A Tale of the Kings, Tiny and Two Cities: The Kansas City-Omaha Era

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“I wonder if the NBA will ever come back to Kansas City…”

During the first month in my move to Kansas City, I went to a bar nearby in Kansas City, Kansas called “Chicago’s“. It was a small bar that just served alcohol, no food (as typical with most bars in the Strawberry Hill area), and was mostly frequented by alums of Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kansas, one of the oldest Catholic high schools in the State of Kansas.  At the bar, I got into a conversation with somebody who was a heavy NBA and Oklahoma City Thunder fan (weird for me because I went to Gonzaga and most fans were Sonics fans and the Thunder brought up so many bad memories for them), and he said the quote above, and followed up with positive affirmation that it was going to happen soon in the near future.

“We built the Sprint Center, it’s a NBA-style arena. The downtown area, though not my thing, can attract people before and after games. It’s a sure thing man. They have to bring a NBA team back to Kansas City!”

Back then and to this day, I do agree with him in some regards. The Sprint Center is an arena that can adequately host a NBA franchise (or NHL franchise, should Kansas City ever want one) and is a considerable upgrade over the Kings’ former home, Kemper Arena. The Power and Light District is a good venue for NBA fans to get a bite before weekday games and a drink after them. And with the opening of the KC Streetcar, there is an avenue of public transportation that could ease game day parking anxiety for fans. If there ever was a time for Kansas City to acquire a NBA franchise, the next few years would be it.

However, I do not remain hopeful a NBA franchise will come back to Kansas City, even though I did buy this Charlie Hustle shirt a couple of days ago. For starters, the NBA is probably doing as well as it ever has in its organizational history. The game is slowly becoming the most global sport in the world, especially with FIFA and soccer having all kinds of organizational issues. NBA superstars are becoming household names, and their popularity and imprint on social media and the web has made the league more accessible to fans than other professional sports like the NFL and MLB which seem like “Insiders-only” clubs. (Though the NFL is a lot worse than MLB). And teams are playing good basketball, much better than the college variety that is being seen today. The Warriors clearly are one of the NBA’s best teams, but if you look around the league, there is growing parity, as multiple different teams have made the playoffs within the past five years. Competitively, the NBA is as good as it has ever been, and that has made it a hot ticket with not only passionate basketball fans, but casual fans who are looking for sporting excitement during the Winter and Spring months.

But, with all that being said, these factors hurt the prospect of a NBA franchise coming to Kansas City. With the game being better than ever, franchises are less likely to sell or move from their current locations. As of this moment, every NBA franchise seems to be on solid footing in their current location, and with revenue in the league getting higher and higher each year, NBA owners would be foolish to move during such a renaissance in the league’s history. And with that being said, expansion doesn’t look to be the best idea for the league either. There is a considerable diversity and depth of talent in the league, as each NBA team has a marketable Superstar they can build their franchise around. (With the exception of maybe the 76ers…but hey, maybe Dario Saric and Ben Simmons can reverse that trend!) Expansion would only dilute the talent pool in the league, and make the league less competitive, which wouldn’t help the national or global imprint the league currently has.

This was evident back in 1995, when the league expanded to 30 teams with the Toronto Raptors and the Vancouver Grizzlies. The league really didn’t have enough talent, and though the Raptors were able to climb toward respectability  eventually, the Grizzlies struggled to find talent, and this inevitably led to their move to Memphis, as they could not generate enough fan interest to support their lackluster on-court product. If the league were to expand to two more teams, the same issue would rear its ugly hand, and it could be decades before the league adequately recovers competitively (the late 90’s and early 2000’s saw a lot of competitive imbalance due to expansion).

And lastly, there are other cities they right now would be more attractive sites for the NBA than Kansas City, as painful as that it is to write. Seattle is the front runner for relocation and expansion as they have the right figurehead (Chris Hansen) and fan base to attract a NBA franchise. Other cities like Anaheim (which almost got the Kings before the Maloofs decided at the last minute not to sell), and possibly Vancouver (with basketball now more popular than ever in Canada, the idea of a second franchise again in Vancouver makes sense; David Stern, in one of his last years as commissioner, also remarked that moving the franchise out of Vancouver was one of his biggest regrets). So, Kansas City isn’t exactly top on the queue of possible “relocation” or “expansion” spots, and that should deter any NBA fan in Kansas City of dreaming about the possibility of professional basketball being resurrected in Kansas City in the near or even distant future. Yes, Kansas City has the resources, but it may just be that the NBA and Kansas City will never be the right fit, which is unfortunate as Kansas City is becoming one of the more landmark and major cities in the Midwest, and it could expand the game’s popularity in the “Heart of America”.

That being said, even though the future for the NBA in Kansas City looks bleak, there is a rich NBA tradition in the city as one of the major franchises during the 70’s and 80’s. And one of the cooler things that happened in their history was their “joint-city” franchise from 1972-1975 when the Kings were known as the Kansas City-Omaha Kings. So, let’s take a brief look back at the history of this franchise when they were truly the “Heartland’s” NBA franchise.

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The Kings franchise began in 1948-1949 as the Rochester Royals out of Rochester, New York. In just the franchise’s third year of existence, the Royals won the NBA Championship in 1951, which has been the only championship in franchise history. In 1956, the Royals moved to Cincinnati where they became the Cincinnati Royals. During their 15-year run, the franchise was mostly led by former Bearcat and future Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson, who averaged 29.3 ppg, 10.3 apg and 8.5 rpg in his 10 seasons with the Royals from 1960-1970 (he finished his last four seasons in Milwaukee). The franchise in Cincinnati experienced some success, as they made the playoffs six straight seasons from 196-1967 during the peak of Robertson’s career. However, they never made it past the conference finals, and after Robertson went to Milwaukee, the Royals suffered a couple of miserable seasons before they decided to move further west to Kansas City.

Because of the baseball team already being the Royals, the NBA team renamed their franchise the Kings in their move to heart of the Midwest. Originally, the Kings were supposed to play in three locations: Kansas City, Omaha and St. Louis. However, the plans for St. Louis fell apart shortly before the 1972-1973 season their first year in Kansas City and Omaha. The Kings split their games during their first two seasons between Municipal Auditorium in downtown Kansas City and the Omaha Civic Auditorium. While a classic arena, Municipal, even at the time, was hardly a NBA venue, as it only seated 7,316 people for games (nearly 2,000 less than the Omaha Civic Auditorium).

Now to people nowadays, the idea of a split-city franchise seems unheard of. With how big public funding is with arenas, and how much economic impact a NBA franchise has on a city, today, such a thing wouldn’t exist. Cities invest too much in their sport franchises to “share” with another city, and the splitting of revenue from merchandise and taxes would be an accounting nightmare. However, back in the day, when the NBA was still trying to compete with college basketball for fans and revenue, this was a lot more common, though in more minor instances. For example, the Boston Celtics used to regularly play games in Hartford, Connecticut (to reiterate the Celtics’ legacy as “New England’s Team”), and the Clippers used to split their home games between Los Angeles and Anaheim (the Clippers toyed with moving permanently to Orange County for a while as their Anaheim crowds consistently outdrew their Los Angeles ones). Even the Golden State Warriors are called “Golden State” for a reason, as they originally were going to split their home games between Oakland and San Diego after they moved from San Francisco (though they ditched this idea before even implementing it and simply made Oakland their exclusive home).

That being said, Kansas City-Omaha was really the only NBA franchise that had the two city identity, even if it only lasted for a few years. And to be honest, the idea really was a smart one. With Kansas City and Omaha being both border cities, the Kings were not just catering to two cities (like in the Clippers’ situation) or even two states (like the Celtics), but rather four states (Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa). By being in Kansas City AND Omaha, the Kings really were trying to be the Midwest’s NBA team, and even though it was short-lived, the three years undoubtedly had some kind of impact in generating NBA fan interest in communities where the NBA, let alone basketball in general, is not necessarily enticing or a priority.

(And another underrated contribution: the Kings in Kansas City-Omaha introduced the name underneath the number, as seen below; even to this day, the Kansas City Omaha Kings jerseys stand the test of time in terms of their aesthetic value)

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The Kansas City-Omaha Kings struggled in their first two years, finishing 36-46 under head coach and former Boston Celtics legend Bob Cousy, and then 33-49 in a year where the franchise saw three different head coaches. Cousy stepped down after a 6-14 start, they had 4 games led by interim coach Draff Young (which they lost all 4), and then the year was finished by Phil Johnson, who went a respectable 27-31 for the remainder of the year.

