"It's wild," says Charles Barkley of the 76ers, who in mid-thunder dunk seems barely to fit in the place. "The fans are right on top of you, and they are screaming. It got me pumped and made me want to fly." Concludes Theus: "The energy level is so high, sometimes you wonder, 'Why are they cheering?' "
Kings fans are also unique in their habit of frantically waving at enemy foul shooters from beyond the basket, even if that basket happens to be at the other end of the floor, behind the man at the foul line. But all the apparent naivet� has only made the Kings more determined. "Our fans aren't dumb, they're just excited," says rookie center Joe Kleine.
And they have good reason to be. Under coach Phil Johnson, this season's Kings have evolved from a gang of no D jump shooters into a team with enough hustle and offensive punch to give everyone trouble. Since Johnson decided in late December to start Mike Woodson and Terry Tyler in place of Larry Drew and Eddie Johnson, Sacramento has allowed an average of seven fewer points a game. And Eddie Johnson has responded by becoming a potent sixth man, averaging 18.5 points and 28.5 minutes in the last 42 games. Theus has distinguished himself at point guard, veteran power forward Mark Olberding combines court sense with a desire to bang under the boards, and center LaSalle Thompson grabs 10 rebounds a game. Says Kelley, "We've developed a nice little blend."
That blend was good enough to beat the Boston Celtics on Feb. 11, an occasion on which Sacramento fans gave Larry Bird a minute-long standing ovation. They then made even more noise when he went to the line for two free throws with 31 seconds left and the Kings up by two. Not being used to all those fans waving behind him, Bird missed both shots, and the Kings won by five.
"This year in Sacramento was the best feeling I've ever got since I've been in the league," said Bird afterward. "Their fans are not vulgar and abusive. They're more oriented to watching a good game."
Luckily for the six-man group of Sacramento businessmen who bought the Kings for $10.5 million, a lot of people have been turning out to do just that. The popularity of the Kings has been the political wedge the developers needed to have 12 square miles of agricultural land around the Arco Arena rezoned. Construction plans call for a $4 billion office park and residential development that would also include a 65,000-seat stadium intended to lure major league baseball and the NFL. All this without a cent of tax money for construction, Walter O'Malley-style. "We see ourselves as mini-Dodgers right now," says Gregg Lukenbill, managing partner of the Kings. "As far as supporting major league teams, Sacramento will prove to be the greatest sports town in America."
While not going quite that far, the once skeptical Theus, whose flamboyant threads and good looks have made him the biggest sex symbol in Sacramento since Barbi Benton, is happy enough. "I function better in L.A. or New York," says Theus, "but you can hang out in Sacramento. Hey, there's a good time, there's a good time and there's a good time. As long as you're having one of the three, you're all right."
At the moment Kings fans are enjoying their new team too much to decide which one they're having. There's a good chance, though, that it's all three.