What The Kings Just Sacrificed

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On February 19, DeMarcus Cousins, a three-time All-Star with “Loyalty” tattooed on his body, reiterated that he wanted to play in Sacramento for his entire career. Later that day, owner Vivek Ranadive and general manager Vlade Divac decided to send the big man to New Orleans (mostly) in exchange for a rookie guard, who averages less than nine points per game and recently punched Cousins in the groin.

DeMarcus Cousins is 26. He currently averages 27.8 points, 10.7 rebounds and 4.9 assists. The two other players to do that are known by their first names: Wilt and Kareem.

The 2017 first round pick from the Pelicans is top-3 protected, denying the Kings access to the slots where franchise players usually land. And even then, the enviable-in-comparison Philadelphia 76ers can pick-swap if and when Sacramento gets a lower lottery pick than theirs.

As a final knife twist, the Kings threw beloved Israeli ray of sunshine, Omri Casspi, into the trade and brought back all-time bust Tyreke Evans, who got picked three slots ahead of Steph Curry and never topped his stat-stuffed Rookie of the Year season.

The trade looks bad now. Like legendarily bad. Like curse-a-team-for-100-years bad. And it’ll probably look worse if the Kings continue their luckless streak on draft day, where they’ve only ever snagged talent in Hassan Whiteside, who turned into a defensive behemoth for the Miami Heat, and Isaiah Thomas, who just made his first all-star team as a member of the second-best-in-the-East Celtics.

Every other pick has only flirted with their ceiling (Ben McLemore, Willie Cauley-Stein), provided ho-hum role-playing production (Jason Thompson, Casspi) or been an unmitigated disaster (Jimmer Fredette, Nik Stauskas, Thomas Robinson).

The team is currently among the most talentless in the league. The best healthy player is probably Darren Collison, a point guard who would be a sixth man at best on an actual contender. Coach Dave Joerger now has to flip a team of fringe playoff contenders into burn-it-down rebuilders—a job that, based off his scant playing time for rookies, might not be one he even wants. And Vlade vaporized his credibility with players, agents and executives when he did the thing he publicly and privately maintained he would not do.

The front office sacrificed a satisfyingly mediocre present for a hazy chance at title contention in the 2020s, but has shown no ability to create such a team.

With two owners, three general managers and six coaches over Cousins’s seven-year stint in Sacramento, the franchise has proven skittish towards sticking with any semblance of a plan, flambéing the consistency upon which great teams are built.

The only time the Kings had done remotely as well as this season was the Michael Malone era—the only other coach Cousins liked, who was fired while the center dealt with viral meningitis.

The Kings have been so consistently bad that Cousins, despite his warts, provided the one excuse to feel the new era’s signature emotion: pride. Sure, Sacramentans live in a small market, root for a consistently underperforming squad and allow a rotating cast of semi-qualifieds to run the franchise. BUT at least we had the most dynamic, dominant and downright fun center in the league. And now we don’t even have that.

My friend, Tyler, a cancer survivor, semi-ironically compared the feeling to when he first heard his diagnosis.

And perhaps that reflects an irrational devotion to a game-playing group of men who have little allegiance to Sacramento beyond their paycheck. But after mainlining some of the finest team basketball ever played straight into our core identity in the early 2000s, it’s not like Tyler, I or any of the other masochistic devotees to this dismal team have a choice.

Some small part of me sympathizes with Vlade and Vivek’s decision. It was either this, or extend a $200+ million contract to Cousins, essentially giving him carte blanche for the well-documented behavior that made him unattractive to a host of teams. They could have secured the lifetime services of one of the top 15 players in the league, but decided the price tag was too steep for the admittedly subpar results that Cousins has so far produced.

But to lay the Kings’ failures on DeMarcus’s shoulders is idiotic. His greatest supporting cast included Rudy Gay, a physical talent with a D-minus basketball IQ, and Rajon Rondo, who stat-chased in a one-year audition for his Chicago contract. Every other season, Boogie had been surrounded by shaky rookies, bargain bin veterans and full-blown scrubs.

And when you spend your entire pre-NBA career wrecking fools while playing for the best teams in the nation, that must be quite the adjustment.

Still, even in the most intense fever dreams, it’s doubtful a DeMarcus-led Kings would have gotten beyond the second round in the West. That doesn’t matter.