In Johnson’s first full season though, the Kings tasted their first morsel of success in the Midwest. In Kansas City, the Kings went from playing at the old Municipal to the newly opened Kemper Arena, state of the art at the time, and a much bigger venue than either Municipal or the Civic Auditorium in Omaha (Kemper sat 16,785 people). Because of access to this new arena in the West Bottoms, the Kings only played 11 games in Omaha during the 1974-1975 season, a significant downgrade from the previous two years, and a sign of things to come: the Kings decided to play solely in Kansas City and dropped the “Omaha” from their name the next season.

But in their last year as the Kansas City-Omaha Kings, they went 44-38 and made the playoffs, where they matched up against Bob Love, Jerry Sloan and the Chicago Bulls, whom they lost to in 6 games. However, it was the first winning record for the Kings in their history in Kansas City/Omaha area, and it set the wheels in motion for what would be more lasting on court success in Kansas City in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

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The Kings had some good players during their run in Kansas City and Omaha. They had Jimmy Walker, who was a standout at Providence College and Sam Lacey, a double-double machine in the post for the Kings. Also, in 1974-1975, they had two future NBA coaches on the team in Rick Adelman, who eventually would coach the Kings to their most successful period in franchise history in Sacramento, and Mike D’Antoni, the architect of the “Seven Seconds or Less” Phoenix Suns.

However, no player was more important during the Kansas City-Omaha days than Nate “Tiny” Archibald.

Archibald was originally drafted in 1970 in the second round when the Kings were still the Royals in Cincinnati in 1970 out of the University of Texas El-Paso (which was formerly Texas Western, which was profiled in the film “Glory Road”). Archibald was a New York streetball legend who made his name on the playgrounds throughout the city, especially in the South Bronx. Unlike some high school players out of New York, Archibald’s high school accomplishments did not match his playground ones, as he only played one and a half-years of basketball at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, and nearly dropped out of high school completely due to truancy. However, despite getting cut as a sophomore from the varsity team, Archibald eventually became a team captain and All-City player, though his poor academic performance during his early high school years ended up hurting him from getting more major college offers.

Tiny was the epitome of the “streetball” city player, as he was known for his strong dribbling ability and toughness on the court despite his size, and one had to wonder how he would mesh in the middle of the country where there were more farms and corn than concrete and basketball playgrounds. He didn’t have any local ties to any of the colleges (like Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Iowa, Iowa State, or Nebraska), which is how many expansion franchises cater to local fanbases. However, Archibald played some of his best basketball in Kansas City, especially during the franchise’s time in Kansas City and Omaha, and Kings fans seemed to endear to him, despite his unfamiliarity to them, since day one.

In his first season as a Kansas City-Omaha King, Archibald proved he was one of the league’s superstars, which helped put the Kings, (and consequently Kansas City and Omaha) on the national media’s radar. He made the All-Star team that year and led the league in minutes played, field goals made, field goals attempted, assists and points scored (he averaged 34 points per game and 11.4 assists per game). Archibald was a one-man team of sorts and he did so from the point guard position and as one of the smaller men on the floor on a night in and night out basis. Archibald regressed a little bit the following season (not a surprise considering all the turmoil going on with the coaching situation), but in the final year as the Kansas City and Omaha Kings, Archibald was the key component to the Kings 44-38 record and appearance in the playoffs. He scored 26.5 ppg and averaged 6.8 apg, while playing all 82 games. In the playoffs, Archibald was the Kings’ best player, as he averaged 20.2 ppg during the six-game series.

While he continued his success on the court as the Kings made the move on a permanent basis to Kansas City, one could argue that Archibald saw his best years when they were split between Kansas City and Omaha. When you watch highlights of Archibald, he continues to amaze, and it’s easy to see how he influenced the game today. His ball handling skills, his jump shot, his scoring ability, his speed on the court. Archibald had a grasp of the game that not many players, let alone point guards, have had in NBA history. We hear all the time of players like Pete Maravich and Jerry West and Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson impacting point guards of today. That being said, Archibald also deserves to be in that mix, especially when you consider his size, his impact on professional basketball in the Midwest, and his ability to overcome a lot of odds and roadblocks in his personal life to be successful. Tiny is in the Hall of Fame for a reason and the video below should be further reason why.

It’s fun to watch him play back then. The way he creates with the ball, the way he cuts through defenders on the way to the basket, the way he scores with such versatility and ease, and how he displays such bravado on the court and humility off of it. It reminds the younger generations that there were entertaining one-man shows in the NBA prior to Jason Williams and  Stephen Curry.

It’s too bad there are not more tapes and highlights of Archibald in the NBA vault.

1972-73 Kansas City-Omaha Kings basketball team. Seated (l-r): Sam Lacey, Don Kojis, Ron Riley, Capt. Tom Van Arsdale, Ken Kurrett, Sam Sibert, Johnny Gree. Standing (l-r): Trainer Joe Keefe, coach bob Cousy, Dick Gibbs, Toby Kimball, Mike Ratliff, Matt G

Professional basketball most likely will not be coming back to Kansas City anytime soon, if ever. And the same could be said for Omaha as well, which doesn’t have any professional sports franchise other than a minor league baseball team. And yet for three seasons, NBA basketball was played in the Midwest between two cities and among four states. For three seasons, the Kings were not just a city’s NBA team, but an overlooked geographical area’s, and they produced some memorable teams and some memorable players. Yes, there were no championships in Kansas City-Omaha, nor were there any championships when the franchise was solely in Kansas City. And that is too bad, especially since championships can save franchises financially and spiritually (fans won’t want to part with a team that won a championship for their community).

But, Kansas City and Omaha Kings fans were a witness to professional basketball. They were a witness to the playoffs, where the Kings won two home games in front of the raucous Kemper Arena faithful (they used alternate home and away games every game rather than every two like today). And they were witness to a Hall of Famer playing the best and most entertaining basketball of his career in the Heart of America, the Midwest, typically seen as the “Flyover States.”

For three years, Kansas City and Omaha had something truly wonderful, not to mention something people currently in Kansas City and Omaha will never see in those cities again.

I know Kings fans say they envy those Kings fans who were around when the Kings were in Kansas City. I know I can say I envy those Kings fans who will be there for the new arena opening this October in Sacramento (though I know I will see a Kings game at some point in the new arena, so my envy is not that high).

But I think those currently in Kansas City and Omaha, especially those who grow up here in the post-Kings era, can definitely say they envy those who were Kings fans from 1972-1975. Because they missed out on so much, and will never get that opportunity down the road in Kansas City and Omaha. Those three years were a simply a comet of basketball wonder in the Midwest.

And I envy that, even as a Kansas City transplant.

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Import of Posts from Flannel, PBR and PER

Today, I just imported some posts from Flannel, PBR and PER, mostly on the Sacramento Kings-centered variety. In a couple of days, I could import some Kansas City-related posts, but we will see. Either way, I decided to do this because I thought these posts still related to this blog, and it also gives people some perspective of some posts that I have written about the Kings in the past. I think a lot of the posts (especially about the Kings) will be similar to the ones I just imported from FPP, but they do show how I view the Kings as well as analyze them in the current day.

So, feel free to take a look at those old posts. If you want to see more of what was on Flannel, PBR and PER, feel free to check out the old blog as well. I don’t imagine I’m going to post much if at all on it anymore, but there are still a lot of quality posts I have that are worth taking a look, and not just on Kansas City and the Kings, but also WCC basketball and the NBA.

Enjoy this beautiful Sunday in Kansas City and this Memorial Day Holiday. Here is some reading for those who are “cookout”-inclined.

Mitch Richmond: the Under-Appreciated Kings Legend

“Who hell are you trying to be!? Mitch Richmond!?”

When I played Parochial Athletic League basketball in Sacramento at Presentation grade school, the assistant coach of my teams during my 4-8th grade years (the team, akin to any PAL or CYO team, was usually coached by dads, and thus, I had the same coaches in grade school all 5 years at Presentation), used to shout this out to us when he felt one of us was ball-hogging or trying to do much on the floor. He was a native born Colombian and his thick accent made him pronounce the future NBA Hall of Famer’s name as “Meech Reechmond” which would garner snickers from us as ignorant adolescent kids. He usually would follow his statement with him taking off his glasses and rubbing his eyes in frustration before he sat down back on the bench during a drill or scrimmage period, and we continued to play or do a drill, sometimes taking in what he said, but most of the time forgetting about it like most things adults said to us during this age.

