Sunday, 28 May 2023

California’s Underdog Team Makes It to the N.B.A. Playoffs

The N.B.A. playoffs are upon us, and all four of California’s teams have made it in the same season for the first time.

Two of them — the Sacramento Kings and the Golden State Warriors — are playing each other, starting Saturday at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento. The Kings have the best story of the bunch, not only reaching the playoffs for the first time in 17 years but also winning the Pacific Division and finishing with a better record than all of their in-state rivals.

They also have the best celebratory device, a purple beam they shoot into the sky after each win. “Light the beam!” has become a rallying cry for the Kings faithful.

Yet oddsmakers and fans outside of Sacramento have their doubts about the upstart Kings. The Warriors are the reigning N.B.A. champions, and they’re heavily favored to win the opening round and to possibly make another deep run. The Los Angeles Lakers have LeBron James. And the Los Angeles Clippers have reached the playoffs in 10 out of the last 12 seasons.

Below, two long-suffering Kings fans who grew up in the Sacramento region — Kevin Yamamura, a New York Times editor who oversees California coverage, and Kellen Browning, a Times tech reporter — discuss their team and how residents in their hometown often feel that they have something to prove.

Kevin Yamamura: So, how many wins did you think the Kings would have before the 82-game season started?

Kellen Browning: I was optimistic we could break 40 wins — as one Kings fan notably predicted during a Summer League game — and sneak into the playoffs as a No. 7 or No. 8 seed. I did not expect this level of success!

Yamamura: Yet here we are with 48 wins and the No. 3 seed! Still, the Warriors ended the season on an 8-2 run. And they’re the Warriors. Should we be worried?

Browning: Absolutely. The Warriors were a mess all season, but they get Andrew Wiggins back and they’re the defending champions. I’m definitely nervous. But I’m also confident in our supercharged offense and think we have a decent shot at dethroning them.

Yamamura: The experts and the oddsmakers aren’t giving the Kings much of a chance. It feels so Sacramento. We’re the Rodney Dangerfield of California, we get no respect.

More on California

Browning: Exactly. We’re always the underdogs. And we’ve been consistently underestimated even throughout this successful season. We’ll just have to prove it on the court.

Yamamura: The thing about Sacramento is, it’s a huge metro area that would be dominant in most other states. But this is California. And Sacramento is close enough to the Bay Area that there’s a gravitational pull there.

I love Sacramento now, in a way I didn’t when I was younger. You grew up in Davis. Did you ever wish you were growing up in the Bay Area instead?

Browning: I liked Davis! It’s a small, suburban college town, but I had a busy enough childhood with school and friends and sports that I never really longed for a bigger city — until I was ready to go to college. Then I definitely wanted to spread my wings and ended up in Los Angeles.

Yamamura: The last really great playoff series we had, and the last intense rivalry, was with the Lakers in 2002. Sacramento fans brought out the cowbells, like we weren’t afraid to own our valley identity. That was such a great time. The city came together, everyone packed the bars and had parties to watch games.

Back then, we had the Northern California-Southern California rivalry to help fuel the fire. Is there such a thing as a Kings-Warriors rivalry?

Browning: In the early 2000s, the Kings were great and the Warriors weren’t. During the recent Warriors dynasty, the Kings have sucked. So this is the first time we are both good at the same time. This is an opportunity to start a really great rivalry.

Yamamura: I have to say, in recent playoff seasons, I’ve noticed quite a few Warriors jerseys around Sacramento.

Browning: Yeah, it’s a shame, but I get it. The Kings have been bad for two-thirds of my life. Some people may have been ground down and gravitated to other teams over the years. But I’m hoping we don’t have too many Warriors fans in the building on Saturday.

Yamamura: Well, the tickets are way cheaper in San Francisco than in Sacramento. Maybe Kings fans will be the ones taking over their opponents’ building. And how often can you say something’s cheaper in San Francisco than in Sacramento?

Browning: So true! Almost never. That shows the passion that Kings fans have for this team, and for the fact that we are finally having a really fun, successful season.

Yamamura: You live in San Francisco now. Do you miss home?

Browning: I love living in San Francisco. There’s always so much to do. But I do miss Sacramento as well — it will always be home. I will say, it’s been very tiring to be constantly surrounded by smug Warriors fans, including some who I work with. It will be very satisfying to knock them down a peg.

Yamamura: Sounds like a rivalry is brewing in our own San Francisco bureau!

Well, I’m not going to ask you for a prediction. But where will you be watching these games?

Browning: I’ll be at the Golden 1 Center on Saturday night! After that, it will probably be a mix of watching games in Sacramento and San Francisco, with my dad or my friends. Definitely need to plan some watch parties.

And I’ll give you a prediction anyway: Kings in 7.

Kellen Browning is a technology reporter based in San Francisco, where he hopes to celebrate a Kings series win in Dub Nation. Kevin Yamamura is an editor on the National desk who oversees California coverage from Sacramento, where he can see the beam from his house.

If you read one story, make it this

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The rest of the news

Moon expedition: Victor Glover, a California native, made history this month as the first Black man to be selected for a mission to the moon.

Drought: Less than 9 percent of California remains in a drought after the barrage of storms that hit the state, The Associated Press reports.

Enrollment surge: Calbright College, the only fully online community college in California, has seen a surge in enrollment, CalMatters reports.

C.S.U. Maritime Academy allegations: Cal Maritime students and employees reported accusations of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment aboard the Training Ship Golden Bear to officials at the Vallejo campus, The Los Angeles Times reports.


Minimum wage: Los Angeles City Council members put forward a bill that would raise the minimum wage for workers at larger hotels and the Los Angeles International Airport to $30 by 2028, The Los Angeles Times reports.

Wildlife rebounds: After a winter of record-breaking rain and snow, wildlife in Southern California has rebounded, The Los Angeles Times reports.


Bullet train construction: A cluster of streets in south Fresno will be closed for more than a year to allow for construction of a new overpass to carry traffic up and over future high-speed rail tracks, The Fresno Bee reports.


Bob Lee: Nima Momeni, a tech consultant and an acquaintance of the Cash App creator Bob Lee, was arrested in Lee’s fatal stabbing, and law enforcement officials said they would charge him with murder.

Drug crisis: San Francisco politicians may soon convene to discuss the city’s response to drug dealing and use, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

What we’re eating

Creamy white beans with herb oil.

Where we’re traveling

Today’s tip comes from John Becker, who recommends visiting the Getty Center in Los Angeles:

“The Getty is such an incredibly beautiful set of buildings, constructed from quarried Italian stone that built the Roman Colosseum, and housing world-class art with meditation-inducing outdoor gardens, sculptures and fountains all perched with scenic views of Los Angeles. And it’s free!”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

Tell us

After a rainy winter, spring has arrived in California. Tell us your favorite part of the season, whether it’s in the form of road trips, festivals, sunny afternoons or wildflower sightings.

Email us at [email protected], and please include your name and the city where you live.

And before you go, some good news

After years of little change, Lake Tahoe’s water clarity made an encouraging improvement in 2022, according to a report published this week by the Tahoe Environmental Research Center at the University of California, Davis.

In the final five months of the year, the lake’s water became the clearest it had been in about 40 years.

Thanks for reading. We’ll be back on Monday. Enjoy your weekend.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

Soumya Karlamangla, Briana Scalia, Isabella Grullón Paz and Bernard Mokam contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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