Sacramento will not contend for a title until LeBron returns to Mount Olympus and the Warriors stop employing Curry and Kevin Durant. For teams below the Pantheon, there’s only a few scraps of glory up for grabs. For the Kings this season, that meant a potential return to the playoffs for the first time in over a decade.

The Warriors would have consumed the Kings in an alligator death-roll. But the eighth seed still would have given a brief glimpse back into how wonderful it used to be, to be a Kings fan.

Imagine: Game 3. A sold-out Golden 1 Center clanging cowbells and pouring sonic adrenaline into the Kings as they face off against a Goliath they toppled earlier this season.

Imagine: Sacramentans screaming on national television about being the best—no matter how ludicrously unlikely the odds.

Imagine: DeMarcus Cousins with a grey-flecked beard, tearing up as number 15 raises into the rafters.

I would trade anything for that.

 

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What Kanye Can Learn From Taylor Swift

Kanye West and Taylor Swift were not destined to hate each other. It happened on accident.

When Kanye hopped onstage at the 2009 Video Music Awards, he didn’t go up there because he disliked Swift. He snatched the mic away from that virginal pop superstar because he thought his friend, Beyonce, should have won the “Best Female Video Award.”

To be fair, Kanye has a point. “You Belong with Me” is a cliche, safe, and unrealistic fantasy. We’re supposed believe that Taylor Swift, a radiant goddess, is this undesirable geek that the cool boy at school doesn’t notice because he’s too busy with the popular girls.

Let’s be real, Taylor Swift has never struggled to pull any dude. The video is emotional pandering to love-sick teenagers.

On the other hand,  Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” is, as Kanye put it, “one of the best videos of all time.” Beyonce sang an empowering ballad about feminine independence, and choreographed a legendary routine. Everybody knows how to do the looking-at-the-ringless-hand dance.

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So, imagine you’re Kanye. You’re looking exceptionally fresh in your new haircut and leather shirt. Your date is Amber Rose and you’ve been drinking a little. Then, one of your friends is robbed of an award you feel she deserves. Outraged, you hop onstage, and say something regrettable.

Everybody is dumb when they’re drunk, Kanye was just dumb on national television. It was a bad idea, but his intent wasn’t to hurt feelings. He just wanted to ride for Beyonce, and choose the worst possible way of going about that.

But, we overreacted. It was a VMA. All awards are mostly meaningless, but the VMAs may be the most meaningless. It’s not like he snatched a Nobel Peace Prize out of Taylor’s hand and said Vladimir Putin should have won.

So, it was about time that Swift and West moved past their insignificant beef. Last week, following their chumminess at the Grammys, they went out to dinner before hitting the recording studio. By all accounts, it was a lovely outing that shoveled a few more feet of dirt on their hatchet.

For Kanye, the peace-making move fits his recent strategy. As of late, Kanye has made a strong shift towards making his version of pop music. “Only One” is a ballad so tender that its hard to believe it’s Kanye’s first release after Yeezus. “FourFiveSeconds” is so infectious that we should quarantine anyone with the song stuck in their head.

He’s collaborated with Paul McCartney and Rhianna, two of pop’s biggest stars, but T-Swift is a rare brand of entertainer.

Remember when she was a country singer?

It seems forever ago, but Swift twanged with the best of ’em before she started making bolder choices that put her at the apex of pop. She transcended country into a new style that doesn’t fit in any box.

This is exactly what Kanye is trying to accomplish, but with hip-hop.

Kanye has 7 huge hip-hop albums, that said, he saw what happened to Jay-Z, who stuck around for too long. Hova’s latest work is wack because hip-hop is still a young man’s game.

Kanye does not want his career to gradually extinguish. He wants to pour gasoline on his stardom. His dabbling in pop shows he wants to be bigger than hip-hop. Heck, his fashion foray shows he wants to be bigger than music.

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In interviews, Kanye routinely compares himself to Andy Warhol and Steve Jobs, icons that shifted the culture with their mass-marketed products, and we’ve mocked him for this self-conception.

But, who is the defining person of this era?

At the moment, we don’t have a revelatory genius whose work we hang on with baited breath. If Kanye isn’t already in the company of Warhol and Jobs, he may have the best shot among the living to reach that plateau.

But, he’s not there yet. If Kanye wants this immortality, he needs to broaden his audience. And, there’s no riper crop of fans than those devoted to the woman he never did let finish.

The Slow, Hot Death of Kevin Garnett’s Career

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Last night, Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard got tangled up. After they unknotted, Garnett gave Howard a little shove and Howard responded with his biggest mistake of the new year, a half-hearted counter slap.