I understood his reference to the Kings star during this adolescent period of my life: Richmond was the biggest star on Sacramento’s only professional sports team at the time. It was a reference all of us on the team understood because Richmond was always on the front page of the Sacramento Bee sports section from October through April and was on every Kings billboard ad throughout the metro (hell, the first Kings ad I remembered when I moved from Spokane to Sacramento was one that featured Richmond and Walt Williams; God, I loved Walt Williams). Plus, Michael Jordan was too cliche, and I’m sure he wanted to use a reference that was a bit more clever than simply referencing the greatest basketball player of all time.

But in retrospect, his reference was pretty deep (though I wonder if he really knew it). During his time in Sacramento, Richmond WAS the Kings. He was mainly responsible for the Kings’ success (which included the first playoff victory in Sacramento in 1995-1996) and his time in Sacramento proved to be a tenure that will be hard to duplicate by any player in Kings history (though Cousins may be able to, but he still has a long way to go). And yet, as time goes on, Richmond sort of goes forgotten or at the very least under-appreciated in Kings fandom lore. People remember C-Webb and Bibby and Peja and Vlade and White Chocolate and treat those players and that era with the up-most devotion. And rightfully so. Those players were part of the Kings’ most successful period in franchise history (or at least when they were named the Kings; I know they had some success with Oscar Robertson as the Rochester and Cincinnati Royals but god that was in the 60’s and I’m only 29).

But keep this in mind: without “The Rock” there is no C-Webb. There is no Rick Adelman. There are no playoff victories. There are no Western Conference Finals or Bibby’s big shot or Game 6 or epic Oral Histories by Jonathan Abrams.

Without Richmond…the Kings might be in Anaheim or Seattle already.

When Richmond was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2014, I was initially a bit perplexed by the decision. After all, Richmond certainly didn’t have the “street cred” that screamed Hall of Famer. His best years in Sacramento consisted of him making the playoffs only once, and when he was part of “Run TMC” in Golden State with Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin, he was obviously the third banana behind Mulln and Hardaway in terms of popularity (hence, the reason he was traded to Sacramento for Billy Owens). Richmond only played in the playoffs 4 times (2 with Golden State, 1 with Sacramento and 1 with the Lakers) and when he won a NBA title with the Lakers, he was primarily a bench player, as he only played 4 total minutes during that 2002 Lakers title run.

But then I considered two things: his statistical performance and his impact on basketball in Sacramento.

First off, statistically, Richmond’s career in Sacramento was damn impressive. He was the Rookie of the Year in 1988-1989 with Golden State where he averaged 22 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 4.2 apg,  and shot 46.8 percent from the field and had a PER (player efficiency rating) of 17.2. He made the All-Star team six times in a row (from the 1992-1993 season through the 1997-1998 season), which included All-Star MVP honors during the 1994-1995 season. While he never was a first-team All-NBA player, he did earn All-NBA second team honors three times (1993-1994; 1994-1995 and 1996-1997) and All-NBA third team twice (1995-1996 and 1997-1998).

Richmond also was one of the first real superstars too who made his name as a “3-point sniper” as well. In the old NBA days, superstar wing players were known (and sometimes encouraged) to take it to the rim or focus as mid-range-centered shooters. 3-point shooters mainly specialized in that and that alone, as evidenced by the Dell Curry’s, Dennis Scott’s and Dale Ellis’ of the day. However, Richmond proved to make the 3-point shot a heavy part of his game, as he is 33rd all time in 3 point makes (1,326), 41st in attempts (3,417) and 63rd in career 3-point percentage (38.8 percent). And he did this as the primary scorer during his Kings and Wizards days (but most especially Kings). Maybe Stephen Curry looked to his father for influence on his 3-point shot, but without a doubt, Richmond’s emphasis on the 3-ball helped paved the way for Steph and other current NBA stars to use the 3 ball as part of their skill set (and not solely be defined by it).

Richmond played for four NBA teams in his career, but while some people would argue that he is most known for his “Run TMC” days in Golden State, I would argue that his impact in Sacramento was exponentially greater. The Warriors had two established stars in Hardaway and Mullin and coach Don Nelson also had a great influence in terms of helping the Warriors play a style of ball that catered to their strengths during this era (and during the 2006-2008 “We Believe” era with the Warriors as well). But when Richmond was traded to Sacramento, many felt that the move was going to be a career killer. Prior to Richmond, the last Kings player to play in the All-Star game was Otis Birdsong in 1980-1981 when the franchise was still in Kansas City. The Kings hadn’t made the playoffs since 1985 (their first season in Sacramento) when Richmond arrived in Sacramento in 1991, and they hadn’t won a playoff game since 1981, when they went to the Western Conference Finals (and as pointed out in the Birdsong reference, they were still in Kansas City). It was thought that Richmond could fade into obscurity, since Sacramento wasn’t the kind of franchise nor market that would help him elevate his career.

Well, “The Rock” bucked that train of thought and then some.

In 517 games as a King, Richmond averaged 23.3 ppg on 45.1 shooting from the field. He put up an effective field goal percentage of 50.6 percent (higher than his tenures in Los Angeles, Washington and even Golden State), he shot 40.4 and averaged 4.8 3-point attempts per game, and also 3.9 rebound and 3.0 assist per game as a King as well. And to put these numbers in perspective, “The Rock” did this as the Kings main and sometimes “only” offensive option on the floor. He averaged 37.8 minute per game and his career usage rate with the Kings was 27.0 percent (highest of any of his stops). Richmond’s 50.4 win shares and 38.3 offensive win shares accumulate with the Kings further illustrates his impact on the Kings during his seven years there. And though he played in Sacramento almost twice as long as he did in Golden State or Washington (where he played 3 seasons apiece), his time in Sacramento had more impact, as his win shares per 48 was higher in Sacramento (12.4 percent) than Golden State (10.1) and Washington (8.8). The same proved to be true with his PER as well as his 18.4 PER was higher in Sacramento than in Golden State (17.4) and Washington (15.8) . The Kings needed Richmond to have any semblance of success as a basketball team, and Richmond delivered time and time again much to the delight of the organization and the fans of Sacramento.

1996-1997 may have been statistically his best season. He made the All-Star team and he averaged a career high 25.9 in 38.6 minutes per game, shot 45.4 percent from the floor and 42.8 percent from beyond the arc, and posted a PER of 21.6 (a career high) and 10.8 total win shares (another career high). But the Kings struggled with consistency roster-wise as well as internal coaching issues. Starting power forward Brian Grant only played 24 games, Olden Polynice began his career decline, Lionel Simmons and Duane Causwell, former Kings standouts, displayed that they were done as NBA players, and though Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was supposed to have an impact after being acquired from Denver, he never really meshed with the Kings roster like Tyus Edney and Sarunas Marciulionis the previous season. Gary St. Jean was fired after a 28-39 record, and Eddie Jordan (who later took their reigns for one disastrous year ala Keith Smart style) only helped the Kings win 4 of their last 12 games for a record of 34-48 overall. The turmoil and regression was a disappointment, as the Kings seemed to waste what was Richmond’s best statistical season of his career.

But, while 1996-1997 was better individually, the 1995-1996 season proved to be the most defining and memorable season for Richmond and Kings fans (until the Adelman era of course). Richmond’s numbers were still impressive (23.1 ppg, 44.7 FG percentage, 19.2 PER), but the Kings finished 39-43 and earned a playoff series against the heavily favored Seattle SuperSonics, who ended up losing to the Chicago Bulls in the Finals.

The Sonics were expected to smoke a Kings team that looked like Richmond and a band of misfits. The Sonics had Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp in the peaks of their careers, and were filled with excellent complementary players like Hersey Hawkins, Detlef Schrempf and Nate McMillan off the bench. George Karl was a playoff-seasoned coach whose coaching style was much more refined than the “play-call” heavy St. Jean. And Key Arena was one of the toughest venues to play at in the NBA for opposing teams. With “The Glove” guarding Richmond, the Kings looked doomed.

And then Game 2 happened.

