The Sacramento Kings finished the basketball season just as they did last year with 28 wins in 82 tries and a hard-fought loss at home. But even though the numbers look the same, the team -- and its fans -- say almost everything else has changed.
One change from last year? As the starting lineups were introduced, the fans stood and let out a healthy, optimistic cheer, not the desperate roar of fans who filled Sleep Train Arena a year ago as Sacramento fought to keep the Kings from moving to Seattle.
"Last year, it was pretty dead around here," says Kent Hohlfeld. He drove up from Stockton for the last game of the season.
"Now," he says, "It's certainly more different, it will be even more different if they actually get the new arena downtown built."
New flat screens throughout the concourse show artist renderings of the new building planned for Downtown Plaza.
Scott Moak is the team's public address announcer. He says Kings fans have regained their faith.
"A complete opposite experience would probably be understated. I mean, between our new ownership, the excitement of our fans and community and where we're headed," he says, "It's just a complete 180 and it's so exciting because this community deserves that."
Fans like Carol Dean say they are thrilled with the franchise's turnaround - both on and off the court."I think their future is great. I really do. And I'm really anxious to get that arena downtown."
Dennis and Carol Dean arrive early at Sleep Train Arena for an April 16 game. The Deans say they like the seats many would consider "nose bleed" and hope to secure similar seats at a new arena in downtown Sacramento.
Kings President Chris Granger says the team has improved despite the same number of wins from a year ago. He also says fan support has propelled the team into the higher echelon of the National Basketball Association.
"We led the league in attendance growth, we've sold more new full season tickets than anyone in the league, we've sold more new sponsorship dollars than anyone and as we look towards next year, we're already at or near the top in the league in new full season tickets and renewal rates. So, we feel good about where we are, but there's still much work to do."
Granger promises a continued drive to improve both off and on the court. The team will begin working out players next month ahead of June's NBA Draft.
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