NATIVIDAD: For sports fans, ignorance is not bliss
With the NBA season up and going in full gear, the Sacramento Kings — the closest we come to a home team here in Nevada County — have no wins in their first five games. They are dead last with the worst record in the league … thus far.
We can blame this on injuries, and the team missing the talents of power forwards like Harry Giles and Marvin Bagley. Or maybe it’s just the fact that the revamped Western Conference is tougher this year due to the movement of former Eastern Conference players like Kawhi Leonard, Hassan Whiteside and Kristaps Porzingis, who now play for teams in the west. Speaking of big men, with Willie Cauley Stein gone, Do the Kings have any type of legitimate center at this point? Is that a problem? Most likely, yea. Too bad we don’t have Demarcus Cousins around to unfairly place the blame on anymore… Get well soon Boogie.
These could also be growing pains for the Kings’ first year head coach Luke Walton who has yet to perfect his offensive and defensive schemes and rotations. There are so many reasons we can come up with for this horrendous start to a season. But to be honest, as someone who has rooted for the Kings for as long as I can remember, coach Walton’s Me Too moment is something that has given me pause, more so than the team’s 0-5 start.
For those of you who have been living under a rock when it comes to Kings basketball, after being fired from his head coaching gig with the Los Angeles Lakers in April, the Kings’ front office swooped Walton up to head the team after firing Dave Joerger. Just days after his hiring, Walton was named in a civil lawsuit accusing him of sexual assault. The allegations against him were made by former Southern California sports reporter Kelli Tennant, who claims Walton attacked her sexually in his room at the Casa Del Mar Hotel, a hotel in Santa Monica, in late 2014. At that time, Walton was an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors. Walton, a former Lakers small forward, had known Tennant for years and they worked together at Spectrum Sportsnet in Los Angeles where Walton served as an analyst, and Tennant a reporter and studio host for Lakers’ broadcasts.
The NBA and Kings pledged to investigate the accusations, and in August formally closed their case, concluding they found “there was no sufficient basis to support the allegations.” The civil lawsuit Tennant filed, though, remains active and is scheduled to go to trial October 2020. In September, Walton was asked by reporters whether the lawsuit could be a distraction, to which he responded saying, “We’re together as a group and what we have to focus on is what we have in front of us and what we can control.”
As far as the allegations go, to be honest, personally I just don’t know, and I think it’s for the legal system to decide at this point. But what I can say is this whole situation makes it hard to be all-in with my home team when they’ve got this cloud of potential guilt hovering over their head coach, for serious allegations that, if true, definitely should not sit well with anyone.
If only we were younger, when it was simpler to be a sports fan.
As a child raised in Sacramento just a few miles from Arco Arena, now known as Sleep Train Arena, watching those 1990’s Sacramento Kings teams was something I did often. I remember the Mitch Richmond and Wayman Tisdale years, and the swag and style of Walt Williams with the socks “We wid it! We wid it!” On April, 20 1996, I remember sitting in the nosebleeds with my cousins watching the team’s 5-foot, 10-inch point guard Tyus Edney dribble out the clock to beat the Warriors 100-107 on the last game of the regular season, just squeaking ahead of them into the playoffs as the eighth seed. More vividly, two years later I remember pitching a squat in the lower level aisles of the arena wide-eyed and mesmerized by Michael Jordan during his final game at Arco in a Chicago Bulls uniform.
Looking back on those years, as a kid I wasn’t wondering, or informed, about the sexual exploits of any of the players or coaches, or whether or not Michael Jordan was staying silent on yet another social justice issue. There was nothing holding me back from buying that new Kings Jersey, or overpriced Air Jordans.
I guess ignorance was bliss?… For apparel stores at least.
Now as an adult, being a sports fan is sometimes impacted more by things that happen off the court. When former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was caught on tape going on some racist rant about Magic Johnson, I didn’t watch any Clippers games until Sterling left the franchise. When Nike signed former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to an endorsement deal, a few years after he knelt during the national anthem to bring awareness to the treatment of people of color in this country, I bought a Nike product for the first time in a long time. And to this day I will root for the Arizona Cardinals against any team that is not the 49ers, just because of Pat Tillman, a former safety for the team that left his lucrative NFL career to join the U.S. Army following the September 11, 2001 attacks. Tillman would die in Afghanistan due to friendly fire on April 22, 2004.
So, as a Kings fan I’m in a weird predicament with this whole Walton case. I guess right now, the way I feel about the Kings, and their leadership in particular, is the way I feel about Filipino boxing champion Manny Pacquiao. As a person with filipino ancestry, I have rooted for Pacquiao throughout the years. But whenever I read about homophobic remarks he has made, it makes me cringe.
While we all have different values, and opinions on social and political issues, and we all make mistakes, I can’t help but let those things affect which athletes I am a fan of. At the end of the day, those things matter more to me than sports. While that can be exhausting at times, I am OK with that, because as a sports fan, for me the real bliss comes from being able to support teams and athletes for who they are both on and off the court.
Ignorance be damned.
Ivan Natividad is a columnist who contributes to The Union regularly. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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