Despite getting outplayed and losing 97-85 in game 1, Richmond came out gunning in Game 2. Despite getting all kinds of defensive attention from Payton and the Sonics, “The Rock” carried the Kings to a 90-81 upset, scoring 37 points on 13 of 22 shooting while also nabbing 4 boards and 4 assists. And while his offensive impact was obviously noted, when one watches the game again on tape, Richmond’s defensive impact was vastly underrated. Though he was not known as a defensive player in his career, Richmond relished the big stage in his first playoff appearance in Sacramento. Richmond matched up on the Glove and in a surprising fashion, “The Rock” shut down Payton, not vice versa as the experts predicted. Payton only scored 10 points on 4 of 12 shooting, and Richmond helped spark the Kings defense to help them outscore the Sonics 25-14 in the 4th quarter, which ultimately led to the win. And what made this offensive-defensive performance even more remarkable? Richmond played all 48 minutes of this game.

Without a doubt, Game 2 against the Sonics is something basketball fans should always mention whenever anyone wants to talk about Richmond. Considering the circumstances and the roster of the Kings, Richmond leading the Kings to this kind of road win against the eventual Western Conference champs was the stuff of mythical legend. Yes, the Kings lost the series (though they did give the Sonics all they could handle in a 96-87 Game 3 loss at Arco where the crowd was absolutely lit following their game 2 win). But Richmond did all he could to keep the Kings in the series against the Western Conferences’ top seed, not an easy feat, especially considering the Sonics ended up sweeping the Rockets in the next round. He averaged 21 ppg on 44.4 percent shooting and had a PER of 16.7 for the series, and he led the Kings to their first playoff win in 15 years and first ever in Sacramento history.

And of course…he had Game 2.

After the 1997-1998 season, the Kings knew that they had gone as far as they could with Richmond as the team’s star. With a new ownership, new front office and new coach, the Kings dealt Richmond to the Wizards for Chris Webber which ended up being the key move that changed the Kings fortunes as a franchise in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Richmond unfortunately gets recognized more for this trade than his actual accomplishments as a King, and that’s unfair. Richmond proved that a superstar could play in Sacramento and could lead the Kings to the playoffs. Yes, he only made the playoffs once, but the Kings front office and a lot of bad luck didn’t help things. What if Bobby Hurley never got in that car crash? What if Lionel Simmons was healthy? What if the Kings stopped drafting physical forwards who had no offensive skills whatsoever (Michael Smith and Michael Stewart)? What if Brian Grant stayed? What if the Kings had a decent coach? Not a lot of players could have handled the adversity Richmond faced in Sacramento, but Richmond not only handled it, but played above it. His fortitude in Sacramento is the reason why stars like Vlade Divac and Webber agreed to come to Sacramento. It’s the reason why Demarcus Cousins stays with the Kings (and hopefully continues to stay). It’s the reason why Richmond is in the Hall of Fame.

If Richmond can make it work in Sacramento, if he can make six All-Star games and make the All-NBA team multiple times as a King, if he can lead them to a playoff series and win despite a meager roster situation, then any other star can with the Sacramento Kings as well. Success just isn’t exclusive to the Celtics, Lakers, Spurs and now Warriors and Cavs.

In some ways, I always felt Richmond got robbed of some legacy by the Kings playing in Sacramento rather than Kansas City. Richmond was a legend at Kansas State, and I could have seen the Kansas City community really honoring Richmond in ways I think Sacramento never could. Richmond would have been a local legend whose name would still be spoken in reverence in the KC community, even during the late 90’s and early 2000’s when the Kings had their great competitive run. Instead of being a secondary star to Webber and Divac and Bibby and Williams, Richmond would have been the King Kansas City fans would have adored the most. Because not only did he have local ties, but he also had the kind of composure that Midwest and Kansas City-citizens gravitate toward. He was tough, he was always composed, and he gave a professional effort night in and night out. Richmond would have changed the perspective of professional basketball in Kansas City if the Kings were still in Sacramento. He was that kind of “Midwest” player.

And furthermore, he is friendly as hell. One of my favorite moments was during the Kings “Draft 3.0” when the amateur stat guys are giving their analysis on potential picks in the 2014 draft and though it’s obvious Richmond is a bit confused on what’s going on, he at the end gives them all encouragement for their hard work. Some NBA players could have just shooed them off (we didn’t see Shareef Abdur Rahiem, who was also in the room, say anything positive). But Richmond seems to be the kind of genuine guy who knows hard work when he sees it and recognizes it when it’s deserved. For amateurs who are trying to break into the industry, that kind of feedback and encouragement is invaluable not to mention motivational.

I didn’t always grow up a Kings fan. And I admit, I probably didn’t give Richmond enough credit during his time in Sacramento. But as I look back, Richmond is probably my favorite King from the past. Not only did he have the most impact statistically out of any player in Sacramento, but he got the Kings to respectability, and got the gears in motion for what would eventually be that string of success after he was traded to Washington.

And let’s remember who he was a player: a shooter, strong off the drive, an excellent free throw shooter and capable of big defensive performances and moments as evidenced in the video below:

Cheers Mitch. Maybe Sacramento is mixed in their appreciation for you, but you got a devout fan here in Kansas City.

An Appreciation for Rosedale BBQ of KCK

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“I grew up on Rosedale beef sandwiches…”

It’s a quote one of my friends told me about Rosedale BBQ in Kansas City, Kansas near the State Line of Kansas and Missouri. The area surrounding Rosedale BBQ is interesting to say the least. It is on Southwest Boulevard in the Rosedale neighborhood of Kansas City, Kansas, and is right off of where 7th Street Trafficway (the gritty part of Kansas City Kansas that also goes through Armourdale and Central) turns into Rainbow Boulevard (which is a bit more bourgeois thanks to KU Medical Hospital and West 39th). It is located near railroad tracks, which might be abandoned (I don’t know, I have never seen active trains on it), definitely abandoned grain silos, the Rosedale World War I Memorial Arch (the stepchild to the more well-known Liberty Memorial) and two popular Mexican Restaurants (Taqueria Mexico and Sabor y Sol).

When you think about it, Rosedale BBQ, which has been around since 1934 and is one of the oldest BBQ places in Kansas City not named Arthur Byrant’s or Gates, is a microcosm of modern day Kansas City Kansas: a dying railroad industry, old immigrants meet new, and a blue collar approach to life that can border on slow or “dwelling in the past” to most people who are not familiar with the citizens of the area.

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When I first moved to Kansas City, I settled off 6th and Central Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas and Wyandotte County through the suggestion of a friend of mine (though people always remarked it was crazy, since it wasn’t really near any major entertainment districts and it had a reputation as a rough area around the metro). It was as if I were transported to a world that was part working class Pennsylvania, part Chicano East Los Angeles. You had people who came from old immigrant families from Croatia, Slovenia and Poland, who came to Kansas to work for the railroad industry and had brought with them their traditions and cultures which manifested in bars, restaurants and Catholic Churches around the area. And then time passed, the railroad jobs became scarce, the housing became cheap, and in came Chicano and first-generation American families from Mexico and Central America, bringing their own cultures and traditions to the KCK area, shaping it into the current KCK and Wyandotte County that is seen today. In my mind, KCK was an embodiment of the American dream slowly developing and shaping to the modern day world, only this story wasn’t happening in Los Angeles or New York or Miami, but in the Midwest in the heart of America, but on the Kansas side rather than Missouri.

As I lived in KCK for over two years before I moved to Midtown KCMO, I slowly uncovered more unique places to eat and drink: numerous taquerias; burrito windows open 24 hours on the weekend; Go Chicken Go; Salvadoran restaurants that specialized in Papusas; Pollo Asado joints that only sold half and whole chickens with beans, rice and tortillas; Italian delis in nearly abandoned strip malls; and no dining room-area Chinese places serviced by really sarcastic cashiers, just to name a few.

But at the end of the day, my favorite place to dine in KCK was Rosedale BBQ. Granted, I liked it because it was BBQ, and as a Californian, I really never knew what “true” BBQ was until I came to Kansas City. To me, BBQ was baby back ribs and dry beef and sausage my family would get every once in a while from Back Forty BBQ in Roseville. I never experienced real brisket or burnt ends or spare ribs, which is the only ribs to eat according to people in the Midwest outside of Chicago. But in all honesty, Rosedale represented that melting pot of KCK, that Midwest blue collar, working class identity meshing with the ever-changing demographics of Kansas City Kansas as well as the Westside Kansas City Missouri community right off of Southwest Boulevard.

