold on the television. On screen was a live shot of the Oklahoma City Thunder-Utah Jazz game that was being held up. 

Jazz and Thunder players were quickly swept off the court and minutes later, news began to break that Utah center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the coronavirus and that the NBA season was suspended ... following the Kings-Pelicans game.

According to Haberstroh, a Pelicans' staffer overheard a conversation regarding referee Courtney Kirkland and his involvement in a game two days earlier in Utah. This set off a chain of events.

“We have to shut this down,” a Pelicans executive told his fellow staffers. 

There were only about 20 minutes remaining until tipoff, according to those present. Upon learning of Kirkland’s exposure to an infected player, Pelicans staffers walked to the visitor’s locker room and informed the players. One player wondered aloud, according to sources, “What’s the point of even playing this game?” It was decided as a team that they wouldn’t participate in the game, according to sources. Remain in the locker room, team officials instructed.

Meanwhile, on the court, the Kings continued to warm up. Referee crew chief Marc Davis and his colleague Justin Van Duyne stood at the scorer’s table, noticeably without Kirkland present. Davis spoke into a cell phone while Van Duyne waited at his side. From that nucleus at the scorer’s table, word began to trickle out that the game would be canceled due to Kirkland’s exposure. Both the national and local broadcast teams discussed Kirkland and the game’s postponement openly on air."

Chaos. Pandemonium. Fans booing. “Sac-ra-men-to!” chants. And then an empty arena and silence.
Sacramento was ready to play. They understood the stakes at hand. If they beat the Pelicans, they would have tied the season series, moved a game ahead of New Orleans in the standings and climbed to within three games of the Memphis Grizzlies, who currently own the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoff chase.

A loss would have been disastrous. The Kings knew the Pelicans’ remaining schedule was much easier than their own. They also knew that they only had one game remaining against New Orleans and a loss would have meant the season series.

The Kings were also uniquely qualified to handle this situation. Strangely, they had been through a circumstance two seasons earlier when protestors shut down the perimeter of Golden 1 Center after an officer-involved shooting cost Sacramentan Stephon Clark his life.

Four days after Clark’s death, protestors surrounded Golden 1 Center, locking arms and keeping fans out. An estimated 3,000 fans made it into the building before security was forced to barricade the doors and turn everyone else away.The March 22, 2018 game against the Atlanta Hawks went on as scheduled after a 13-minute delay. The fans that made it in the building were offered free food and were allowed to come down to the court. The two teams played in front of a sparse, but appreciative crowd. 

A similar situation happened five days later when protesters were denied entry into a Sacramento City Council meeting and once again caused a commotion outside of Golden 1 Center. On that evening, approximately 4,000 fans made it inside the building before the team had to shutter the doors for safety purposes. 

While there were no protests and a packed house of over 17,600 fans were expected to see the Kings face Zion Williamson and the Pelicans, the team had learned through its previous experience that the decision about whether a game was going to be played or not was in the NBA’s hands, not its own. 

According to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who spoke to ESPN’s Rachel Nichols earlier this week, the initial thought was that the game could still be played with only two officials. He was in constant communication with Kings chairman Vivek Randivé during the minutes leading up to the decision to cancel the game.

“What’s so remarkable, I think as people are listening to this now only a week later, all of these decisions seem completely obvious, based on the social distancing protocol we’ve all learned over the last few days,” Silver told Nichols. “But in that moment, it seemed at least there was something to think about, but the thought process was about two minutes long.”

[RELATED: How NBA shutdown affects more than just the USA fanbase]

According to a league source, the Kings were more than willing to play the game. But again, they had been through a moment like this before where a game hung in the balance. They were looking at the situation as business as usual, because they knew that the decision was completely out of their hands.

The knowledge and understanding of the coronavirus were in an early stage in the United States. The NBA postponing its season indefinitely started a chain reaction around professional and collegiate sports. 

In the end, the Pelicans’ reluctance to take the court played a huge role in the events of the evening. But conversations were already happening as the Kings, Pelicans and the league were reacting in real-time to developing situations. 

