Pavel Krylov (left) with wife Izabel and son Nikolai outside Golden 1 Center, March 27, 2023.
Pavel Krylov (left) with wife Izabel and son Nikolai outside Golden 1 Center, March 27, 2023.

Jewish fans rally around NorCal’s other NBA team as Kings head to playoffs

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Updated April 13

Between 2013 and 2022, the Golden State Warriors won four championships, went to the NBA Finals six times, and made the playoffs a total of eight times.

Meanwhile, Northern California’s other NBA team, the lowly Sacramento Kings, did not have a single winning season and missed the playoffs every year in that span. The team’s futility resulted in the longest postseason drought in NBA history (16 seasons), and the longest such drought across the four major men’s professional sports leagues in North America.

Yet just as the Israelites we read about at our seders wandered in the desert for decades before reaching the Land of Israel, the Kings have finally made it back to the promised land of the playoffs. They finished the regular season in third place in the Western Conference, out of 15 teams, and will face none other than the Warriors in the first round. The series begins Saturday in Sacramento.

Jewish Kings fans, including Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, are enthusiastically rallying around their team.

On March 29, when the Kings clinched a playoff berth with a win over the Portland Trail Blazers, Steinberg tweeted a video of himself congratulating the team and its fans. “Tonight is a special night for Sacramento,” he said in the video. “I cannot wait for the weeks and months ahead as the Kings go strong into the playoffs. But for tonight we should all be proud. Light the beam, Kings fans. You deserve it.”

About that beam: After each home win this season, a Kings player or celebrity in attendance at Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento has pushed a button, activating a 1,000-watt purple laser that shoots high into the sky above the 6½-year-old arena. The Sacramento Bee described the beam as “the Kings winning bat signal, an attention-getting symbol of the fun of winning brightening the humble skyline of downtown Sacramento.”

On a clear night, Sara Bannerman can see the beam from her front porch about two miles from the arena. Although Bannerman grew up in San Francisco and roots for the Giants, she decided to pledge her loyalty to the Kings a couple of years after moving to Sacramento for work.

“I just fell in love with Sacramento, so it was really natural to become a Kings fan,” the 34-year-old public defender explained. “I decided in 2017 that this is my team and I’m going to be committed.” (Also, she noted, the Kings are the only major pro sports team in the area.)

Sara Bannerman and her boyfriend, Mike Stone, at Golden 1 Center.
Sara Bannerman and her boyfriend, Mike Stone, at Golden 1 Center.

Bannerman has attended 25 games this season at Golden 1 and watched all of the team’s other games on TV. She recently bought playoff tickets and has already put a deposit down on a half-season ticket package for next season.

Asked who her favorite Kings players are, she did not say all-star center Domantas Sabonis, explosive guard De’Aaron Fox or sharpshooter Kevin Huerter. Instead, she highlighted role players Harrison Barnes (who won a championship with the Warriors in 2015) and Sixth Man of the Year Award contender Malik Monk.

She also praised first-year head coach Mike Brown for the team’s success this season, which includes having the highest offensive rating — scoring the most points per game — in the league. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that he will be Coach of the Year, and I think the front office will also get applauded,” she said. “[Brown’s] turned this team around in an incredible way, and he’s found a rhythm with the guys that we have.” (Brown was a Warriors assistant coach from 2016 to 2022 and won three rings with the team.)

Pavel Krylov has also been swept up in the fan frenzy surrounding the Kings. Krylov, who spent several years of his childhood in Israel, has lived in the state capital for 10 years and casually followed the Kings when Omri Casspi was on the team from 2014 to 2017. (Casspi, the first Israeli to make it to the NBA, also played for the Kings from 2009 to 2011 and for the Warriors in the 2017-18 season.)

Former Kings player Omri Casspi at a Hanukkah celebration at Chabad of Sacramento.
Former Kings player Omri Casspi at a Hanukkah celebration at Chabad of Sacramento.

Krylov, 33, said he has become much more invested in the team this season. “I think this ‘light the beam’ culture has been huge, and living in this city and being surrounded by this beam has been so crazy,” said Krylov, who cheered on the Kings with his wife and son at a recent home game. “It’s fun that we have this little something that no other team has.”

According to Krylov, who is studying to be a nurse practitioner at Samuel Merritt University’s Sacramento campus, the key to the team’s winning ways has been their unselfish style of play. “We’re playing more as a team, we’re playing more for each other,” he said. His favorite player is Monk because “he just makes things happen.”

Like many NBA franchises, the Kings hold an annual menorah lighting ceremony during a game. Rabbi Mendy Cohen of Chabad of Sacramento has led the ceremony for the past eight years. “We have a wonderful relationship with them,” he said of the organization.

Kings center Domantas Sabonis at Chabad of Sacramento's Purim party, March 7, 2023.
Kings center Domantas Sabonis at Chabad of Sacramento’s Purim party, March 7, 2023.

Cohen befriended Casspi when he was on the team and said he is close with Sabonis, who is in the process of converting to Judaism. Sabonis, the son of the Lithuanian-born NBA Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis, sponsored a sufganiyot giveaway at a December game and attended Chabad of Sacramento’s Purim celebration on March 7, where he signed jerseys and basketballs.

“He’s a great player, and he’s very humble and kind,” Cohen said.

Bannerman, the public defender, will be at Golden 1 Center for game 2 of the first-round series. She said she is confident about the Kings’ chances of getting past the Warriors and going even further.

“Any matchup in the West would have been tough but this also symbolizes Northern California bragging rights,” Bannerman said. “Between Mike Brown and Sabonis, who finished with the most rebounds per game as well as the most rebounds total this season, and ‘Mr. Clutch’ De’Aaron Fox, there is no reason the Kings can’t make a strong run in the playoffs.”

This story was updated after J. learned from Domantas Sabonis’ wife that he is converting to Judaism.

Andrew Esensten
Andrew Esensten

Andrew Esensten is the culture editor of J. Previously, he was a staff writer for the English-language edition of Haaretz based in Tel Aviv. Follow him on Twitter @esensten.