SACRAMENTO (AP) — The struggling Sacramento Kings find themselves in the national spotlight and it has nothing to do with another disappointing NBA season in their sparkling new 2-year-old arena.
Instead of looking ahead to the draft lottery as they wind down their 12th consecutive losing season, the Kings — like many nationwide — have turned their attention to demonstrators who have joined hand-in-hand on game nights to block entrances to the building.
The wave of protests stem from the March 18 fatal shooting by police of Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old unarmed black man.
Kings players are at the center of the demonstrations but they have embraced their role in the situation and have been supportive of both the Clark family and the protesters.
“This organization has really stepped to the forefront and I wanted to use my voice as much as I could to say to try to say what I believed was right and true,” Kings player Garrett Temple said. “There are a lot of different perspectives and a lot of different things to take into account but it’s been a pretty hectic week.”
The demonstrations at Kings’ games have brought heightened attention to the protests and could grow in numbers this weekend. Sacramento police shot Clark eight times — seven from behind, according to autopsy results paid for by the family that were released Friday. The Kings play host to the Golden State Warriors today.
The protests have resonated around the country as large crowds have held demonstrations and marches throughout the city, at one point blocking nearby freeways and surrounding streets in their call for action.
Owner Vivek Ranadive made an impassioned pledge of support for the protesters and the community at large following the first round of demonstrations on March 22 after first consulting with his players. The NBA team has partnered with Black Lives Matter Sacramento and the Build. Black. Coalition to create a multiyear partnership that supports the education of young people and to help workforce preparation and economic development efforts in the community.
“To see the Kings step up as an organization and start backing other local organizations, that means a great deal,” Temple said. “It shows you that what Vivek said after the game wasn’t just talk, that we really want to step in and help the community with this problem.”
Temple, Vince Carter and former Kings player Doug Christie will also join community activists as part of an open forum at a church in south Sacramento on Friday night to discuss the situation and possible solutions.
“That’s what it’s all about, raising awareness,” Carter said after a recent game. “Regardless of this being a professional basketball game, the bigger picture and what really matters is what was going on outside and the reason they were out there.”
Temple has been one of the most outspoken Kings players since the protests began.
“When I was kid being able to listen to an NBA player or see an NBA player, your eyes light up and your ears open,” Temple said. “We have to use that influence that we have in a positive manner.”
The protests have been mostly non-violent. Beyond blocking traffic, the demonstrators have created a few problems for businesses in downtown Sacramento. They’ve come at a financial cost for the Kings, too.
Protesters have twice blocked entrances to Golden1 Center, forcing the arena into a lockdown mode. Only 2,400 fans made it inside for the March 22 game against the Atlanta Hawks. Three days later the demonstrators stayed away as the Kings hosted the Boston Celtics but they returned on March 27 when they took on the Dallas Mavericks and forced another lockdown of the arena and prevented all but 4,000 fans from entering.
For a team that has drawn an average crowd of 17,500 this season, the lost revenue from ticket sales alone is more than $1 million by conservative estimates after refunds were offered to those fans who didn’t get in. That doesn’t include lost income from concession stands and merchandise sales.
But Ranadive, the first person of Indian descent to own an NBA franchise, said after the Hawks game, “We stand here before you, old, young, black, white, brown, and we are all united in our commitment.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr watched Ranadive’s speech on television in awe. He said, “I was very proud of the way the Kings handled it and the way the NBA handled it.”
Other players around the league who have played in Sacramento since the protests began expressed their concerns over the situation while praising the Kings for getting involved, including Harrison Barnes and Dirk Nowitzki of the Mavericks and Terry Rozier of the Celtics.
Former Kings players DeMarcus Cousins and Matt Barnes offered to pay for Clark’s funeral. Barnes, a Sacramento native who spent part of last season with the Kings, was also a pallbearer at the funeral and has organized a march prior to Saturday’s game against the Warriors.
“The beauty of the game is that we have this platform to be able to speak about these things and to be able to speak about police brutality, citizen-police relationships, disproportionate amount of African-Americans getting killed,” said Harrison Barnes, who spent his first four seasons playing in Oakland about 90 minutes south of Sacramento. “It’s important that we use that platform to talk about these things.
“Our hearts and condolences go out to the families of those of both sides that have been affected.”