To be honest, the food at Rosedale is good, better than it gets credit for according to Yelp, but it struggles with consistency. The beef can be moist and tender one day, and chopped up and fatty the next. The hot BBQ sauce can be spicy and savory as well as the perfect complement to their crisp-fried crinkle cut fries. But on some days, the sauce is over-peppered, tasting as if somebody accidentally dumped way too much pepper in the jar by accident in the sauce, and was too apathetic or cheap to throw it out and simply make a new batch. The ribs probably are the antithesis of what any BBQ snob would prefer: they are untrimmed with a lot of fat and grizzle, fall too easily off the bone, and though they have a nice smoke ring, they may seem to dry to most rib purists’ taste.

But, Rosedale isn’t the place for BBQ artistry. Joe’s and Jack Stack and Woodyard are those places, establishments for backyard suburban BBQ aficionados who want to whet their appetite for real BBQ when the weekend cookout fare didn’t live up to expectations. Those places are for the tourists and the BBQ snobs of the surrounding Kansas City Metro Area who feel the need to justify their food choices and BBQ allegiances based on what was featured in the Michelin guide or what has 5 stars on Yelp. And no offense to those places. They are good, and I enjoy eating at those places on occasion.

However, they are not Rosedale’s.

For starters, they do not have Rosedale’s speed. Even when the place is busy, Rosedale churns out BBQ dinners and sandwiches in record speed. The cashiers don’t write any orders down and have a lingo that is unique to their establishment. (For example “beef deluxe combo, fries extra crispy”, a very popular order you will hear being yelled to the kitchen window consistently means beef sandwich on bun with fries that are put in the deep fryer a little bit longer than usual). Even during a lunch or dinner rush, you can get your order and eat in 20-30 minutes. For the working man on the clock, Rosedale is the perfect spot that will get you back to work with some time to spare, perhaps to get or make a pot of coffee to avoid that afternoon post-lunch coma.

And secondly, no other BBQ place can beat Rosedale’s prices. You can get a slab of spareribs for around 18 bucks and 14 on Monday’s. A beef sandwich, fries and a RC cola will usually ring you in just under 10 dollars. It is common to just get a few morsels of BBQ for around 15-20 dollars at more “popular” BBQ establishments, but at Rosedale one can guarantee to be full not just in the stomach, but also decently so in the wallet or bank account afterward.

You see…that is why Rosedale is quintessential KCK: it is geared toward the working man in terms of area, speed and prices. People can geek all out on the kitchy-ness of a BBQ restaurant in a gas station or a place where presidents dine when they visit KC. But Rosedale is authentic and in an unapologetic way that seems to buck what is expected from other BBQ joints that are sprouting up all over the city. They are not into competitions. They are not going to be featured on Diners, Drive Ins and Dives. And yet they still serve food fast at a low cost and continue to bring in a diversity of customers. Whether it’s in the old wooden booths or at the old time counter, Rosedale attracts white working men still in their overalls from a long day of working in various kind of skilled industries, as well as Chicano families who are ordering a slab and a half to go along with a pound of fries (actual terms of the restaurant by the way). It is common to see businessman in button down shirts and slacks rub shoulders with 20-something hipsters in skinny jeans, cleverly designed T-shirts, and bottle-cap glasses. Rosedale attracts the kind of crowd you’d be hard-pressed to see from other BBQ places, and for the most part, they are Kansas City-people, either from KCK or the nearby Westside or Midtown. That kind of customer authenticity is not easily duplicated, and I believe it will be hard to duplicate from other places in the near as well as far-off future.

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When Rosedale BBQ opened in 1934 by Anthony and Alda Rieke and brother in law Tony Sieleman, it was known as the “Bucket Shop” and primarily sold buckets of cold beer and hot dogs. Their catchphrase was “Buy it by the bucket!”. As the story goes, after driving by and smelling the smoke from a BBQ joint in Shawnee, Kansas, they decided to smoke and sell ribs along with beer, and their ribs were so popular that they decided to go into selling BBQ full time as well as beer (hence, dropping the hot dogs from their menu). 82 years later, though the original owners have passed on (the grandchildren of the original owners still apparently have a stake in the place), Rosedale BBQ still sells BBQ and still offers beer by the bucket (though they do sell individual bottles as well), and remain standing in the Rosedale neighborhood and KCK as a pillar of stability despite major changes in the economic and cultural demographics of those respective communities.

And that is a good thing. We hear all this rhetoric about “Making America Great Again” from all kinds of “conservative” Americans, and places like Rosedale not only stand the changes of the times, but embrace and welcome it. These businesses prove how asinine those civic statements are. We don’t need to make our communities “great again” as if we need to recapture some lost magic from 30-40 years ago when America was supposedly “better”. America is already great, our communities are great, and we just need to adjust through minor setbacks and issues to continue to make it great. Take in the new, and mix it with the old and make something fresh, but timeless. Rosedale’s certainly accomplishes that in my opinion in the BBQ industry not just in the KCK area.

A couple of months ago, I volunteered at a nursing home right off the Plaza through work. I met with an African-American lady named Alice in her early 80’s and as she sat down, I took a knee next to her since there were no more seats available. As I asked her about where she was from and where she grew up in Kansas City, she told me she was born in Kansas City, Kansas and grew up in the Rosedale neighborhood and went to school all the way through high school there (when apparently there was a Rosedale High School). As we talked a bit more about the Rosedale neighborhood, I asked her if her and her family had ever gone to Rosedale BBQ.

She laughed and paused for a few seconds before she answered my question:

“Oh yes! BUY IT BY THE BUCKET!”

 

Up-Down v Tapcade: A Study of KC Retro Arcade Bars

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I seriously think the “arcade” bar has to be one of the best inventions in the past decade or so. With nearly every kid in America having a video game system of some sort, or utilizing their IPad or phone for mobile gaming, the days of the arcade machine seem to be going the way of the Dodo. After all, why go to a bowling alley arcade and spend 25 cents or more a pop when you can play Call of Duty for hours on end with your mom serving you philly cheesesteak hot pockets at your beckoning? Kids just don’t know the joys these days or the sacrifices us 20-40 year olds had to go through in our teen and pre-teen years to play video game. They don’t know the effort and payoff of keeping your spot against random opponents in Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat or NBA Jam. Not to sound like a Goose Gossage, but things just aren’t the same with teenagers when it comes to the world of gaming. The complex beauty of the arcade machine is lost on this generation. (As well as the art of having to call a girl’s house and talk to their mom or dad and explain who you are before you got to talk to her. Mobile phones and texting ruined that agonizing but character-building process.)

But, as this current generation of youngster passes on the amusement machines of yore, retro arcade bars are starting to pop up around the nation, much to the satisfaction of 21-40 year olds’ cravings of nostalgic entertainment and beer. In Kansas City, there are two places for arcade attractions as well as craft beer selections: Up-Down and Tapcade. While both are located in the Crossroads District and both offer 80 and 90’s arcade fare along with multiple sundry selections, they are much different venues that offer distinct benefits as well as drawbacks from one another.

Let’s take a look at each place individually and what they have to offer to the video game-loving and beer-drinking crowd of Kansas City.

Up-Down

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Address: 101 Southwest Boulevard, Kansas City, MO 64108

Why you should go to Up-Down:

Up-Down, located in the heart of the Crossroads right across from Arts KC, has gotten a lot of publicity after replacing Hamburger Mary’s a little over a year ago. The arcade bar is in prime real estate in the Crossroads, as it is a perfect meet up spot, and not just for First Friday’s either. There are a plethora of different restaurants surrounding the Up-Down area (Manny’s, LuLu’s, Pizzabella, etc.), and Up-Down is the perfect place for a group of people to hang out at after a meal and is within walking distance.

