Sacramento Kings fans were reminded of the glory days in Arco Arena last night with the retirement of Chris Webber's jersey. Number 4 was raised to the rafters as the former star himself stood watching, surrounded by friends, family, fans and former teammates; Vlade Divac, Doug Christie, Mateen Cleaves, Scott Pollard, and Bobby Jackson. The arena itself stood host to over 15,000 fans, an attendance number not often seen the past two seasons for this likely lottery bound team. While the current roster of youth and role players would end up loosing the game to the Utah Jazz, 111-107, the night truly belonged to C-Webb, and the memories he stirred up of the golden era of the Kings.
The Kings have been in Sacramento since the mid 80's and were always accepted by the fan base as the "love-able losers", a team never really destined to compete with the Lakers or Celtics or Bulls of the world for a national championship nor to be a major free agent draw for players with the superstar label. However, for a small market city with only one professional sports team, the Kings were the only game in town and Sacramento loved them nonetheless.
Then in the 1998-1999 season, the future outlook of the team turned with the arrival of C-Webb, Vlade, Jason Williams, and Peja Stojakovic and the coaching of Rick Adelman. The team suddenly became relevant in challenging for playoff success and the rest of the league began to take notice. With a system that was often called "the right way to play basketball", the Kings played a style of free flowing offense with lots of passing, high assist totals, back door cuts, triple digit scoring, 3 point bombers, and a level of teamwork that could only be described as fun to watch and play. They continued the excitement with the arrival of key players like Jackson, Christie, Mike Bibby, Gerald Wallace, Hedo Turkoglu and others in becoming a deep roster. No longer merely a playoff challenger, they were now potential championship contenders.
The fans attending last night's game came to remember and honor those golden years of the team. To celebrate the perennial All Star of those seasons, Chris Webber. The man who averaged a double-double in nearly every one of his years with the Kings. They came to touch a memory of a time when the Kings were exciting and thrilling. In a time where the current team is in a state of flux, their direction uncertain, and the return to the ranks of the league's bottom dwellers a reminder of the pre-Webber era, the fans came to touch the memory of those glory days. Days where their decades long dedication to a loosing team had finally paid off and they were rewarded with something entertaining and ultimately special.
Last night's honoring of Chris Webber was a way for the fans to reconnect with those emotions and memories. To touch in some small way how they felt during that first near-playoff win against the Jazz, the playoff shoot-outs against the Mavericks, the feud with the team from LA, and even the roller coaster ride of a conference finals against the Lakers where the Kings came the closest they ever would come to an NBA championship. It was a period of the franchise where it truly meant something to be a Kings fan, where even the rest of the world seemed to take notice of this small market team.
While every player on those teams will be remembered fondly, C-Webb was ultimately one of the few who will always stand out. He was the face of the franchise, the All-Star, the personality, the number 1 draft pick and power forward that was reluctant at first to come to Sacramento and then ended up changing the image of the franchise itself, exciting an entire fan base with the idea that winning for the Kings was indeed possible. So while the Kings did not win a championship during Chris Webber's tenure with the team, his presence provided the fans of Sacramento something they had never had since the team first relocated to Northern California, hope of success.
So for this, we thank Chris Webber, we honor his jersey number, we hold in our hearts those feelings we all shared during the great playoff runs. We value his contributions to the team during the seven years here and the excitement they provided for us. While many outsiders have criticized those Kings teams for never winning it all, or laying blame on Webber for not stepping up when it mattered, he always maintained that grin on his face and his positive contributions to the team. I know that that Kings team, and their playing the game the way it was meant to be played, is what drew me to the sport in the first place, and now it is something to which I am forever tied.