SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- With a knack for comebacks and a refreshing lack of decorum, the Sacramento Kings are shrugging off the weight of history.
The Kings celebrated like champions after Wednesday night's series-clinching victory over the Phoenix Suns. There were jubilant group hugs at midcourt, several earsplitting whoops from Jason Williams - even resident oddball Scot Pollard's Harry Caray impersonation on national television.
It was genuine, unabashed joy - something rarely seen in the NBA, and particularly not after the playoffs' first round. But the Kings, who advanced in the postseason for the first time in 20 years, couldn't mask the thrill of extending their best season in decades into unfamiliar territory.
"We've talked about the history here and in this franchise," said Chris Webber, the Kings' leading scorer each of the past three years. "They haven't won a lot with this team. We want to be the Kings team that everybody remembers and talks about. It's about setting a standard for the franchise."
But the Kings still tormented their fanatically loyal fans in the four-game series. They lost Game 1 at Arco Arena with a horrible performance, then overcame huge deficits in both games at Phoenix thanks to seemingly effortless scoring from the NBA's most prolific offense.
Several thousand fans gathered at Arco to watch the Kings clinch the series and advance to face the world champion Los Angeles Lakers in the second round.
"I don't care who we play," Pollard said. "We've got something special here. We're doing this thing for ourselves and our fans in Sacramento. We don't care what anybody else thinks about us."
The Kings aren't frightened by the mighty Lakers, who began an 11-game winning streak while overtaking Sacramento to win the Pacific Division title in the regular season's final week. Sacramento already has beaten decades of history this season. How tough can the Lakers be?
"It's just great," said Jerry Reynolds, who went 56-135 during parts of four seasons as the Kings' coach in the 1980s. "It's fun and exciting for me, because I've seen the other side of it."
It was fitting for Pollard to invoke the ghost of the Chicago Cubs' beloved announcer Wednesday. While they don't have the institutionalized futility known to Cubs fans, the Kings mean every bit as much to their fans and their community.
The team began in 1948 as the Rochester Royals and won the franchise's only championship in 1951 before moving to Cincinnati and then Kansas City, when they also played certain home games in Omaha.
Since the beleaguered franchise made the fertile inland valleys of Northern California its fourth home in 1985, the Sacramento Kings have enjoyed much the same fate as their predecessors in the uniform - plenty of losses and a few flashes of success, followed by many more losses.
The Kings had many lean years after the move, but quickly developed a faithful fan base which is reaping the benefits of Sacramento's surge. After a stretch of 15 consecutive losing seasons, the Kings have had three straight winning records for the first time since 1963-66.
Perhaps no one is enjoying the Kings' success more than Reynolds, who was an assistant coach and scout when the franchise moved to Sacramento.
Reynolds was the team's coach and general manager during many of the lean years, and he's the only original basketball operations employee left from the move. He is general manager of the WNBA's Sacramento Monarchs, and his daughter is a member of the Kings' dance team.
"I never bought into that hopeless feeling," Reynolds said. "I always believed we could win here. It was a good place to live with good fan support. I think it was exaggerated that players didn't want to come to Sacramento. This is a great place to play, and now it's a great place to win."
Now, after a 55-win regular season and what's already their best playoff run since 1981, the Kings face the Lakers and coach Phil Jackson, who called Sacramento "semi-civilized" during last season's playoff meeting. Jackson also discounted the Kings' ability to succeed in the postseason, saying it was too much to expect Sacramento to suddenly rise from years of mediocrity.
But as the Kings proved on a celebratory night in Phoenix, they don't often do what's expected of them.
"We don't put any limits on ourselves, because we're playing for these fans and for ourselves," guard Doug Christie said. "The Kings of the past don't matter. This is us."
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