SACRAMENTO, California — The struggling Sacramento Kings find themselves in the national spotlight and it has nothing to do with another disappointing NBA season in their sparkling new 2-year-old arena.
Instead of looking ahead to the draft lottery as they wind down their 12th consecutive losing season, the Kings — like many nationwide — have turned their attention to demonstrators who have joined hand-in-hand on game nights to block entrances to the building.
A wave of protests have followed the March 18 fatal shooting by police of Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old unarmed black man.
Current and former Kings players have been supportive of both the Clark family and the protesters.
Clark "could have been any of us," Kings player Garrett Temple said on Friday (Saturday, Manila time) at a community gathering to support black youth that the Kings helped organize.
Temple joined teammate Vice Carter and former Kings player Doug Christie at a South Sacramento church. Temple said he believes he is meant to speak out about Clark because "I want to make sure that these mistakes that keep happening have consequences."
Former Kings players DeMarcus Cousins and Matt Barnes have offered to pay for Clark's funeral. Barnes, a Sacramento native who spent part of last season with the Kings, was also a pallbearer at the funeral and has organized a march prior to Saturday's Kings game against the Golden State Warriors.
Sacramento police shot Clark eight times — seven from behind, according to autopsy results paid for by the family that were released Friday.
The news could heighten tensions in the community and possibly lead to larger or more widespread demonstrations this weekend.
The protests have been mostly non-violent and created few problems except for blocking traffic in downtown Sacramento. But they've been costly for the Kings.
Protesters also twice blocked entrances to Golden1 Center, forcing the arena into a lockdown mode. Only 2,400 fans made it inside for the March 22 game against the Atlanta Hawks and 4,000 got in for the March 27 game against the Boston Celtics.
Fans were able to attend Thursday's game with the Indiana Pacers after the team revved up security to make sure only ticket-holders entered the arena plaza.
For a team that has drawn an average crowd of 17,500 this season, the lost revenue from ticket sales alone is more than $1 million by conservative estimates after refunds were offered to those fans who did not get in. That does not include lost income from concession stands and merchandise sales.
However, owner Vivek Ranadive made an impassioned pledge of support for the protesters and the community at large following the first round of demonstrations on March 22 after first consulting with his players.
Ranadive, the first person of Indian descent to own an NBA franchise, said after the Hawks game, "We stand here before you, old, young, black, white, brown, and we are all united in our commitment."
The NBA team has partnered with Black Lives Matter Sacramento and the Build. Black. Coalition to create a multiyear partnership that supports the education of young people and to help workforce preparation and economic development efforts in the community.
"That's what it's all about, raising awareness," Carter said after a recent game. "Regardless of this being a professional basketball game, the bigger picture and what really matters is what was going on outside and the reason they were out there."
Other players around the league who have played in Sacramento since the protests began expressed their concerns over the situation while praising the Kings for getting involved, including Harrison Barnes and Dirk Nowitzki of the Mavericks and Terry Rozier of the Celtics.
"The beauty of the game is that we have this platform to be able to speak about these things and to be able to speak about police brutality, citizen-police relationships, disproportionate amount of African-Americans getting killed," said Harrison Barnes, who spent his first four seasons playing in Oakland about 90 minutes south of Sacramento. "It's important that we use that platform to talk about these things.