Should the game have been called earlier? We now know the answer to that question is yes. Silver made the decision to press forward and allow nearly 20,000 fans, media, arena workers and security to enter the building. When circumstances shifted, he changed course, which was the right choice.

Harry Giles surprises Kings fan upset by coronavirus game postponement


Harry Giles surprises Kings fan upset by coronavirus game postponement

On March 11, the Kings suspended their upcoming game at Golden 1 Center against the New Orleans Pelicans due to precautionary measures from the coronavirus pandemic.

This was right after the NBA announced the season would be suspended indefinitely after Jazz center Rudy Gobert's positive coronavirus test earlier that night. Still, it made an immediate impact, especially on one young fan.

Cameras caught a devastated girl crying in the stands after the announcement. The Kings, and Harry Giles wanted to apologize for the cancellation of the game with a heartfelt message to Sophie and her brother.

“I just wanted to tell you guys we apologize for the unfortunate situation that happened on March 11 with the game getting canceled, but I have a surprise for you,” Giles said. 

Sophie and her brother were sitting on the couch watching the video from Giles and were invited personally by the Kings’ forward whenever the season was to come back.

Sophie said thank you to Giles as she jumped on the couch sporting Kings gear. 

This isn’t the first time Giles paid back to Kings fans.

[RELATED: De'Aaron Fox cuts hair during NBA hiatus]

He also helped a couple plan a wedding. Well, he certainly played a big part. The groom actually sported a Giles’ jersey at the altar after a Twitter request of 10,000 retweets

Giles continues to be a man of the people. 

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Why Kings' Bogdan Bogdanovic is prepared for NBA games without fans


Why Kings' Bogdan Bogdanovic is prepared for NBA games without fans

There is no guarantee that the NBA will be able to finish the 2019-20 season amidst the coronavirus pandemic. If they are able to pull off the tall task, there is a very good chance that the league will start out playing in empty buildings to ensure player and fan safety.

It is a difficult thought. The sound of sneakers squeaking and the ball bouncing, but nothing else. A referee’s whistle could be heard blocks away without 17,000-plus cheering bodies to dampen the noise. 

From the shot clock buzzer to the sound of Luke Walton’s baritone voice bellowing out commands, it’s all very strange to imagine. 

While the experience would be different for people on the outside looking in, this is how many NBA players grew up with the game. They started playing in front of parents at rec league games, but the real work came in their driveways, at local parks and in gymnasiums where they practice in front of a coach with a whistle.

On the latest edition of the Purple Talk Podcast, we caught up with Kings starting shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic, and one of the topics of discussion was the idea of playing without fans. 

“I played in Serbia without fans and we were fighting,” Bogdanovic said. “So I got used to it a little bit.”

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Serbia or New Orleans or the Bahamas, it doesn’t really matter. It wasn’t until college that most of these players truly had the experience of playing in front of a packed house. It might take a game or two to get used to, but that might be the reality facing all professional sports in the near future. 

“It will be weird for sure,” Bogdanovic added. “It will feel like a practice game, not a real game.”

While the Kings are in the middle of a 13-season playoff drought, that doesn’t mean that fans aren’t still flooding into Golden 1 Center every game. Known as one of the most loyal and loud fanbases, Kings fans have an ability to energize the building. 

[RELATED: Kings' Bogdan Bogdanovic shooting on neighbor's hoop during NBA shutdown]

For Bogdanovic, he equated the feeling to being in a battle. 

“The fans are something that brings that feeling like you are in a gladiator arena,” Bogdanovic said. “Imagine two gladiators fighting, or more, without fans. It would be boring.”

Bogdanovic is hoping to return to the court as soon as the league allows it, but he also has a strong perspective. He wants the fans to stay safe and if that means they have to watch the game through the television set while the team plays in an empty arena, then he understands.

We still are at least a month or more away from knowing what might happen this season, but all options are on the table. With any luck, there will be basketball, but what that might look like is a long way from being determined.