The Kings who would have been king
By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2

And to think, The Cooler this morning was going to be so drenched in World Cup talk, I'd have had you heading your Dixie Cups into the trash basket and pressing the "SAP" button on your remotes every chance you got. I had even recruited some Koreans and Japanese to form an official "Cooler Cheering Squad," just like they're doing at the Cup. I'd handed out jerseys for my "Cooler Cheering Squad" to wear -- UCLA basketball's home whites -- and had them paint their faces. Instead of those hilariously nonsensical Swedish flags or German flags on those stone-faced, uninterested hosts of the World Cup, I'd painted tiny pints of Guinness.

Mike Bibby
Mike Bibby nearly drove the Cinderella Kings to the Finals.
Then I found myself at a ballgame Sunday night, and heard Pac Bell Park break out in pockets of cheers, unrelated to the Giants-Rockies tilt, as the night wore on. Granted, TiVo was set at my home to capture Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, so I didn't necessarily want to know what was going on up I-80 at Arco Arena.

But a grassroots wave of Sports Fan Unity was sweeping through the yard down by the Bay, one of those times when the true sports nuts in this world are speaking the same language, and I knew TiVo would be useless. I was going to have to know all about Game 7 through the transistor radios and hand-helds dotting Pac Bell, and I was going to have to know in Real Time.

By the time the Lakers' last bid in regulation fell short, and overtime was at hand, cheers were getting louder at the ballgame. It was fine by me. While baseball should always take precedent in any sporting contest for attention, this was different: The home nine was safely ahead. The hated Lakers were teetering. The Cinderella Sacramento Kings were penning a tale for the ages in that forgotten state capital of ours.

And the "Beat L.A." chants were ringing out at Pac Bell.

God bless the hardy NorCal fan. Our Warriors, the tattered orphans of the NBA, may have just posted another 19-win season. But there was business at hand for the Bay Area sports fan. There were Lakers to oust, and a Game 7 to see home for the scrappy Kings.

Guess this meant I'd have to call off World Cup Monday at The Cooler.

The Sparkletts bottle, apparently, only dispensed Game 7 vibe.

And then, just like that, the "Beat L.A." chants died.

Just like that, Laker Pride triumphed again.

Just like that, every King not named Bibby was heaving up all-glass or all-air jumpers that were so stunning in their wretchedness, you almost had to look away, for fear of a nightmarish flashback to a regular-season Warriors game.

For that briefest of moments at the ballgame, when two teenagers behind me,

sharing an earpiece each, gave me regular updates, I believed. I believed in a Kings-Nets final, and I believed it was right. My father isn't partial to sports teams, but is partial to the beauty of sports, and he has often peddled his theory: Root for the team that will bring the most happiness to the most people.

The Lakers have won two consecutive titles amid their many other championships for the fans of the purple and gold.

The Kings have never been to a final.

I know who my dad would have liked to have seen won. And my dad is right many more times than he is wrong.

So here's to you, Sacramento, and to you, Mike Bibby, and to you, fellow ball fans at Pac Bell who believed, up until the end, in Beating L.A.

A tip of the Sparkletts.

As for my Korean and Japanese "Cooler Cheering Squad" ... they wanted the Kings, too.

On to the Weekend List of Five, where I can finally spread my World Cup wings. But first, more NBA:

1. Another reason the Kings should have won
Pete Carril
Pete Carril
Petey Carril. Petey Carril!

Of all the guys in the history of basketball who do not seem NBA, Petey Carril heads the list. Of all the guys in the history of basketball who do not seem NBA -- 2002-style -- Petey Carril heads the list.

Of all the guys in the history of Ivy League basketball who seem as if they should never set foot outside of the idyllic enclave of Princeton, N.J., Petey Carril heads the list.

And yet, this guy, all cardigan sweaters and fall leaves, made his way to Sacramento -- Sacramento! -- to lend a coaching hand to his former Princeton Tiger pal, Geoff Petrie. I often wondered what Petey Carril, the Yoda of hoops, did in Sacramento in his spare time. Did he river raft down the American? Did he catch some Triple-A RiverCats games? Did he listen to country music, and dine at chain restaurants?