In that brief moment of absentminded decision-making, Howard broke a code of conduct that has endured in this league for almost two decades: Don’t F*ck with KG.

After the slap, Garnett paused a moment to process the unthinkable disrespect Howard had just shown him, then KG hit him back, threw the ball, and head-butted him in the jaw.

Garnett responded with such ferocity beacuse it has been a long, long time since anyone tested the NBA’s resident cannibal. He took down Howard like Vito Corleone snapped at Sunny during the meeting with the Turk.

The message was clear: KG may be old, but he will still try to break your face with his head on television if you test him.

KG used to be a perennial top five player in the league. From ’98 to ’07, KG averaged 20 points and 10 boards a game. He’s been an All-Star 15 times and First Team All-Defense 9 times. He won MVP in 2004 and a championship in 2008.

Along with Dirk, KG started the trend of nimble, mid-range-jumper-stroking power forwards in the NBA. His ability to step out and hit shots, bolstered by his quickness in the paint made the plodding, back-to-the-basket power forwards of NBA’s past obsolete.

His unique, borderline unguardable offensive skill set was complimented by his manic defense. Prowling the floor with purpose, Garnett’s condor wingspan and panther mentality made him the most intense defender we’ve seen in some time.

He was so talented and so ferocious that he poured concrete into the holes of any spongey defense. His individual play was always stellar, but it was his cult leader motivational skills that made career slackers move a step quicker when they were on his team.

We won’t ever get another KG. He looks like a Frankenstein monster of basketball perfection. He’s seven feet tall, weighs 250 lbs, and moves like an alpha antelope. Had he been born in an earlier time, he would have kicked Achilles’ ass; people would have written myths about him. But, he was born 38 years ago, and he’ll have to settle for being a legendary basketball player.

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This season, we’ve seen the cosmic implosion of Kobe Bryant’s career, but KG’s end has been less spectacular. As his unparalleled athleticism faded, so too has his dominance. In comparison to Kobe’s mushroom cloud, KG has diminished like a roaring fire turning into coals. Most of his power is gone and all that’s left is the heat.

KG’s molten competitive rage used to terrify opponents in his prime. Now, that same spirit comes off as a faded star’s desperate attempt to keep up with a league that has left him behind.

Kobe’s end is a tragicomedy of delusion, but KG’s is a realization of mortality. The 20 and 10s have turned into 7 and 7s. In his twilight years, we have grimaced when KG struggles to complete what used to be routine. He still looks the same– the impeccable statuesque frame topped by his bald head and long-faced, Jafar features– but he’s a husk of himself. Watching this demi-god crumble is a sobering reminder of time’s lack of compassion.

After KG landed his sweaty head butt, he steamed with fury as he was restrained by all those looking to prevent a homicide. He closed his eyes, exhaled some vapor, and ran his fingers through his non-existent hair. He begged to finish Dwight, but that’s not what he really wanted.

Ten years ago, nobody would have pulled what Dwight did last night because KG would have eaten his organs. But, Garnett no longer puts the fear of God into opponents like he once did. The toothless barking at Dwight made KG look like Uncle Rico throwing footballs in the middle of a wheat field. He looked like a man pining for a time long passed.

If Nobody Else Loves You, Sacramento Will

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Since their blistering 5-1 start, the Sacramento Kings have cooled to the tune of 6-5. But, if there has ever been a young, unproven team that deserves unconditional love, it is this one. They are no longer a sulking, amorphous mass of isolation basketball, rather they are a collection of the spare parts of the league that nobody else wanted, that somehow, has become decently entertaining to watch.

The “everybody is against us” trope is as old as when Og got Ugh and Oogh psyched for their big game of CaveBall against the rather imposing rival village in 10,000 B.C., but for the Sacramento Kings, the cliche is true.

Demarcus Cousins

Boogie Cousins is the unquestioned leader, spirit animal, and cornerstone of the Sacramento Franchise, but it took him a while to ripen into the burgeoning star he is now. During the 2010 draft, questions stuck to him about his maturity that he is just now resolving finally. These questions dropped him into Sacramento’s welcoming arms at the number five pick. But, Demarcus has been a handful these past couple of years.

He butted heads with Paul Westphal, yelled at Sean Elliot, and lead the league in technical fouls. Everyone was fixing to write off Big Cuz as an intriguing talent that never got his act together.

