The Chicago Cubs are the feel good story of sports this year. They are a talented team playing for an old franchise that hasn’t won in a while that is talented enough to win a championship and end years of agony in Wrigley Field. It’s a wonderful story that should get people who aren’t baseball fans interested in the sport. It’s got me hoping that the Cubs can perform well enough to win a championship. All of this against the backdrop of giving tribute to Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks. The script can be so perfect. Theo Epstien turned the perennial losers in Boston into the 2004 World Champion Boston Red Sox, now he’ll break another curse and bring the city of Chicago a championship. That would be the ideal scenario. I’m hopeful that they are the 2004 Red Sox. They also could be the early 2000’s Sacramento Kings.
Allow me to explain a little history here. In the early 2000’s, the Sacramento Kings rose from basketball ignominy to dizzying heights of style and praise not seen since the franchise won their only NBA Championship in 1951 as the Rochester Royals. They have not been back to the NBA Finals since. They bounced around from Rochester to Cincinnati to Kansas City to Sacramento, and between 1951 and their 1985 move to California, only made it as far as the Conference finals 3 times. The team was, like the Cubs, a perennial loser that still drew a good crowd, at least while in Sacramento. A popular loser with long forgotten winning glory, but a loser nonetheless.
And then, the sky opened and Arco Arena lit up with some of the best basketball of the day. Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, Jason Williams, and crew turned the Kings into a must watch show. I wasn’t old enough to know the team and watch them in their heyday. I missed the best days of the Kings by only a year or two, but I have gone back to watch their game tape, and it remains some of the best basketball I’ve ever seen. They pass well, get everyone involved, play as a team, and their tapes remain some of the best basketball I’ve ever watched.
There is one huge black cloud hanging over the Kings of the early 2000’s. They lost year after year in painful fashion in the playoffs, and never got over the jump to get to the NBA Finals, let alone win an NBA Championship. They were a missed jump hook by Vlade Divac away from winning a 1st round series in 1999. They lost in 5 games the next year to the Lakers in 2000, and were swept in 4 straight in the 2nd round of 2001 again at the hands of the Lakers. They lost two seven game series in the second round of 2003 and 2004 to Dallas and Minnesota respectively. But the most painful loss was the 2002 Conference Finals defeat to the Lakers with game 7 happening in Sacramento. For one series, the Kings were on even footing with the powerful Los Angeles Lakers, a team that often used the Kings as a punching bag and won more championships than anyone but the Celtics. They were so close to winning and ending years of disappointment. But alas, the Lakers downed the Kings in overtime, and the Kings would never come that close again.
Despite the difference in sports, I see a number of parallels between the Cubs of this year and the Kings of years past. Both are old franchises that haven’t won a championship since the early days of their sport’s respective playoff structure. In fact, neither team has even been to the championship round of their sport in 50+ years. Both are talented teams that have supporters from beyond their home city. Both play in the same division as one of the best teams in the history of their sport, the Lakers vs the Kings and the Cardinals vs the Cubs. Both teams have a brilliant coach who was successful in his prior job, but didn’t win a title. Rick Adleman coached the Portland Trail Blazers to the finals in 1990 and 1992 and lost both before coming to Sacramento in 1999. Likewise, Joe Maddon led the Tampa Bay Rays to respectability, but lost his chance at a World Series in 2008.
It is my sincere hope that the Cubs hit the lottery and win their first World Series since 1908. I hope the team plays well enough to win and is the Cubs equivalent to the 2004 Red Sox. It is my fear that they will instead be the baseball version of the Sacramento Kings from 1999-2004.