Kings basketball was a thing of beauty. From the period beginning 1999, when j-will was drafted and they traded for webber and divac, until a year back, there was no more entertaining team in basketball. Back in those days when I would be up and about by 7 am and in readiness for school, I would have a few minutes of nothing to do immediately following breakfast and tying up of my shoelaces. Invariably, my hands would find the remote and star sports or espn would play loudly, much to the irritation of my dad. I could not see why puja and devotional songs and chants of "and the kings score again and the crowd goes wild" could not coexist in harmony. I digress. The point is, nba games would be shown three days a week, on wednesday, friday and saturday, and during those few minutes of nothingness between being ready for school/college and awaiting the bus, vivid images of basketball would colour my mind.
It somehow chanced that kings' games were shown more than most others. This was the period immediately after jordan had just made his second comeback, and left after the last of his six nba titles was safely in the bag. My knowledge of the sport was not too good back then, but even I could discern the growing discontent with the lack of entertaining basketball. It was almost as if, collectively, the nba was in a funk. The spurs, who were and still are the most boring team in the whole of professional sports, led by a superstar named tim duncan whose lack of facial expressions made me wonder for the first time about what plastic surgery might do to a person, had just won the title in the lockout shortened '99 season, a title phil jackson would always allude to as the one with the astrix. Anyway, that lockout shortened 50 game season also served to unite a group of players who were well off the radar as far as fans of the games were concerned- vlade divac, jason williams, and a disgruntled star in chris webber who hated the town of sacramento and vowed to stay not one day longer than his contract decreed.
Something happened. It is one of those things that cannot be logically reasoned out- one season they were nowhere, and the next, they had become the darlings of the nba. Peja Stojakovic, a much maligned draft pick of the kings in 1996, was beginning to blossom, and the kings had a defensive oriented perimeter guard in doug christie, and they had just drafted jason williams. If ever there was a more appropriate usage of the phrase 'it clicked', I am not aware of it. It clicked and they clicked. Webber was at his peak then, and divac was the best passing center in the league nobody paid attention to. They took the staid boring game as it was then and elevated it to a thing of beauty.
And jason williams, ah williams. He would whip behind the back passes to peja and c-webb and vlade and would drop the deftest of bounce passes into a curling christie. And the kings' fast break was a joy to watch. The basketball would go back and forth between jwill and peja and cwebb and it would not touch the floor once. For every jwill pass that landed in the crowd, there was one that made your eyes pop out. The kings would figure on the top ten plays every week with no marvellous athleticism, no rim shattering slam dunks, nothing but a passing and running game that literally took the breath away. They were no defensive machine, but who cared? They were fun to watch and webber was playing terrific and williams was doing things that hadn't been done since pistol pete maravich, and they were calling him white chocolate. He did the behind the back pass, the full court bounce pass, the no look bullet pass, the no look behind the back bullet pass, the off the elbow pass and the left handed no look curling away pass and nobody could describe them anymore. Along with williams development grew my love for the game.
Somewhere along the line, things changed. They were still fun to watch and they were still the most beautiful team in the nba, but, out of nowhere, they were now a good team. Perennial doormats of the nba, visiting teams would come to arco arena giving them all the attention usually accorded to a teenaged kid. But not anymore. It became a fortress and the crowd got behind the team and it was, by some distance, the noisiest, most raucous arena in the nba. They went from being 'those pesky kings' to challengers to the nba crown.
This, let it be remembered, was the 2000 season. When they were fun and entertaining and good. But they were good. Not great, merely good. What did the kings do? They traded away jason williams and got mike bibby. Let it be said that this was a great trade for the team, and one that culminated in, possibly, the greatest seven game series of all time, between the kings and the lakers, and as close as the kings would ever get to a championship.
But this isn't about the kings. Well, it is, but it is about me and the kings. It started off as a jason williams thing and became entangled with the kings philosophy and will end with jason williams. Williams left, the kings became better with bibby, a better ball handler, a better decision maker, a better crunch time shooter, and a team that could challenge the lakers. But they lost the plot in going for the championship. They started taking themselves too seriously. The flow wasn't there anymore and other teams began surpassing them on the run and gun style of basketball patented by the kings. And williams went off to memphis, and never did become an all star. And the kings peaked without him but have now lost their identity.
But for two wonderful seasons, there was no greater story in basketball. There was no greater feel good team in the nba and I was enraptured by it all. I was taken by the williams no look passes and the pass first philosophy which the kings developed, and my adoration for the kings continued after williams left. But it was those jwill passes that impinged themselves upon my consciousness more than anything else. And as I watch some of his plays (hurrah for illegal free downloads!) again, it only seemed the right thing to do to pay tribute to what jwill and the kings brought to my television screen and to courts across the length and breadth of the usa. They were a high tempo fun to watch basketball team that played basketball the way it should be played- they passed and shot and ran the pick and roll and the fast break and adopted a team first mentality spearheaded by the most creative passer the nba had seen since magic johnson. And jwill did not win them a championship but he electrified the crowds and got the adrenaline pumping and served to conjure up images of reverse english bounce passes and twenty five consecutive between-the-legs-dribbles and people forgot for a while that basketball, like all professional sports, was a means to make money for the owners. Williams did this, and did not get the credit he deserved. He had flair and creativity and a feel for the game which did not result in trophies or even a single all star berth, but he thrilled and dazzled and captured my imagination. And this, at the end of it all, is simply a long thank you jwill note.