Sheikh: Light the beam
Isa Sheikh | Monday, May 1, 2023
“When you go traveling to visit cities, do you ever go to Sacramento? Is that ever on your bucket list?”
That’s a joke made by London Breed, San Francisco’s mayor, on an NBC Sports broadcast ahead of Game 6 in the Kings-Warriors round one playoff series, as she confidently predicted the round would end that night. It didn’t, as the Kings forced a game seven, winning in such an impressive feat that I honestly thought this Sports Authority would feature a good deal of Breed-esque gloating and far less eulogizing.
But here we are. All through the series, I’ve texted my favorite teacher from high school each game. “Super sad and a horrible way to end the season,” he texted tonight in response to my simple frowny face. And while darkness seems like an easy resort at the moment, there are often alternative options.
Sacramento has long been a joke in the minds of outsiders, as evidenced by Breed’s josh. But so have the Kings. After amassing the most consecutive losses in NBA history over the past two decades, the team’s literally been relegated to a Saturday Night Live punchline. “We live in cities you’ll never see on screen / Not very pretty, but we sure know how to run things,” Lorde sings on “Team.” And when I hear it, I think of the anachronistic quiet beauty of our city, those bends I’ve known my whole life and yes, those washed-out Kings murals.
But something in the air of Golden 1 Center changed this year, in a season that earned the Kings a new style of attention, winning Coach of the Year and Clutch Player of the Year.
They entered the playoffs ranked third in the western conference, which is still astonishing to type out.
After a 16-year playoff drought, our team pulled through and gave the reigning champions a run for their money. And while all credit goes to the incredible team, the phenomenon of a Kings fandom taking its first sip of success after being parched for most of my life is something else. The city that fought to the death a decade ago to prevent losing its team, that is told endlessly that it’s on no one’s bucket list, reawoke in the image of a bright purple beam that shot from the center of the city up to the heavens. The “light the beam” mantra was a new innovation, courtesy of the team’s owner, a stroke-of-genius piece of marketing that added something to represent the new moment.
There was immense drama in the seven games we watched at the edge of our seats, from Domantas Sabonis being stomped on the chest by Draymond Green or elbowed in the eye, or the thrill of watching Stephen Curry miss two consecutive free throws. When Kings fans took the 90 minute drive to go watch away games and learned that Chase Center did not allow the team’s classic cowbells, they pulled out their phones with the team’s app, loaded with a virtual cowbell. The sense of an underdog on the rise was contagious, hard to shake off from the sports movies we’ve been programmed by our entire lives. At moments, glory felt inevitable. And perhaps, despite the loss today, the sea change this season was itself glorious.
Last semester, I sat in my dorm room without the sufficient channels to watch Kings games but watching their progress on my Twitter feed. I wanted few things more than to return to downtown Sacramento, to see the beam in the sky from miles away as we drove away in the valley’s flat landscape. I found some cheap tickets for the day I was set to return and excitedly bought some to take my siblings. Unfortunately, my case of not-like-other-girls syndrome led me to once again buy a train ticket across the country, and delay after delay made it so that I was still stuck in Nevada as the game was set to begin. I called my siblings an Uber in a moment of fleeting cell service and resigned myself to the less-than-pleasant meal they served us.
And then, another miracle came down and I was in Sacramento with time still left in the game. After frantically negotiating with a hotel clerk to watch my luggage, I ran up the stairs of the stadium, surprising my siblings in their seats way up, high above the court. Even the cheap seats at this largely insignificant game were packed, the room electric. Last time I had been up there, on the night before I took the SAT, courtesy of free tickets I had gotten from work, those seats were largely empty. Both of those nights were nonetheless unforgettable, watching Chick-Fil-A packages float down from the rafters and the fireworks on the court, the faces I still remember from the Jumbotron and the absurdity of a Kings halftime.
I’ve been accused of being a bandwagoner, and it’s probably true. I’ve never been a huge sports fan of any sort to be perfectly honest. But perhaps it’s because the Kings gave Sacramentans — even those like myself who grew up in Dubs city — something big to be excited about. Something really big; as we know well in California, the end of a drought is nothing to laugh at. At the game I chose to attend instead of last-minute cramming for the most stressful test I’d ever taken, the unbridled joy we felt as a city taught me something else, something I can’t quite put into words. Perhaps the consumerist, saccharine sports slogans I’ve always mocked have an answer here. More cowbell. Beam Team Forever.