But could you blame him? Cousins has a passion for basketball like Guy Fieri has a passion for fat-filled fusion food. Testifying to this, there’s a new stat called the Boogie Board for how many times a player fights off foes to successfully put back his own shot, and Cousins leads the league.

His burning desire for winning was stifled by the tire fire that was the rest of the team. If you ever need a reason to vomit, just look at some Kings rosters from the past few seasons and you’ll have all the motivation you need.

Demarcus’s outbursts were not the actions of a deranged lunatic with a basketball body, they were the desperate cries for help from a man that only wanted to compete.

But then, Boogie started to channel that passion. The new owner committed to Cousins with a plump extension. He feasted on opponents in the low post and was a critical member of Team USA.

The stage was set for his coming out party and he has not disappointed, throwing up a nasty 18-10 stat line for the beginning of the season. Boogie has finally become the player that the Sacramento faithful fantasized about when he was first added to the squad. It is easy to see how this step forward took place as for the first time in his career Big Cuz has a complimentary second banana in…

Rudy Gay

In the the last half decade, Rudy Gay dropped from a borderline all-star to the lightning rod of mockery for the analytics crowd. Rudy was regarded around the league like he had leprosy. But, the truth is he just got put in a tight spot.

Rudy’s major crime was his massive contract that will pay him around 19 million this season. With such a hefty price tag, Rudy was expected to play at a superstar level. Only one problem, Rudy Gay is absurdly good at basketball, but he’s no superstar.

Frustrated, the Grizzlies sent him to Toronto. With the pressure of his contract, Rudy tried to do too much and captained the Raptors to misery. He jacked way too many contested midrange jumpers that he didn’t make. He didn’t pass enough. He played porous defense.

But, it wasn’t his fault. He was blamed for failing to perform up to our false expectations for a position that he never should have occupied in the first place, kinda like George W. Bush.

The Raptors became desperate to unload him, and the Kings tossed four rotation cogs their way in exchange for a player who had once subjectively belonged among the top-five small forwards in the league. His contract was shudder-worthy, but Sacramento recognized that potentially great players do not fall to them often. The new GM, Pete D’Alessandro committed to taking on good players with bad contracts in the hope that maligned players would turn things around and accept a more reasonable salary.

And that is exactly what has happened. Rudy signed a modest extension and has been throwing up 21 ppg at a solid 44% shooting percentage. He rarely forces shots. He uses his condor wingspan to drop in the most buttery finger rolls in the league. He has reinvented himself from an overmatched top option to a potent beta dog that gives the Kings some necessary star power to navigate the thick unforgiving death jungle that is the Western Conference.

Darren Collison

The Kings’ starting point guard stayed plenty cool over the summer with the tremendous amount of shade that was thrown his way. When Isaiah Thomas left the Kings, critics believed it was another example of #JustKingsThings. The talking heads thought Sacramento had yet again sabotaged itself into staying at the bottom of the Pacific Division.

The critics did have a point. Collison had never proven himself at the professional level as he struggled in stints with Indiana, and Dallas. He’s only shined as Chris Paul’s back-up in New Orleans and Los Angeles. He hadn’t shown he could replace Thomas’s 20 ppg.

But, the Kings didn’t need scoring. Isaiah had captained the squad into mediocrity with his unwillingness to feed our main scorers. The Kings needed someone to initiate and facilitate on offense, and frustrate on defense. Collison has done both marvelously. He may be a slightly worse player than Isaiah, but he has allowed the Kings to gel into a state of cohesion not seen in years.

The Rest of the Team

Ben McLemore was labeled a bust in a historically weak draft, but he has gotten his act together by knocking down a few clutch buckets this season and generally looking more like a competent basketball player. He has still only cooked off the surface level of rawness, but he is stupid athletic and may be the heir to the Ray Allen throne of most gorgeous jump shot in the league.

Jason Thompson, the starting power forward, has been wildly inconsistent his entire career, but in his sixth year, he has developed into an acceptable defensive foil for Demarcus.

Carl Landry has become a solid second-rotation scorer after last season was marred with injury. Ray McCallum parlayed a late second round draft pick into the Summer League MVP trophy and a spot in the rotation.

Derrick Williams has become an energetic role player in the process of slowly shaking off his mega-bust status. Reggie Evans is devouring rebounds and throwing his weight around. Nik Stauskas is a promising work in progress, and Ramon Sessions has found some semblance of a home in California’s capital.