I found Carril's journey fascinating. He's always had a place in my heart, ever since the short-lived Otis Spunkmeyer Classic basketball tournament at Cal, in the mid-'90s. Carril brought his Tigers out for the Christmas tourney, and in a postgame press conference before a sparse room, was asked about playing the Otis Spunkmeyer Classic. Carril answered: "We're very proud to be here, we think this is a fine tournament with a lot of quality teams, and really, when it's all said and done, the man makes a hell of a cookie."

One of my all-time favorite coach lines.

I caught a glimpse of Carril on the Kings bench down the stretch, and I thought: Hot damn, Pete. It's all been worthwhile. All the nights at The Olive Garden. All the nights far away from the four seasons of beautiful northern New Jersey. All the 105-degree fall afternoons. All worth it. You're going to the NBA Finals. I hope you celebrate with an oven-warmed Otis Spunkmeyer chocolate chip.

But he's not going to the NBA Finals.

I still hope he had the cookie. Call it a Wait-Till-Next-Year cookie, Pete.

2. Jason Kidd: He who laughs last ...
The moral of the story, I'm saying, is that sometimes there are second acts in American life.

Jason Kidd's career could have easily gone in the toilet when he was traded to New Jersey. Phoenix fans turned on him, disgusted by news that he laid a hand on his lady. His reputation was down, his future in question.

Here's what he did: He apparently worked hard to make his marriage better, as evidenced by Joumana's rabid support of his career. He apparently worked equally hard to turn around a losing franchise, when it would have been easy to collapse into the black hole that his career appeared to be forming. He apparently also was able to channel intense amounts of negative energy from a foul Boston crowd, and wring from his sweat the sweetest of triumphs, on the home court of the Celtics.

The end result: One of the most remarkable comeback stories of our time. And a 0-0 slate with the Lakers, with the potential of more remarkable drama.

Damn. Pretty good run, J. Kidd.

3. Finally! To the World Cup!
Don't deny it, World Cup-haters. This stuff is magic.

If you don't believe me, you didn't see the footage from Dakar over the weekend. Have you ever danced like that? I mean, those Senegalese babes and cats were smooth!

So Senegal beats France, its former colonial occupier. Some called it the biggest upset in soccer history. The Senegalese players celebrated with some sweet dance moves that, quite frankly, bore a striking resemblance to "The Hustle," which, if you recall, was taught in private homes in suburban America in the mid- to late-1970s. God bless the global village.

Then, the footage from Senegal's capital. I saw a cat wearing a lion's head, doing this smooth little two-step forward, two-step back thing that made me want to put on my dancing pants. Behind him was a Senegalese babe, simply vibing off his lion's head, and off his step-dance. She made me want to put on my dancing pants, too.

I ask you, World Cup-haters, is this not the beauty of sport? A soccer victory so joyous as to produce a man in a lion's head in Dakar, doing a two-step forward, two-step back dance, with a Senegalese babe vibing off him?

I present to you the glory of the World Cup.

4. Honey, I shrunk the Arabians
So Germany hangs an 8-spot on Saudi Arabia.

Well, no duh! Did you see it? The Germans had, per man, a good eight-inch height spread, and a good 90-pound weight spread. Hilarious visuals, man. It looked like a World Cup team against a 12-and-under boys squad at some father-son picnic.

The Germans, looking like Ken Caminiti at the height of a 'roid cycle; the Arabians, looking like shrunken-head dolls.

Put it together, and it's 8-0, Deutschland. Comedy like this only comes around every four years, Cooler-dwellers.

5. There's no sex and drugs for Ian!
Winfried Schaeffer
Cameroon coach Winfried Schaeffer reminds us of the good old '80s.
Why I love the World Cup, Reason No. 2002: The Cameroon coach.

You could never pull off his look in America, for fear of being laughed out of every tavern, or being easily mistaken for a washed-up porn star.

But in the World Cup, a German coaching Cameroon can sport a fabulous mane that produced the following reactions late Friday night at my local Irish tavern during the Cameroon-Ireland tilt:

My girl: "Leif Garret!"

My guy T.C.: "Now there's an Indomitable Lion.''

Me: "Ladies and gentlemen, Ian Faith."

And since it's My Cooler, that's what he will be known as -- the Cameroon coach who is an 8 out of 10 for Spinal Tap's frustrated, overworked and ultimately incompetent manager, Ian Faith.

And to think, we've got four more weeks of World Cup action!

Quick, bring back my Korean and Japanese "Cooler Cheering Squad."

Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle writes the "Weekend Water Cooler" every Monday for Page 2.



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