It all started with a rallying cry outside Chase Center in early July.
Lifelong Kings fan Sean Chew bellowed a prophecy into the San Francisco air that has followed Sacramento through every twist and turn of the 2022-23 NBA season:
“We’re getting 40 wins this year!”
Those six words, viewed by millions over the last eight months, journeyed with the Kings as they quickly morphed from the butt of all NBA jokes into legitimate contenders.
Sacramento (39-26), currently second in the Western Conference standings with 17 games to play, is one victory away from its first 40-win season in 16 years -- a drought that matches the franchise’s infamous playoff absence.
One more win and Chew’s roaring proclamation becomes reality.
Here is the tale of three passionate Kings fans who left their mark in the first chapter of the Kings’ storybook season:
The first win
Chew confidently strolled out of Chase Center on July 2 alongside his good friend Jon Lardy, a self-described semi-professional Kings fan trying to turn pro.
They had just witnessed rookie Keegan Murray, selected by Sacramento with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft just nine days prior, post a nearly perfect Kings debut. Murray scorched the Warriors for 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the field in an 86-68 win to tip off the summer league schedule.
Kings general manager Monte McNair caught some criticism for drafting Murray over other prospects billed to have a higher NBA ceiling. An encouraging summer league debut from Murray allowed Kings fans to take a deep breath and head into the rest of the offseason with growing confidence that McNair made the right choice.
Chew and Lardy made sure their optimism was heard by all.
“After a victory, it’s usually customary for Sean and I to storm out of the arena yelling, ‘SAC-RA-MEN-TO!’” Lardy said in an interview with NBC Sports California. “Some people didn’t like that, especially people in the other purple -- Lakers purple -- and Warriors gold. They were chirping us. We had to let them know what was coming.”
Their howls caught the attention of Kings fan Nadim Satar, who also happened to be striding out of Chase Center.
“As they’re walking out, I’m hearing, ‘SAC-RA-MEN-TO!’ And I’m seeing the Warriors and Lakers fans chirping Sean and Jon,” Satar said. “I heard something about the playoff drought, and how many rings do you guys have. So, I instantly joined in with [Sean and Jon].
“Seeing two other Kings fans in an area filled with Warriors and Lakers fans, I had to jump in and show that love, too.”
Earlier that day, Satar ventured to San Francisco along with his girlfriend Danika Torres -- a Lakers fan -- on a mission to watch Murray’s debut, not knowing he’d be a featured part in one of the most viral Kings moments in the social media age.
Murray and the Kings defeated the Miami Heat by 17 points the next day to improve to 2-0 in the California Classic.
Shortly after the Kings’ second win, SB Nation -- a sports blogging network with over 300,000 Twitter followers -- posted the video it had kept in the bank for 24 hours.
It immediately went viral.
“I didn’t expect any of that,” Satar said. “I remember finding this out randomly in a Chipotle trying to order food. Next thing you know, everyone is blowing up my phone, and there we are on SB Nation.”
“I remember getting a Bleacher Report update with my face on it,” Chew said. “I was like, ‘What? What just happened?’ My phone just started blowing up. I was speechless.”
“I didn’t even know people were recording us because we were just talking out of pocket,” Lardy said. “Two or three days later, some of my homies that haven’t hit me up in a couple months are hitting me up being like, ‘Dude, you’re on Bleacher Report.’
“It was awesome to see that take off and see people talk about the Kings.”
Predictably, instant reaction on social media contained plenty of Sacramento slander. While Kings Twitter threw a frantic search party to find its three new summer league heroes, other fan bases snickered.
Forty wins? These guys are celebrating 40 wins?
A 40-win season for some franchises would be cause for heads to roll. In Sacramento, it’s unprecedented success not seen for the better part of two decades.
No Kings team has won 40 games since Mike Bibby and Brad Miller were wearing purple in the 2005-06 NBA season, a 44-win campaign that ended in a first-round playoff exit at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs in six games.
The 2018-19 Kings, featuring De’Aaron Fox in his second season and coach Dave Joerger on the sidelines, came close. They won their 39th game with three contests remaining but dropped all three to head into another long offseason without 40 wins.
“Forty [wins] definitely was a realistic goal that I thought was attainable,” Chew said. “We haven’t won 40 games since the 2005-06 season. After watching [Murray] I thought this was going to be a better season.
“I didn’t think No. 2 seed at the time. But hey, they exceeded expectations; I’m more than happy right now.”
While Satar brought the energy and Chew hooted his prediction, Lardy’s claim to fame was his homemade No. 13 Murray jersey.
“I decided to go to Ross [Dress for Less], buy the smallest white T-shirt I could find, get a bunch of crayons and test my art out,” Lardy told NBC Sports California over a Zoom call, with a different DIY Murray jersey hanging in the background. This one was constructed out of No. 3 Skal Labissière jersey.
“I am trying to get it signed by Keegan Murray,” Lardy said. “So, if anybody knows Keegan Murray, please, I’ll bring the Sharpie.”
After Murray’s promising summer league showing and McNair’s busy offseason constructing the roster, the Kings ventured into a new season with positive vibes. Something felt different about this team.
Unfortunately, it didn’t immediately translate to the floor. The Kings stumbled out of the gate to an 0-4 record with losses to the Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Clippers, Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies.
Chew never lost faith in his prediction. And sure enough, after the Kings lit the victory beam for the first time Oct. 29 with a win over the Miami Heat, things turned around in a hurry.
“That wasn’t a great feeling at the very beginning,” Chew said. “But [the games] were all so close. I’d probably say once they rallied off that seven-game winning streak earlier in the season I thought, ‘Oh wow, this is going to be something in the making.’ ”
That two-week stretch set the tone for the rest of the season. The Kings scored at least 120 points in all but one of those seven wins and exploded onto the national scene with a 153-121 triumph over the Brooklyn Nets.
Maybe this team was different than the previous 16 editions.
As Sacramento inched closer to the 40-win prediction, Chew, Lardy and Satar kept in touch and watched as their viral video consistently recirculated on social media, slowly changing the national opinion surrounding the Kings one view at time.
A new prophecy
The Kings will secure 40 wins and a playoff berth this season. It’s no longer a question of if, it’s when.
Chew, Lardy and Satar weren’t even teenagers yet the last time Sacramento played postseason basketball.
“For the Kings to be in this position, it means everything to the city,” Chew said. “We love this team. We’ve almost lost this team a couple of times. I thought it was a forgone conclusion.
“To get to this moment here -- I already thought it was a playoff win by just getting to keep them [in Sacramento] and getting a new arena. This is a dream come true, for sure.”
Now that the 40-win prediction could be fulfilled as soon as Saturday night when the Kings visit the Phoenix Suns at Footprint Center, it’s time to make another forecast.
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Satar predicted the Kings would beat the Warriors in the first round, while Lardy issued a warning to the Milwaukee Bucks that the Kings will be seeing them in June for the NBA Finals.
As for Chew, the man who coined the 40-win phrase?
“I’m here making realistic predictions, trying to keep it attainable,” he said. “Why not Kings in seven? No one wants to see us in a Game 7 in Sacramento.”
Lock it in. Kings in seven.
The rest of the NBA world won’t be laughing this time around.