Team History

The Kings have built their team in a way that defies convention, but that’s the way they’ve always done it. The turn-of-the-century Kings were comprised of wild-card Jason Williams, unwilling Chris Webber, and over-the-hill Vlade Divac. They take the league’s leftovers and turn them into a surprisingly palatable entree.

Sacramento is not a free-agent destination like Miami, LA, or NYC. Risks must be taken  to get decent players because most times players won’t come unless they’re drafted or desperate. But, once the players arrive, it’s hard to leave.

Sacramento may not be the most glorious city, but it’s still in California. The weather is delightful 90% of the time, the sun frequently smiles upon the valley and it’s a hop-skip-and-a-jump from some of the freshest, finest food in the world.

Plus, absolutely nothing else commands the attention of Sacramentans during basketball season. They don’t have any other professional teams. They don’t have a rollicking night life. They don’t have an uber-vibrant culture scene, but boy do they ever give a damn about the fellas in purple.

The fans set the world record for loudest indoor stadium roar. They cry when the team is about to leave. They revere a woman who makes signs.

Sacramento may not be the sexiest city in the league, but they’re content to be the back-up plan. When other cities chew up and spit out stars, Sacramento coddles them back to their full potential and this unwavering devotion makes players forget they’re playing in a “cowtown.”

The lovefest is a bit premature as the Kings are still a piece or two away from true contention. But, to any maligned stars out there –*cough* Josh Smith *cough* Rajon Rondo *cough*- if no one else loves you, Sacramento will.

What It’s Like to Be A Kings Fan

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I volunteer in a Kindergarten class. Occasionally, we do basic math problems like adding single digit numbers together. One of my favorite kids in the class, Aamed, is really bright, but on this particular day he could not figure out how to do this type of math problem.

He was just staring at the problem, getting angry at himself for not knowing it. His frustration increased when he saw the other students around him zooming through the project. I felt so sorry for the little fella, because I knew how smart he was because he had shown it in the past, but at this moment, he just couldn’t get it.

He squinted at the problem, scrutinizing it, then finally something clicked. His face beamed from the inside. The cloud of frustration evaporated and his bright eyes returned. He got it. He started zipping through the problems and was again just as good as his classmates.

This experience is exactly what it’s been like to be a Sacramento Kings fan for the past decade. The Kings became my favorite team in the league during the turn of the 21th century, when I still wore velcro shoes. Their potent blend of no-look passes, deep threes, and breakaway jams was basketball heroin.

But then, they hit a wall. When Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers defeated the Kings in 2002 under dubious officiating, the Kings dropped off faster than Cuba Gooding Jr.’s career.

In 2003, Chris Webber shredded his knee cartilage in a playoff series against the Mavericks. He would never be the same. The year after, Vlade Divac signed with the Lakers and Doug Christie got traded to the Magic. Then, the Kings swapped Peja Stojakovic for Ron Artest and in their final self-destructive move, they fired Rick Adelman, the coach who had presided over the glory years, for Eric Mussellman, a coach who would almost immediately get a DUI.

From there, things rapidly spiraled out of control. Our owners, the Maloofs, had been hit hard by the recession and were running the Kings like a thrift store, only spending paltry sums of money on players nobody else wanted. The team became atrocious as the Maloofs cared more about turning a profit than winning.

For years we relied on the unimpressive likes of Kevin Martin and Brad Miller to lead the the team. Beno Udrih played starting point guard.

But the ultimate poster child for the Kings’ incompetency is John Salmons. When we first traded for him, he sucked so much, we unloaded him and Brad Miller for such studs like Andres Nocioni and Drew Gooden.

Then a few years later, we made a draft day deal. We traded our seventh pick for Jimmer Fredette and, you guessed it, JOHN SALMONS. We could have selected Kemba Walker with that seventh pick, but instead we drafted a marketing campaign and an older version of a player we already knew was terrible. Instead of trying to win, the Maloofs squeezed every penny out of this franchise.

For years the Maloof’s cheapskate ownership doomed the Kings to the cellar of the stacked Western Conference.

Then, we thought we had fallen ass-backwards into a superstar with Tyreke Evans who won Rookie of the Year while carrying an atrocious team to 25 wins. But, it appeared that season was simply a case of a good player putting up great stats on a horrible team.