Up-Down’s arcade fare is impeccable as well as diverse. Yes, you have all the 80 and 90’s arcade diversions one would expect from a retro Arcade bar. All selections are only 25 cents a game (which are in the form of neat little Up-Down tokens) and include Pac Man, Galaga, X-Men, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat 2, NBA Jam, etc. (But no Final Fight? Why the hell do we not have Final Fight? I lived off the game in bowling alleys in Spokane during my youth. Haggar for Mayor!) However, Up-Down has a surprising pinball selection (the Indiana Jones and South Park selections are clutch) as well as some big multiplayer arcade games. (Updated 4-way Pac Man and Killer Queen…which I guess is a big thing?) In the front of house,  a projector screen connected to a N64 allows people, token-free, to play four-way battles of Mario Kart or Super Smash Brothers (though the waits on this can be long).  In addition, they also have four skee ball lanes, which is a nice active outlet for people that don’t like to stare at a pixelated screen for hours on end. And lastly, they have a few huge television screens (you know, like eight of them put together to make one screen like some cool 80’s night club) which they will play 80’s retro movies (like Back to the Future and Bloodsport) or old-school WWF (and I say WWF because that is when it was great) on loop. It is a nice distraction for moments when you’re waiting for your favorite arcade game to be free or if you’re in the midst of a boring conversation with a bad date or group.

Speaking of those who need breaks from the “bings and dings” of the arcade environment, the Up-Down venue itself is massive: it’s two floors and there is plenty of outdoor space and entertainment. The upstairs and downstairs patios are nice features that are perfect for sightseeing downtown KC or people-watching on the Crossroads streets (which can be a sight on First Friday) as well as engaging in conversation away from all the blaring sounds and lights inside. But, if talking isn’t you’re thing, then there are diversions such as “big” Jenga (you know with like wood blocks instead of jenga pieces; people have left their mark with all kinds of inappropriate phrases written on them; I wonder what KU frat donated them) and a massive Connect Four.

The beer selection is also pretty solid at Up-Down with the typical variety of craft IPAs as well as “hipster” cheap selections such as tall-boy PBR, Rolling Rock, Schlitz (a personal favorite) and even Modelo (one that may become my favorite; seriously, Modelo already is fire in their cool bottles; putting it in a tall boy one-ups that and then some). Up-Down also has a full bar, should you not be the “beer” kind of person, and they usually serve pretty quickly, even in the midst of big crowds, which is typical on the weekends. And though they do not have much food selection, they added a pizza shack in the corner a few months ago to sterling results. The pizza is the classic “New York-style by-the-slice” mold and is actually a pretty good slice. The crust has nice texture and chew and it is well worth the $3.50 price tag. Their slices are perfect when you get a sudden hunger craving and you need a break from all the “Time Crisis 2” play, and you want to watch some people play some crappy skee ball.

Some drawbacks to Up-Down:

Up-Down is a great place, but it can get crowded. And I mean like “Donald Trump rally in Southern Indiana” crowded. There are times when I found myself walking around for massive minute periods because a.) all the games were occupied and b.) I couldn’t get through the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. And not only has taken away from valuable video game time, but it has also made me witness a lot of “accidents” in the mold of beer glasses breaking because somebody got pushed or shoved incidentally due to the massive crowd. Give it to bar staff at Up-Down: they work their asses off on the weekends.

And a big crowd is one thing, but the popularity has drawn a peculiar mix of people. The Up-Down crowd, thanks to its popularity, has drawn the “overly bro” or “young professional” types who seem to think it’s cool to get in pissing contests with people who just want to play their damn arcade games. For example, being a Giants fan, I wore my Giants World Series sweater to Up-Down on Friday night (which was from 2010, their first championship since 1954…I haven’t bought any of the other title stuff because to be honest, the 2010 championship was more than enough for me, and all the subsequent titles brought on a whole bunch of bandwagon Giants fans…to prove my fandom look here and here). As I was playing “Kiss” pinball and in the midst of a multi-ball round some guy taps me on the shoulder and says “you have a lot of balls man”. At first, I thought he was talking about my pinball round (because yeah, when you have a multi-ball round, predictably a lot of balls will be present), but then he told me I had “balls” to wear my sweater in public. I just laughed him off, but it’s that kind of obnoxiousness that Up-Down has been attracting as of late that has been putting me off the place, which is hard to say because the place really is one my favorite bars in KC. As stated before, I’m there to play arcade games and enjoy myself and some cheap tall boys, not grovel in your Royals “fandom” (yeah, because you loved them in the Jimmy Gobble era) or your KU or K State “bro”fests.

And while this is minor, the token thing can be frustrating. Often I find myself having too many tokens and see them building up in my apartment. To make matters worse, I always seem to forget them whenever I go to Up-Down and I have to buy more tokens to play (hence continuing my hopeless cycle). Yes, they are only 25 cents, but it can add up, and I think Up-Down knows the “pay for token” method is a sneaky way to get some extra coin from their clientele.

Tapcade

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Address: 1701 McGee Street Suite 200 Kansas City, MO 64108

Why you should go to Tapcade

I went to Tapcade for the first time on Saturday night and I was blown away that I had not gone there earlier. Unlike the crowded, unsavory base (obnoxious frat and sorority types as well as nose in the air young professionals) that Up-Down has been attracting as of late (hopefully it’s just a weekend thing, because I have been there other times where it’s much more chill), Tapcade’s crowd is more diverse as well as more chill. While it was a down night, there is plenty of room to roam and people tend to leave others to themselves, which is nice and refreshing considering Up-Down’s “chickens in a feed lot” atmosphere at times.

Much like Up-Down, Tapcade has the 80’s and 90’s arcade fare with games that are also available at Up-Down (X Men, NBA Jam, Street Fighter), but they also have selections that are distinct to Tapcade (NARC and NHL Open Ice). Tapcade also utilizes the “gaming system” option much better than Up-Down as they have 3 gaming systems on 3 different screens. You can play Playstation or Genesis on one screen (I played Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 and manual’d for days with Rodney Mullen), N64 on the big projector or Super NES on another smaller screen. Considering I grew up with these older systems, it was refreshing to play video games on systems that have been passed over in the video game community as of late thanks to Father Time.

But the best part of all the arcade games? Free play! No tokens! That’s right. All you do is pay five bucks for a wristband and it’s all you can play for the remainder of the night. If I die in “House of the Dead 2”, no putting in another token, just hit the start button and it’s more shooting Zombies for me. I am surprised that more people don’t come to Tapcade from Up-Down on their busy nights because of this: not only do you avoid the crowd and go to a chiller place (Tapcade is more “Road House” to Up-Down’s “Modern Girls”…if you don’t get it, brush up on your 80’s films buddy), but you don’t have to wait in line at the bar to exchange tokens either. Considering my disdain for acquiring useless tokens in my apartment as well as having to scramble for some after a “game over”, this free play feature is a definite check in the plus column for Tapcade.

One of the unique features of Tapcade though is that the arcade is just a complementary feature to what is a unique bar that offers a variety of special amenities. First off, they have a movie theater where they show a variety of different films from current selections (like Batman v Superman) to indie fare (High Rises) to nostalgic classics (Enter the Dragon) to special themed movie showings (apparently they have a “Mystery Monday” where they show different mystery movies and discuss it afterward). On Thursdays, “Geeks who Drink” host a trivia night (you can bet i’ll be there) and they also have a pretty comprehensive craft beer selection (it really rivals Up-Down’s own selection, though I think they don’t have as many Tall Boy selections) as well a wide food menu that offers a lot of different specials as well typical bar food fare (burgers, fries, wings, etc.).

And that is what makes Tapcade cool: it’s not just about the arcade. Yes, the arcade machines are cool as well as the video game systems, but it seems like there is more to offer than just that (unlike Up-Down, which is all about the arcade). I have only been to Tapcade once, but it’s chill vibe and variety of different attractions make it warrant multiple visits in the future.

Some drawbacks to Tapcade:

I have to admit, I was a little disappointed in the game selection at Tapcade, but not because it wasn’t plentiful, because there was a wide selection despite its much smaller space than Up-Down. However, they has so many of the same games as Up-Down. I would say probably 80 to 85 percent of the games were the same ones you could find at Up-Down. Now, while I understand you’re catering to a crowd that may not want to go to Up-Down because of its crowd, and you have to have similar games to appease those defectors, I wish there were more unique games that you could only get at Tapcade. I still don’t understand why neither place has Dance Dance Revolution. Seriously. That would draw all kinds of good attention to their place as well as prime Snapchat material.

Another drawback to Tapcade is it’s location as it is sort of in an area in the Crossroads that is more business oriented (it’s next to a trucking garage or something…whatever is, you’ll see a lot of semi trucks next to Tapcade). There aren’t a lot of restaurants within close walking distance and I think this is a major reason why people prefer to go to Up-Down over Tapcade: it’s just a hell of a lot more convenient to throw Up-Down in your plans last minute. Tapcade is really the only attraction on the street, and unfortunately, that makes Tapcade a “one stop” destination on a night, rather than a multiple one, which you can do with Up-Down considering its close proximity to so many other different places.

