NBA Playoffs: Kings fans enjoyed a mediocre game outside Golden 1

Business was steady at Downtown Commons, or DoCo, next to Golden 1 Center on Friday evening.

The scene was heavy for Kings fans watching the play-in tournament action, their beloved team’s season on the line against the New Orleans Pelicans. In bars and restaurants, the brews and emotions flowed. Fans shake their bells. Many wore royal jerseys of their favorite players. Some wore purple, team-colored hard hats, with expressions on their faces that this match would be a fight to the finish.

Supporters shouted at TV screens to cheer on their hoop heroes – everyone was sure their voices were being heard thousands of miles to the east in Louisiana.

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“They hear us telepathically,” says Melody Purifoy, who recorded the game with her friend Brittany Lewis at Sauced BBQ & Spirits. “They can hear us and feel us.”

The fans have done their part. They supported their boys, but the Pelicans proved to be too much once again. New Orleans won 105-98 to end the season ahead of the Kings, who went 0-6 against the Pelicans this season. New Orleans advanced to the NBA playoffs and will challenge the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder. The Kings are coming home now.

Lewis, who wore a De’Aaron Fox jersey and often reached for her bell to shake, said, “I’ve been a huge fan, since 1985 when the Kings came here, when I was born. I almost got kicked out of Golden 1 twice because I cheered too loud, called officials and went in.

“Normal die-hard stuff.”

Why be here? The scene, the moment, the works, fans said. The second best thing about attending the game was being surrounded by like-minded supporters just outside the Kings’ home venue.

“We wanted to be here to feel the atmosphere, to be with other Kings fans,” Lewis said.

Said Purifoy of her friend, “Oh, she’s a riot. She is a serious fan.”

At a nearby table, Kellie Haynes and her friend Julie Francisco watched the game on TNT. Both were dressed in royal robes. Haynes, a seventh-grade teacher in West Sacramento, wore her white “Feel the Roar” Kings shirt to school on Friday.

Teachers want to connect with students, right? There was plenty of that in her classroom this week, from eliminating the Golden State Warriors in a play-in game Tuesday night at Golden 1 to the do-or-die drama before tipoff.

“We talked about this in class,” Haynes said. “We have a lot of students who are Kings fans and some are Warriors fans, and we talked a little bit.”

Haynes has been a Kings fan for decades since the early 2000s when the Kings were championship contenders behind leading players like Vlade Divac, Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, Doug Christie and Mike Bibby.

“I love the team, but I have to be honest,” she said, “I wasn’t a fan during the bad years. I like the basics of the game, passing the ball. The Vlade teams had that, and this team has that.

Another table over, Ricky Merrill and his wife of two years, Brittany, were worried about the game. There was more to cheer in the first half and not so much in the final two quarters when New Orleans took control.

“Born and raised a Kings fan, since the old Arco Arena days,” he said. “We love the positivity here. But my wife wasn’t a Kings fan to begin with.”

She said, ‘Now I am. Now I’m obsessed.”

Chris Espera and his girlfriend, Jasmin Portillo, nervously nibbled on their meal and washed it down with beer. Espera said he’s been a Kings fan since 2001, so he’s seen the highlights of the playoff teams under coach Rick Adelman, to a 16-year playoff drought to last season’s playoff showing that ended in a loss of seven games against Golden State.

“It’s been a tough period,” Espera said. “The Warriors had their success with those championship teams and we had our downfall, so it was tough. To beat Golden State last night meant a lot. The success of last year’s playoffs brought the city together.

“We are still together, win or lose.”

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Joe Davidson has covered sports for The Sacramento Bee since 1988: preps, colleges, Kings and features. He is a 14-time winner of the California Prep Sports Writer Association. In 2021, he was honored with the CIF Distinguished Service Award. He is a member of the California Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Davidson competed in football and track at Oregon, and his legend never grew.