No Matter Where The Kings Go, The Beam Goes With Them
4:46 PM EST on January 19, 2023
With five seconds left in Wednesday night's Kings-Lakers game, the chant rang out, unmistakable, jubilant, through the tomb-like expanse of the Lakers' stupid cryptocurrency-named arena: "Light the Beam."
Hordes of Kings fans had descended into L.A. for the fourth and final game of the season between the two longtime rivals, and were treated to one of their team's best wins of the season, so, naturally, they called for the Lighting of the Beam. As a joyous De'Aaron Fox strode into the tunnel, he exclaimed, "Light the fucking Beam!" What is the Beam, exactly? Well, it's a beam of light. But for Kings fans like me, who have been starving for a full season of competitive basketball to enjoy from our home team, it's more like a symbol for our collective joy.
The Kings started firing a big purple laser on a vector towards heaven at the every time the team won a home game this season, and as the Beam's arrival has coincided with Sacramento's best basketball in forever, Kings fans have worshipped beneath the purple glow like an altar. They call for it at home, and when they show up in sufficient force L.A. or San Antonio or, somehow, Cleveland. They profane opponents' arenas with the chant. The Kings are third in the Western Conference, which means the Beam has been lit with alarming regularity.
Most NBA fanbases are not like this, and I would argue that is because every single NBA fanbase is so much more used to winning than Sacramento Kings fans are. The last time the Kings were Good, not Fake Good like they were four seasons ago or eight seasons ago, I was in the sixth grade. They are barely halfway through the regular season, and at 25-18, are far from locked into their first playoff appearance in 16 years, yet I don't know how to handle even this level of success. I conduct a search for "western conference standings" roughly five times a day and stare at that little number next to the Kings' name, as if I expect it to disappear. I lustily cheer against every team within five games of them, rising and falling with every Wolves loss or Warriors win. It's all unfamiliar, and it feels great. It feels like microdosing a championship.
Wednesday's game was the sort Sacramento probably should have lost. The whole team is reportedly dealing with a stomach bug that's already caused four players to miss games, and last night, it claimed Domantas Sabonis. The Lithuanian big man has been the team's best player to an outlandish degree, but more than that, their style is built around him. As Sabonis and Fox explained on ESPN earlier this week, the Kings' whole third-ranked offense flows through Sabonis at the elbow. He's their anchor on defense, and also the only player capable of grabbing a rebound. In his stead, coach Mike Brown started Richaun Holmes, last year's starter whose received 14 DNP-CDs and has been disastrous when he's been on the floor. The Lakers, meanwhile, had won six of their last nine, and LeBron James came in on a real heater.
You tend to lose those sorts of games, and for a quarter and change, the Kings were on course to do so. L.A. got to the unprotected rim on what felt like 12 of their first 10 possessions and established a quick 14-point lead. Kings teams of the past would have folded at that point and accepted the loss. Not this one. As they have tended to do recently, they ratcheted up their defensive pressure, nailed every rotation, and earned a halftime lead. Fox, who regressed last season, played like a superstar and scored 31 confident points. That tally includes a ton of unblockable midrange jumpers (which he can get on any possession and has been hitting at a career-high 47-percent clip) and a pair of free throws to lock down the win, though my favorite Fox play came right after the Lakers completed their comeback from a 14-point hole to take a lead in the fourth quarter. Knowing his opponent was on the verge of seizing the momentum for good, Fox sprinted the length of the court, beat his man, then finished through three defenders. He's spent the past two months maturing into the best fourth-quarter scorer in the NBA, and he calmly led the team to an extremely satisfying 116-111 win. Why wouldn't you want to celebrate that by shooting a huge laser into space?
I am going to try to maintain a level head through the Kings' final 39 games. I am going to accept the possibility that the team, who already has three really stupid losses to bad teams, will suffer more stupid losses to bad teams. I will, cautiously but firmly, research allium digestion procedures. I will continue staring directly into the Beam.