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‘We love this team’: See flag-waving fans greet playoff-bound Kings at Sacramento airport

Hundreds of flag-waving, cowbell-clanging fans showed up in droves in the middle of the night to greet the Kings as they returned to Sacramento after clinching their first playoff berth since 2006.

Fans chanted “Light the Beam” while braving temperatures in the 40s as the Kings arrived shortly after 12:30 a.m. Saturday at a private terminal at Sacramento International Airport. Word had already reached the visitor’s locker room at Moda Center before the Kings boarded their Friday night flight from Portland following back-to-back wins over the Trail Blazers.

Kings coach Mike Brown told his players what fans were planning for their arrival in Sacramento after the idea spread via social media.

“I heard,” Kings guard Malik Monk said. “Mike just told us that. It’s crazy. I never experienced anything like that. Looking forward to seeing it. The fanbase has been crazy. I’ve been saying this every interview almost since I came here. They’ve been saying, ‘Change the culture. We here with you. We here. We want you to make the playoffs. Please make it to the playoffs.’ They’ve been strong all year.”

Video posted to Twitter showed a wild scene as Brown and his players drove slowly away from the airport through hoards of Kings fans. Brown smiled brightly and fist bumped at least one fan.

The Kings ended the longest playoff drought in NBA history Wednesday with a 120-80 victory over the Blazers. They wrapped up the two-game set in Portland with a 138-114 victory on Friday before flying home for Sunday’s game at Golden 1 Center against the San Antonio Spurs.

The Kings have already secured homecourt advantage for the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. They need one more win to clinch the Pacific Division championship and at least the No. 3 seed. Many wondered how the Kings would do after the All-Star break with the fourth-most difficult remaining schedule. With Friday’s victory, they moved to 15-5 since the break while improving their road record to 24-14.

The Kings missed out on their chance to clinch at home in Monday’s loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. They didn’t get to feel the gratitude from the Sacramento crowd then, but they felt it Friday night upon their return from Portland.

The airport greeting grew organically via social media after Kevin Fippin of the Kings Herald tracked the team’s flight plans and started a discussion on Twitter. Fellow Kings fans Jill Adge and John Bull helped spread the word. By the time the plane landed, there were scores of fans in Kings jerseys, sweatshirts and jackets waiting to cheer the team’s arrival.

“I don’t think people realize how much this team and ending the playoff drought means to Sacramento and these fans. And the players probably don’t realize the extent of it either,” Fippin told The Sacramento Bee as fans began to converge on the airport.

“None of them have ever experienced a playoff game in Sacramento and I can assure you there’s nothing like it. They didn’t get to celebrate the playoff berth at home so we wanted to create a moment for them that they can remember when they step out onto the court in round one. Hopefully this helps them remember what they’re playing for, but also realize how much we love this team and this group of players.”

Kings center Domantas Sabonis said the team feels the affection of its its fans.

“That’s really cool,” Sabonis said. “That’s awesome. They’re invested. We’re here because of them, so we’re definitely going to show them love.”