SACRAMENTO — It was the end. With an asterisk.
It was goodbye. Unless we see you next season.
After 26 seasons, the love affair between the Sacramento Kings and their devoted and oft-suffering fan base ended here at Power Balance Pavilion on Wednesday night. Probably.
With the Kings' relocation to Anaheim considered a near-certainty, their regular-season finale — a 116-108 overtime loss against the hated Lakers — was filled with emotion, nostalgia and 17,641 fans who reveled in chanting "Beat L.A." and lustily booing Los Angeles star Kobe Bryant for perhaps one final time.
If it was the end, the 24-58 Kings, after five straight losing seasons, will have their stay in Sacramento bookended by futility.
They arrived in town from Kansas City in 1985, didn't win their first playoff game until 1996 and didn't claim their first playoff series until 2001.
Still, through sorry times and successful ones, the fans supported the Kings, who finally rewarded them with eight straight playoff berths from 1999-2006, including a Western Conference finals appearance in 2002.
"This franchise has been renowned for supporting their team through good and bad years with great enthusiasm," said Kings coach Paul Westphal. "There's always been a notable love affair between the team and the community and it's impossible to ignore it."
It couldn't be missed Wednesday night.
Nearly three hours before tipoff, a group of roughly 100 fans waited outside the arena, ready to enter for one last game. A keep-the-Kings petition circulated. And Kelly and Keith Westbrook shook their heads in frustration.
They came to their first game in 1985 and have attended well over 100 since. During some playoff series during the early 2000s — with tickets hard to come by — they would sit in separate seats and switch at halftime. Whoever had the better seat in the first half would head to the nosebleeds to watch the final two quarters.
Kelly Westbrook, 50, wearing a Kings' T-shirt, beads and earrings, conceded she was ready for an emotional night.
"It's sad," she said. "It's devastating, actually. I still have that glimmer of hope that they'll stay, but it's a glimmer."
Her husband said it was more than a personal blow. It was a shot to a community that had never had a big-league franchise prior to the Kings' arrival. The 1985-86 team (it finished 37-45) was routinely given standing ovations for, well, just gracing the town with its professional presence.
"For years and years and years and years, Sacramento was kind of known as this cow town," Keith Westbrook said. "But the Kings kind of changed that ... Now I guess we'll be talking about the (Triple-A baseball) River Cats."
Inside the arena, Marianne Miller, 54, a season-ticket holder for the past 15 years, sat in her seat before tip-off wearing a Kings jacket dotted with team pins and autographs from players past (Bobby Jackson) and present (Francisco Garcia). Miller, who also traveled with a homemade "Love Our Kings" sign, said the team got in her blood. And on her Christmas cards. Garcia, a sixth-year guard, was part of her holiday greetings one year.
"It's just sad, sad, sad," Miller said of the Kings' likely last game. " ... We've always hung in there with them and we were hoping they would hang in with us. But I don't think it's going to happen."