And also, this is minor, but there is no pinball or other kinds of “non video game” attractions at Tapcade either. While they maybe are trying to avoid it just to focus on the arcade games, I feel like the pinball options are a nice attraction of Up-Down that gives it some good game variety, along with the Skee Ball. At Tapcade, it’s video game only, and while that is nice, it’s tough to keep people there on a normal night if they tire of arcade game easily.

So who’s better?

To be honest, both Up-Down and Tapcade are great bars and should be priority for anyone in their 20’s or 30’s that wants a different bar experience from the normal “drink and hang out” or “drink and club” vibe. Up-Down is great for nights in the Crossroads where you want to hop multiple places or find a place to settle down after checking out exhibits at First Fridays. Tapcade is great if you want to experience different themes or options and want a chiller, more laid back vibe.

Whatever your preference, check these places out. They definitely are two of the more unique and better nightlife establishments in the city.

And for goddsakes, please start requesting Final Fight and DDR on their web sites!

It’s Time to Move on from Karl in Sacramento

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At 30-46 this season, and 41-65 in his one-and-a-half season run so far as the head man of the Sacramento Kings, it is obvious that the Kings organization is in dire need of a change as they head into the Golden One Center in Downtown Sacramento next year. Yes, Karl has delivered on the “up-tempo” philosophy that majority shareholder Vivek Ranadive wanted when he fired Michael Malone early last season. The Kings rank No. 1 in the NBA in pace at 100 possessions per 48 minutes, and rank No. 3 in scoring offense at 106.9 ppg. That being said, Karl’s “philosophy” has come at a cost to other categories, as they rank last in scoring defense (109.1 points allowed per game), 27th in effective field goal percentage defense (52.2 percent allowed) and 21st in defensive rating (108.3 points allowed per 100 possessions). Furthermore, though the Kings score at a high rate, it hasn’t come in necessarily the most efficient manner, as the Kings rank 12th in offensive rating (106.1 points scored per 100 possessions) and 27th in turnover percentage (14.2 percent). Yes, the Kings have been entertaining on the court when it comes to generating points, but it hasn’t resulted in much improvement in the Win-Loss column, disappointing considering many Kings fans had hopes that they would compete for a playoff spot this season after big free agent acquisitions such as Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli and Kosta Koufos.

That being said, it’s not just the numbers and the on-court product that merit Karl being showed the door by Kings management. In fact, if we just based Karl’s tenure on what I listed above, I think most Kings fans would be okay with him coming back for a second full season in 2016-2017, especially considering these numbers are probably the best we have seen from a Kings coach in the Post-Rick Adelman era. Unfortunately, off the court, both in the locker room and the media, Karl has been an unmitigated disaster in his relationships with everyone in the organization, from players to assistant coaches to even front office members. Let’s take a look at the transgressions Karl has committed this year that warrant him being fired by season’s end at the very latest.

  • In the Summer off-season, rumors spread that George Karl called other teams to gauge Cousins’ value and see if teams were interested in negotiating a deal for the All-Star center and Kings franchise player. Karl did not have approval to do this of course from management or ownership or even Cousins himself. Things tipped to the point that Ranadive thought about firing Karl after news broke out about the incident and considered replacing him with John Calipari. Karl stayed however (after Cal expressed no interest in the Kings or any NBA job) and this led to the famous awkward handshake during Summer League between Boogie and Karl that was a forecast of the chaos that was about to occur in 2015-2016.
  • After scrapping their way to a 20-23 start with a brief period in the 8th spot in the Western Conference playoff race, the Kings lost eight of their next nine games before the All-Star break and rumors swirled wildly that the Kings were going to fire and have a new head coach after the All-Star break. However, due to ownership’s financial concerns, the Kings decided to keep Karl and “work with him” until to the end of the season at least. The decision hasn’t seemed to have much of an effect, as the Kings have been 8-15 after the All-Star break.
  • The Kings have displayed a lack of discipline on the court under Karl, as his lack of control as a coach has resulted in the Kings being one of the most T’d up teams in the league. The Kings are seventh in the league in total technical fouls, but the Kings are tied for third in player technicals (34) and are tied for first in coach technicals (8). Of course, there is a debate on how much of an effect this has in the W-L column. For example, the Clippers are in the playoff hunt despite being the most T’d up team in the league, but the Phoenix Suns are fourth in total technical fouls and rank near the bottom of the Western Conference. Furthermore, the Spurs are in last when it comes to technical fouls, but the third-to-last team are the Sixers, who are you know…going through the “process”. So it just goes to show that less or more technical fouls don’t necessarily directly relate to winning. That being said, Karl’s veteran presence was supposed to be an improvement over incumbent Ty Corbin, who was let go because many felt he had no control over the roster. Well…Karl, as evidenced by all the techs, hasn’t improve upon his predecessor, and he has cost a hell of a lot more money to boot.
  •  Karl has repeatedly buried younger players on this Kings roster in favor of veterans, even after the Kings played themselves out of playoff contention. Ben McLemore, Seth Curry (more on this in the next bullet point) and Willy Cauley-Stein have seen wild shifts in playing times, as they often have been bumped out of the rotation in favor of veterans like Marco Belinelli, Kosta Koufos and Quincy Acy (Acy and Koufos have been understandable, as Acy has earned more minutes due to effort and Koufos has been what Kings fans expected him to be: a defensive oriented player with an mediocre offensive game; Belinelli though has had one of his worst seasons ever though, as evidenced by his 9.5 PER and career-low 38.6 FG percentage). The only reason Curry and Cauley-Stein have been in more (and thus, been more productive) is due to injuries and suspensions by veterans on the team during this home stretch of the season. If Belinelli was healthy, I would bet that Karl would be having Curry (and to an extent McLemore, though he has had injury issues of his own) riding the bench, much to the chagrin of the fans and ownership, and to the detriment of the young King’s future and development.
  • Speaking of Curry, nobody has handled Curry’s rise in the past couple of weeks more poorly or immaturely than Karl. The way he has “backhandedly complimented” the first-year Kings player and brother of league MVP Stephen is either sadistic in an old-school Byron Scott “this is how I develop youngsters” way (which has proven to NOT be successful in any place he has coached, especially LA…which as a Kings fan, I’m not complaining about) or is a defense mechanism to deflect the real issue which is “why did he bury him on the bench for most of the season?” Despite Curry proving to be a valuable asset during this stretch run, replacing the injured Belinelli and McLemore in the starting lineup, Karl has refused to give the youngster much credit. Karl noted publicly to the media that Curry would only be in the league “a couple of more years” and also implied that Curry wouldn’t be seen as such an asset if he had a different last name. This has caused an uprising of sorts, as the “snake” emoji that has been synonymous with Karl’s description from former (and current) players reared its head again with Curry posting it on twitter. And furthermore, Cousins interrupted a Curry interview the day after Karl’s comments to make a jab at Karl’s “career length” comment about Curry. No matter what Karl’s true feelings are about Curry or other Kings players, Karl has showed an amazingly lack of tact when it comes to sharing his opinions with the media, which has caused inner locker room turmoil between players and the coaching staff.
  • And lastly, the coaching staff under Karl has been an utter disaster, as nobody seems to trust anyone on staff. This off-season, the Kings got some notoriety when they decided to hire Nancy Lieberman as an assistant this summer. While she is not the first (the Spurs beat the Kings to the punch by hiring Becky Hammon, who coached the Spurs to a Summer League title), it was a sign of some good progressive movement as an organization after years of stagnation under the Maloofs (mostly due to the fact that THEY DIDNT HAVE ANY MONEY). Unfortunately, the hire seemed to come from above Karl (most likely an ownership decision) and reports not only circulated that Karl exiled Lieberman from the coaching staff due to his suspicions that she was a confidante for Ranadive, but that inner coaching turmoil concerning her and the staff was a reason in the firing of Vance Walberg, who was one of Karl’s “hires” from his days in Denver.

