More than just basketball.
That phrase has become synonymous with Mayor Kevin Johnson's push to build a new Sacramento arena. But the expression took on added meaning this weekend when Sacramento Kings forward Donté Greene and a few friends brought the NBA, albeit unofficially, back to California's capital region.
"The fans requested it," said Greene following the Goon Squad Classic, a charity exhibition game he and his Circle of Success foundation helped organize and host Sunday evening. "So it was great that the guys that I asked could come out and donate their time to a great cause and just try and bring basketball back to Sacramento."
Following suit with most of the exhibitions played during the lockout, the contest, which took place at an approximately two-thirds-filled-to-capacity UC Davis Pavilion, was more style than substance. Greene's team, which featured rookie-to-be Jimmer Fredette, Jason Thompson and former teammate Spencer Hawes won 167-164 in overtime against a squad highlighted by Tyreke Evans, Isaiah Thomas, DeMarcus Cousins, Hassan Whiteside and Matt Barnes. But more important than the result was Greene and company's presence back in the community. Without the constraints of the NBA's tightly-guarded structure, they were more accessible than usual.
Case and point? Saturday morning, Greene along with Thompson tailgated with fans at the 58th Annual Causeway Classic between UC Davis and Sacramento State's football teams. And they did so with ease. The two wandered around the main parking lot of Hornets Stadium, mingling and chatting with fans. There were no security or bodyguards trailing their every move. Like normal people, they immersed themselves and genuinely enjoyed the college tailgating atmosphere.
"I can really appreciate (this) because when I went to college at Rider University we didn't have a football team," Thompson said after socializing and throwing footballs around with fans during Saturday's tailgate.
Sure they were trying to promote and sell tickets to Sunday's game, but nobody forced them to organize it in the first place. Greene and the players who participated chose to play for this region that nearly lost the NBA all together.
When rumors of relocation to Anaheim were confirmed last Spring, fans fought passionately to keep the Kings in Sacramento for one more season and finally gained some much needed momentum in the push for a new arena. But due to the league's labor impasse, that borrowed time remains untapped.
"Yeah it was great," said Fredette postgame before being mobbed by fans who crowded Hamilton Court for autographs and pictures of the Kings rookie-to-be. "It was great for us to be able to do that. Glad that there were a lot of fans that came out, obviously for a great cause.
"Donté did a great job with his foundation getting this thing put together," Fredette continued. "Got a lot of people in the stands and making some great money for charities."
Though unsanctioned, Fredette finally made his Sacramento debut after being drafted 10th overall by the Kings this summer. He and Thomas, a fellow rookie, have both been eagerly waiting to suit up in their first NBA game. Sunday's contest afforded the opportunity for Sacramento fans to get their first look at two of the Kings newest additions.
"I'm just patiently waiting for this lockout to be over," said Thomas, the former Washington Husky before tip-off. "But I'm excited to be having a game down here and showcase my skills in front of the Sacramento fans."
So say what you will about the Goon Squad Classic being just another meaningless exhibition in the midst of the league's work stoppage. For Kings fans, this was different. More than just basketball, it was a grand gesture by Greene and company that spoke volumes to a community battling to keep the NBA in town for good.
"The fans definitely support our team," Greene responded proudly after being asked what this game meant to Kings fans following last season's relocation saga. "They support everything about it. Losing or winning, they're still there. So I just want to thank them for coming out and supporting the game. It was a great time."