Then, we drafted the mercurial, but exceptional center Demarcus Cousins. Cousins and Tyreke were both ball-dominant players and fit awkwardly together. We had another surprise in the relevant Mr. Irrelevant, Isaiah Thomas, but his score-first mentality only complicated matters.

The Kings were a talented, but ill-fitting team that never got its act together. The only attention we got on national television was mockery.

As if our putrid play wasn’t bad enough, fans had to fight tooth and nail to keep this awful team in Sacramento. We were constantly on the verge of being sold to Anaheim or Las Vegas, or Seattle.

At the end of what could have been the last season in Sacramento, the long-tenured sportscasters Grant Napear and Jerry Reynolds signed off uncertain of the team’s future. They were surrounded by fans who stayed long after the final horn, begging the team to stay put.

Soon, the gathered fans started chanting the names of the men who have called every broadcast for over a decade. These are two men that I have heard speak more than any other people on this planet outside of my immediate family.

Grant and Jerry couldn’t help but stumble off the air. Their eyes pregnant and throats choked with tears, Grant draped his arm over Jerry’s slumped shoulders, as cowbells rang in the background.

Cowbells became a symbol of Sacramento after Phil Jackson called the capital of the state a “cowtown.” Instead of recoiling in embarrassment, we embraced the image. We weren’t a big city. We couldn’t afford the best players. But, goddammit we were gonna try our best and make a bunch of noise doing it.

That night, the cowbells clanged because we felt we had been robbed. We had been treated to some of the finest basketball the league had ever seen and through a combination of bad luck, poor ownership, and baffling decision-making, we watched the league leave us behind and laugh at us.

Aamed’s frustrated struggle reminded me of what it is what like to watch the Kings get worse and worse in a league that got better and better. Our former glory had withered under the stingy care of the Maloofs. Fans felt the same frustration as the players leaving the court in defeat night after night. Together we thought, “We deserve better than this.”

And then, a tiny, tech-money angel dropped into our lap in the form of Vivek Ranadive. Not only did he keep the Kings in town, but he helped us build a new arena to replace the decrepit “Sleep Train Arena,” which is literally named after a MATTRESS STORE. He locked down Demarcus Cousins immediately and made hard decisions letting Evans and Thomas go as they didn’t fit alongside our cornerstone big man.

Then he splurged and brought aboard Carl Landry and Rudy Gay for above-market value, a move the Maloofs wouldn’t have made in a million years. He took a chance on Darren Collision, drafted Ben McLemore and Nic Stauskas, and brought back Omer Casspi, PhD of Chemistry. We committed to Jason Thompson, Derrick Williams, and Ramon Sessions: all players who had been ignored. Nobody in the entire league knew what the hell we were doing.

But then, the bright eyes returned to our team. The sulking and finger-pointing of the past decade was replaced by team celebrations and daps. Our offense no longer produced fadeaway mid-range jumpers at the end of the shot clock. We moved the ball until we get open looks. We didn’t blame each other on defense, we helped.

The last few seasons, the Kings have played basketball like they were Michael Jordan enslaved at an Alien Amusement park. These new Kings play like the 16 seed that just made it into the second round.

For the first time in over a decade, We’re 5-1. I’m cautiously optimistic as my attitude for years has been “Never count the Kings in.” But this year, I can’t help but be hopeful.

On Friday night, Demarcus Cousins fouled out of the game on a questionable “illegal screen” call. Young Cousins would have erupted at the referee and earned an ejection. But the score was 99-99 with less than a minute remaining. An ejection would have doomed the team. So after his initial surprise, Big Cuz trudged back to the bench, accepting his fate.

Coach Mike Malone had other ideas. He stormed onto the court swearing at the referee. But, Demarcus ran out to restrain our coach. The player who the media has ceaselessly beaten with accusations of immaturity came and grabbed his coach so the Kings wouldn’t lose the game as a result of a technical foul.

The Kings would win the game in double overtime as Rudy Gay and Ben McClemore stepped up to sink clutch shots. The winning play was about twenty seconds of stifling defense against the electric Phoenix Suns offense. From Demarcus to teamwork to defense, Friday’s game ended in actions I hadn’t seen in years.

Maybe the Kings have broken most of their bad habits and are playing like the Kings of old. Maybe they’ll rebecome the team I used to beg my parents to let me stay up and watch.

But maybe, just maybe, they’ll be better.

