Kings-Lakers: Remember the Time?

Swingman Rudy Gay (8) can be a mercurial scorer at times for the Sacramento Kings. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/

It was short. But is was sweet for NBA fans while it lasted. The rivalry was dramatic. It was tense and every bit of good, live theater as you can get.  Could that atmosphere come back to Los Angeles and Sacramento? Maybe. Maybe not. A lot would have to transpire for that kind of magic to happen again.

The Sacramento Kings going up against the Los Angeles Lakers used to be the matchup everyone wanted to see. As the two teams now face the reality of dealing with rebuilding their respective franchises, the Kings-Lakers will be still be a hot ticket in Sacramento for their April 2 encounter at Sleep Train Arena. The names may not have the familiarity with fans but expect a barnburner in Sac-Town.

Future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant will be missing in action thanks to a plethora of injuries that have sidelined him for most of the season. The Lakers are placing on the floor a bunch of guys that now comprise a patchwork lineup that no one in Los Angeles could have ever imagined.

But they are still the Lakers and guys have pride. Just ask the New York Knicks, whom they caught off guard with a Purple and Gold record-breaking 51 points in  one quarter performance recently. The Kings, with upstart guard Isaiah Thomas, dominant big man DeMarcus Cousins, a mercurial scorer in Rudy Gay, and newcomer Ben McLemore, have plenty of pieces to get in the running of future postseason berths.

Both teams will be playing with pride when they meet up for the final time this season. The two organizations played for a lot more on the line during the late 1990s and early 2000s, when both Sacramento and Los Angeles competed with the attitude to prove who would be the Alpha Dog in the NBA Western Conference.

Ben McLemore (16) is a promising player for the Sacramento Kings. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman Jr./

Back in the days of Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Robert Horry and Phil Jackson matching wits and skills against Mike Bibby, Vlade Divac, Bobby Jackson, Chris Webber and Rick Adelman, going to a Kings-Lakers game or catching the drama on TV, was always something a basketball fan could look forward to.

Both teams had swag. Both teams boasted true league stars. Both teams had the right mix of moxie and talent to go all the way to winning the NBA title. The Lakers had star power in Bryant, O’Neal and Jackson, who had guided Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships.

On other hand, the Kings brought grit and determination, perfectly embodied by Bibby, Webber, Divac and Jackson.

The Lakers may have won three NBA titles under the Jackson, O’Neal and Bryant reign, but the Kings, which pushed the Lakers on the brink of elimination several years,  just as easily could be the team celebrated as dominant during that time period.

A play here,  a jump ball and forced turnover there, and it could as easily be the Kings getting the love as a title squad.

Dubbed “The Greatest Show on Court,”  the Kings won several Pacific Division crowns during their rivalry period with the Lakers. Bibby was brash and had a long-stroke shooting range that could back up his vocal smack. Bobby Jackson was a penetrating nightmare for the Lakers to deal with. Webber and Divac gave Shaq fits with their quickness around the basket.

Unfortunately for the Kings, fortunes would have changed both franchises had not a Robert Horry game-heroic 3-pointer, and a controversial call in a Western Conference Finals Game 7 overtime thriller, would not have fallen in the Lakers’s favor.

But that’s basketball. That’s sports. People often say that winning in sports sometimes comes down to being  a game of inches…well, the Kings can certainly vouch for that. A couple of inches is what kept the Kings from being NBA champions a couple of times over. But there is always the future. And maybe it will come at the Lakers’ expense.

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