SACRAMENTO — You could feel the heat from the fire that shot straight up behind the baskets when former Washington star Isaiah Thomas strolled onto the court during pregame introductions.
Thunder sticks fell like rain from the rafters and it seemed like business as usual Thursday night at Sleep Train Arena as Thomas and his Sacramento Kings teammates played the Dallas Mavericks.
But it wasn’t, not after two days of constant rumors of a possible sale of the team to Chris Hansen’s group and a move to Seattle.
And when the game ended — a 117-112 loss in overtime — fans, players and coaches were left to wonder if this is the final season in Sacramento for the Kings.
“As soon as we get away from the two hours of practice, the hour of shoot-around and the two hours of game time, then we’re going to go back to reality,” Kings coach Keith Smart said. “And reality is asking: ‘What are you hearing?’ And we have to answer those questions from friends and family. ... What I’m saying to everybody is, ‘I don’t know. I just don’t have the answers.’ “
And yet, Smart has been the spokesman for the Kings and forced to answer questions about the team’s future.
Admittedly it’s been a turbulent few days.
“Yes it has, but I’m used to it,” he said.
So are Sacramento fans.
When the Kings moved to the city in 1985, Jim Berg bought season tickets, which he kept for the first 12 years the team was in Sacramento. And he enjoyed “the best days of my life as a fan” from 1999 through 2003 when the Kings battled the Los Angeles Lakers for supremacy in the Western Conference.
“They never had any success the first 12 years and yet they sold out every single night,” Berg said. “It was so good for so long that you never imagined it would ever end.”
Sometime around 2005, Berg’s interest in the team began to wane. The 52-year-old IT supervisor said his apathy coincided with a series of threats from the Maloof family to move the Kings to Las Vegas, Anaheim and Virginia Beach.
“No one really thought any of that stuff was going to happen,” Berg said. “But Seattle, that’s different. You could say that’s the one city Kings fans always feared.”
When reports intensified Wednesday of a possible sale, Kings guard Aaron Brooks, a Seattle native and former Franklin High School star, received several texts and phone calls from family and friends.
“They think they’ve already got a team,” he said. “It’s weird listening to both sides to what they think is going on and then what’s really going on.”
It’s easy for Brooks to remain neutral because, “I don’t control anything,” he said.
Still, he believes the situation will end badly for either Sacramento or Seattle fans.
“Everybody thinks it’s official so someone is going to get their feelings hurt,” he said. “People in Seattle think they have the team and Sac is trying to hold on. It’s going to be interesting.
“Unfortunately it’s a part of the business.”
The tug-of-war for the Kings has put Thomas in an awkward position.
The Kings’ second-year point guard was an avid Sonics fan while growing up in Tacoma. He’s also fiercely loyal to Sacramento, where he’s a fan favorite.
“For me, if I say something about Seattle, Sacramento fans might take it the wrong way,” Thomas said. “And if say something about Sacramento, Seattle fans might take it a different way.”
Last year, Thomas was the only Kings player to attend City Council meetings to support efforts to build a new arena in Sacramento.
“I love Sacramento,” Thomas said. “I love Seattle. I’ve seen the Sonics go. I’ve been a part of that and I’ve seen a team taken away and a city being devastated. It’s not good.”