The turn-of-the-century Kings always crumbled in the worst situations. We let officiating and dirty tactics defocus us in the most crucial moments. The 2002 Kings were unraveled by a game that was legally proven to have been fixed by the referees. But on Friday, in a fitting turn of symbolism, the Kings won despite poor officiating.

The Kings had a call go against them at the absolute worst time. We could have rolled over with the excuse that the officials had screwed us out of another game, but we didn’t. We won anyway. I couldn’t help but feel that some of the demons from that 2002 series were being exorcised.

I know it’s early. I know I should be cautious. But this is the first time the Kings might be good in over a decade, and I can’t help but get excited.

I can’t help but think we’re finally, finally, FINALLY, getting it together.

San Francisco’s First Annual Culture Clash

DigitalEFlyer for announce 4x5V2Last week, the sprung hardwood floors of the Regency Ballroom bounced with bass. At Red Bull’s first annual San Francisco Culture Clash, four music collectives of varying electronic music stylings competed for the affections of fans.

Underneath the ornate, baroque ceilings and antique glass chandeliers, each group laid claim to one corner of the ballroom and took turns rocking the audience.

The Culture Clash was hosted by Bay Area Hip-Hop Radio legend Sway Calloway and featured the stylings of four internationally recognized, but S.F. based artists: Dirtybird, Triple Threat Djs, Tormenta Tropicana, and Dub Mission.

Audience approval was decided by a questionably accurate “decibel meter.” Whistles, vuvuzelas, and air horns were dispersed throughout the audience and combined with the custom sound systems of each group, the effect was deafening.

Competition was fierce as disses and response tracks were as Red Bull put it, “explicitly encouraged.” In order to win the competition, groups pulled stunts, brought out special guests, and roused the crowd like Pentecostal preachers. The event was divided into four rounds, giving each group ample time to showcase their prowess on the 1s and 2s.

With the rules set, the event commenced.

Dub Mission, a reggae-infused collective, juxtaposed heavy baselines, with an exuberantly charismatic, leather-vest-clad, megaphone-toting-front man, and a live three horn accompaniment. Their finest moment came with a live sampling of the sumptuous horns from Outkast’s slow jam tour-de-force “Spottieottiedopalicious,” placed over a meandering reggae beat.

Appealing to the Bay Area affiliation of the crowd, they brought out local legends, Luniz, for a rendition of their classic hit, “I Got 5 On It,” which sent the crowd boogieing down memory lane.

Tormenta Tropical was pure energy. Their style was a trifle commonplace with only a sprinkling of Island flair to separate them from swarming hordes of electronic artists, but they brought unparalleled personality.

Among their ranks was: an unsmiling twerker with no inhibitions towards headstands, an exceptionally sassy blue haired diva, a hype man with five gold chains clad in a Louis Vuitton leather jacket, and an intensely muscular Jamaican singer with a strangely high-pitched voice.

Their shining moment came when they tossed fried chicken from buckets labeled “Dirtybird” into the crowd to a bombastic styling of “I Like to Move It, Move It.”

These two collectives were wonderful side dishes to the sonic feast of the event, but the dual entree from the get-go was Triple Threat Djs and Dirtybird.

Triple Threat Djs were as their name suggests, three Djs with a classic education of the turntables. As Leon from Curb Your Enthusiasm would say, “they brought the ruckus.” Backed by a large contingent of towel-waving fanatics, they slammed the crowd with juicy baselines.

In one round, a sneering, unsympathetic front man scowled at every other group as the Triple Threat absolutely banged the other collectives’ styles with the confidence of Bobby Flay challenging a local chef at a dish they spent their entire lives to perfect.

They entranced the crowd with their bravado and twisted hits like “Trophies” and “Move B*tch” in their appeal for the championship.

However, in the humble opinion of yours truly, the most impressive collective was unquestionably Dirtybird. Captained by a bearded Buddha, they welcomed us to the Dirtybird BBQ with a hairy-midriff-bearing, red-and-blue-striped-suit-wearing chef who tossed wrapped burgers into the crowd. Then, after blue jay and owl mascots danced on stage, things got starry quickly.

They brought out Too $hort to conduct the crowd with his mega-hit “Blow the Whistle.” Next, super-trio Major Lazer (Diplo’s Collective) apparated and dropped their omnipresent, super-salsa horn sampling “Watch Out for This,” which sent the gathered into hysterics.

Then, before their final performance, Dirtybird announced, “We have a very special guest.” Like mythic gods, the gold and silver helmets of Daft Punk emerged from the delicious fog that hung in the air and played “Get Lucky.” The collective hive mind of the audience was lost.

