I thought the Kings beam was just a gimmick. I was wrong, and here’s why | Opinion

Xavier Mascareñas/xmascarenas@sacbee.com

I love the beam. But I didn’t start out loving it.

A bright purple bolt of light flooded my social media channels a few weeks ago and hasn’t yet left. Suddenly, every person in Sacramento knows what you meant if you just say “the beam.”

If you’re an exception, “the beam” is just a ridiculously bright light that gets turned on at Golden 1 Center after the Kings win a game.

Opinion

It’s actually four 1,000-watt RGB lasers that shoot into outer space and are six times more visible than the brightest ordinary searchlight, according to the Folsom-based company that manufactures the lasers. The Kings have to get permission to light the beam from the Federal Aviation Administration so they don’t disrupt nearby aircraft.

Considering the Kings’ history, when the beam debuted on Sept. 16 — or 916 Day, as Sacramento’s tourism agencies would undoubtedly like me to call it — I didn’t think we’d see it that often.

“Maybe if the Kings won more games,” I thought snidely, “that beam would be useful!”

That kind of defeatism was inevitable after nearly two decades of Kings failures. We haven’t gone to the playoffs since I was 16.

But the beam turned on at exactly the right time: Kings fans needed something to re-energize them after decades of losses and constant disappointment. Why bother to buy tickets, I thought? Why bother to even watch the game on TV if the Kings were just going to lose again? Last season, they lost nearly twice as many games as they won, 52-30.

But then … the team started to win.

As of today, they’ve won 13 of their last 19 games. Their 13-10 record has them fifth in the highly competitive Western Conference, only 2.5 games behind first-place New Orleans. It’s the Kings’ best start since the 2004-05 season.

That was so long ago that Peja Stojaković was a star on that Kings team, and today his son Andrej is a star at Jesuit High School and one of the best prep players in America.

Suddenly, my social media feed wasn’t just the beam, it was also groups of Kings fans chanting “Light the beam!” in various parts of the nation and posting memes. Players were shouting “Light the beam!” into microphones during their post-game interviews. The team’s ownership has filed to trademark “BeamTeam,’‘ and they let a star player whack the big button to light it at the end of the game, to raucous cheers.

It was even listed on Google Maps as a place of worship.

Dollar for dollar, it might be the best investment the team has ever made to garner fan support, and it seems to have reinvigorated the team’s spirit as well.

Small Things Add Up

Yes, the beam has grown on me, and has made being a Sacramentan something to be proud of.

Pride in Sacramento can be elusive.

Case in point: I wanted to write this week about the city’s newest Michelin star, because we now have two: The first for The Kitchen in 2019, and the second this year for Localis.

While awards are nice, I just didn’t think a Michelin star for a fancy restaurant that starts at hundreds of dollars per plate meant much to the average Sacramentan. So I talked to Mike Testa, President and CEO of Visit Sacramento, who politely disagreed with me.

He pointed out that Sacramento doesn’t have one big draw, like an Eiffel Tower or a Golden Gate Bridge. Instead, it’s a hundred little things that add up. The Michelin stars, the Kings beam, the Food to Fork moniker, the Aftershock festival, etc. are all part of modern-day Sacramento.

Ask your average American to name five California cities, Testa said, and it’s unlikely Sacramento will make the cut.

“We’re (over)shadowed by Los Angeles, San Francisco and Napa,” he said. “15 years ago, we were still known for the Gold Rush of 1849.”

So we have to create “a critical mass of what makes Sacramento great.”

Maybe the beam is becoming successful not just because the Kings are winning, but because — like a purple maypole in the town square — we finally have something to rally around and celebrate.

Maybe Michelin stars don’t mean a lot to the average Sacramentan, but they raise the international profile of our restaurant scene and give tourists a reason to visit. When they pour money into the local economy, the tax revenue helps address deeper problems with our infrastructure, transit, education and more.

“You’re never going to do anything that is perfectly in everybody’s wheelhouse,” Testa told me. But maybe Sacramento can do a hundred little things right that appeal to a variety of people.

These little wins — like national recognition for the beam, or international recognition for our restaurants — give us something to feel good about. And they make Sacramento a better place to live.

So, I was wrong. Long live the beam.