Suspiciously, the legendary French duo exited after the song, leading many to believe that this was a case of costumed stage hands rather than an ultra-rare performance by the elusive pioneers.

Potential trickery aside, when Dirtybird concluded their final set, they were met with chants of their name reverberating off the walls of the hallowed ballroom. They appeared to be the favorite.

Speaking over the deafening chants, whistles, and buzz of  vuvuzelas, Sway reemerged to announce the winner. In a surprise upset, Triple Threat took the first annual title and celebrated by snapping an onstage selfie with the trophy. Triple Threat provided a rumbling outro for the event as the sweaty and satisfied crowed filed out into the warm San Francisco night.

On my way out, I spotted a white-haired woman who had at least a couple decades on the rest of the audience. She was the mother-in-law of Dub Mission’s female turntable savant. Surprised to see her demographic, I asked if she had ever been to a show like this before. With a twinkle in her eyes, she said, “Not since the sixties.”

Only Rich Countries Should Host the World Cup

World Cup

The World Cup is the greatest sporting event in the world. Every four years, each earthling makes the small migration to the nearest television to watch the newest crop of soccer stars square off against each other. It is terrific because everyone decides to care about this epic tournament and that level of unity is usually reserved for World Wars. It is conversation common ground for the entire planet.

The dazzling speed, improvised collaboration, and burning passion of soccer players reaches new heights every four years. There may be more super-clubs in the LigaBBVA or the Barclays Premier League, but the World Cup offers each nation at least a puncher’s chance to compete. Each match is important because even less storied nations can tap into some upset magic on the world’s biggest stage.

It’s an unpredictable drama. In the last cup, who could forget Spain’s surprise early exit, James Rodriguez’s rocket to stardom, or Germany’s systematic dismantling of BrazilThe World Cup combines sublime talent, classic moments, and all the world’s cultures to create this perfect sporting extravaganza. It’s the best.  

However, the one problem with the World Cup is that it is tremendously expensive. The last World Cup cost Brazil a tidy 14 billion dollars to build the necessary stadiums and infrastructure to host the event. That’s roughly the entire GDP of Cambodia.

For a country like Brazil with such a high level of civil unrest, poverty, and corruption, it seems that 14 billion dollars could have been better spent on social services, hospitals, and schools instead of a month-long event. There should not be multibillion dollar stadiums within walking distance of slums.

Even worse, these newly crafted stadiums are now almost entirely useless as there are few other occasions that need to house such crowds of people. Although Brazil did a wonderful job of hosting the Cup, the thought of billions wasted on useless stadiums while millions suffer is enough to make anyone a bit uncomfortable.

The World Cup is unquestionably wonderful, but it should not mortgage the future of its host nation. Brazil as wonderful as it is, was not fit to host that last World Cup. It should not have forced its people to choose between the game they love, and their own livelihood.

FIFA recently removed hosting responsibilities from Qatar for the 2022 Cup after nauseating reports surfaced. First, hosting priveleges were essentially bought by Qatari billionaire Mohamed bin Hammam’s well-placed bribes to FIFA officials. Additionally, the stadiums were being built like the Egyptians built the Pyramids, with slave labor and plenty of death. It’s the type of situation we like to imagine no longer exists.

Not to mention, that all this atrociousness was for a World Cup in a sweltering desert country that would have no use for the massive stadiums after the epic tournament as the total population of Qatar is only 2 million or roughly the same as New Mexico. It was a short-sighted, highly suspicious place to host the Cup, but not particularly surprising as FIFA has proved itself more corrupt than Boss Tweed.

FIFA officials obviously need to be less nefarious, but also choose countries that make sense to host the Cup. The World Cup should only be hosted in nations that can absorb the tremendous impact of the event. We need to put it in countries that have proved they are capable of hosting matches of this scale like England, America, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, or any other nation with at least some existing infrastructure to handle the Cup.

As much pride as hosting the World Cup can bring to a nation, it is not fair to put that responsibility on a country that has to sabotage itself to host it.

In 2018, Russia hosts the World Cup and should do fine as their massive GDP can absorb the cost of the tournament and their legendarily large population can find some use for the stadiums after the final whistle is blown. FIFA should choose a similarly situated nation for 2022.

The World Cup is humanity’s greatest party, but even the best party can be ruined by the wrong host.