As you can see, this list is comprehensive and ridiculous. Not even the poorest of NBA coaches could have compiled a list this extensive in a one-and-a-half year campaign, but Karl managed to do so. With Karl in charge, the Kings have been a “three ring circus” and he has not really done anything to mitigate or lessen the negative attention that has plagued the Kings all season long. I mean, just go to Deadspin and search “Sacramento Kings” and it’s crazy ridiculous the kind of articles that post up. While it’s nice that Sacramento, which usually ranks in “NBA Media Attention” circles somewhere between Milwaukee and Charlotte, has garnered more attention than usual this season, it would have been nice if the Kings were getting some attention in the media regarding a possible playoff run or Cousins’ turning into one of the better post players in the NBA rather than the tire fire that has been their organizational chemistry.

And what makes this all the worse is despite this utter cluster fuck this organization has been the past season, despite all this turmoil, bickering and lack of management, Karl is still sitting on the bench completely cool and without a care in the world. And that’s the nail in the coffin when it comes to Karl’s future: he doesn’t really give a shit about how this team performs or whether it is set up for long-term success. As long as Karl gets paid, he could care less what happens. I seriously doubt he does anything at practice but show up, have a seat on the bench while the team shoots around or assistants work one-on-one, open up to Aliene Voison’s column in the Sac Bee sports section while downing a medium Peet’s Iced Mocha, and snicker as she argues that Karl is more indispensable to this Kings’ organization than Boogie, a 2-time All-Star and a good candidate to be the starting center on Team USA this Summer.  Karl has not just produced a team that is ill-suited for his style (watch Cousins huff and puff down the court and you can understand why the Kings struggle defensively; the “high-octane” tempo is just not suited for him considering the minutes they need him to play), but foster a “McCarthey-esque” culture of paranoia within the locker room. He has conned ownership and fans into thinking he really cares about the Kings’ future when he doesn’t, just like he did in Denver, Milwaukee and Seattle in his previous head coaching stops. Ask any Nuggets, Bucks or Sonics fan or even former player. In no way shape or form are they clamoring for Karl to lead their teams again. (Well…I guess that really doesn’t count for Seattle since they no longer have a team…so they’ll look back fondly on that team of his simply because that’s all they got…you think they really loved the Bob Hill or Paul Westphal era?)

It’s about time the Sacramento organization and fanbase do the same with Karl. Yes, the organization will have to pay quite a bit to buy him out. Yes, it may result in putting him in a front office organization where he probably will just be sitting in the VIP box of the Golden One Center chewing a cigar and counting his money while he laughs as the Kings rebuild through the crater he left behind. And yes, it sucks that unlike in Seattle, Denver or Milwaukee, the Kings did not get at least one good “playoff” run or season during Karl’s tenure.

But, it’s time to move on. On March 30, the Kings signed Vlade Divac to an extension as GM and VP of Basketball Operations and there are reports that former Pacers executive David Morway will be joining him in making decisions in the front office. Vlade has a chance to rectify all the negative press he got from last off-season by making one simple decision: getting rid of Karl and finding a new head coach for this Kings organization.

Unlike Malone’s firing, there won’t be a lot of resistance or uproar about such a decision. If Vlade wants to justify his extension, relieving Karl of his duties after his disastrous one-and-a-half year stint will be the perfect way to start year two of his front office campaign. The Kings will be better in the long-run and will be able to truly build a roster that can compete long-term in the future, and not exist just to stroke the ego of a coach who is trying to milk wins during his last moments in the sun.

Let’s not be Indiana Jones here (snake reference for those who may not get it) and be afraid of something we know is bad for our organization, but won’t do anything about due to “technicalities” or “finances” or “fear of the unknown”. We’ll be all right post-Karl.

Bucks and Nuggets fans and players can attest to this. They know we’ll be “better off” with him “gone”.

Time for Change? A Look at the Future Value of the Kings’ Roster

What does the future look like for George Karl, Demarcus Cousins and the Sacramento Kings from here on out?

Wednesday’s 110-105 loss to the lowly Philadelphia 76ers, seemed to be a nail in the coffin for most Sacramento Kings fans’ optimism. After beating the Indiana Pacers on the road to go 12-17, many Kings fans envisioned a 3-game stretch against the Blazers and Sixers at home, and the Warriors in nearby Oakland, that would result in at least a 2-1 stretch, and a chance to be 14-18 and perhaps in the lead of the 8th spot by the start of the new year.

Instead, the Kings lost all 3 games (including a loss to the Blazers in which Portland was missing Damion Lilliard), and the results were uninspiring the least, as the Kings lacked cohesion, chemistry and discipline in what should have been a resume-boosting trio of games. Kings fans have already raised their pitchforks and gone on their soapboxes about the Kings’ inconsistent, disappointing and at times un-watchable 12-20 start this year, so I will not go into that debate much further. Rather, I want to take a look at the roster and analyze who is worth keeping and who is not going forward for the rest of this season and on.

Maybe the Kings will stick with the plan and the Kings in the current mold. Maybe change is already on its way (knowing Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, it’s probably the case). But the Kings are at a crossroads right now, and it’s worth looking into and seeing what direction the Kings could take to make this franchise competitive again, especially as they move into the Golden 1 Center next season.

The Inactive/End-of-the-Bench Guys

Duje Dukan, Eric Moreland, Caron Butler, Seth Curry, James Anderson

Dukan is pretty much a non-factor in this discussion, and is pretty much roster-filler for the Kings. Caron Butler, who was supposed to give some veteran leadership on and off the court to this team, has been such a non-factor that he’s been the subject of frequent trade rumors the past week or so. And though James Anderson is a scrappy player and a good story, his presence on this roster seems a bit superfluous. He probably needs to be on a team that would better utilize his calm, no-frills demeanor (I mean the Kings could…but we’re 32 games into the season and Anderson remains an “occasional” player at best).

The only two worth keeping perhaps are Moreland and Curry. Moreland has been a project of the Kings the past couple of seasons, as he has gotten quite familiar with I-80 East considering how many times he’s been called up and demoted to the Kings’ D-League team in Reno. In the D-League, he averaged a double-double, putting up a line of 13.7 ppg and 12.7 rpg in 7 career D-League games. But he hasn’t gotten much clock in the NBA, as he has appeared in only 8 games and has played 26 minutes total. With Cousins taking a majority of the minutes at the 5, George Karl preferring small-ball lineups, Willie Cauley Stein the post player of the future for the Kings (though his injury history isn’t a good sign), and a fractured foot that may cost him the year, it just doesn’t seem feasible to keep Moreland on for much longer. Sometimes, players are late bloomers, as Hassan Whiteside, a former Kings draft pick, has proven. I know the Kings and Kings fans do not want to give away another potential Whiteside player. But with the current makeup of this team, it doesn’t seem worth it to have Moreland in the Kings’ plans for the future, even if he does hold some talent and potential upside.

As for Curry, his future is a bit more debatable. Curry isn’t the playmaker that his brother is and never will be that kind of player. And Curry is more of an off-guard who could thrive in spot-up situations than the kind of shot-creator that brother Steph is. And Curry’s upside seems a bit limited at 25 years old. However, if Karl is going to be the coach of this team going forward, Curry would make a lot of sense for his fast-paced, shooting-heavy system (especially considering this team lacks consistent outside threats). He is young and he could find a valuable (not to mention affordable) role off the bench as shooter off the bench. He currently has a 3-pt FG percentage of 40.9 percent and he shot 46.7 percent on 334 attempts last year in the D-League with Erie, so he certainly has that capability to develop into a role player with the Kings.

The Veteran Bench Crew

Quincy Acy, Marco Belinelli, Kosta Koufos, Darren Collison, Omri Casspi

I like Acy personally as a player. He hustles, goes all out and his effort makes up for his lack of natural skill in all kinds of ways. He is basically a younger and slightly more skilled Reggie Evans, whom I also liked a lot from last year’s squad. However, Acy is the typical “struggles to find a place” big guy that the Kings have had a tendency to acquire the past few years (JJ Hickson, Carl Landry, Ryan Hollins, etc.). Acy may be a good team guy, and he probably deserves more clock than he gets, but he is pretty expendable to the Kings at this point, especially once Cauley-Stein gets healthy.

Belinelli and Collison also fall into the same boat, though they are more talented players and could net more in return than Acy. Belinelli was signed to give the Kings a veteran shooter who came from a winning pedigree (he previously played with the Spurs). However, he hasn’t been able to replicate his San Antonio days in Sacramento. And a lot of that makes sense. The Spurs are a team that thrives on ball movement and role-specificity, and the Kings under Karl have been far from that, as he allows his team to be more free-flowing for both good and bad. That is not a good fit for Belinelli, and it shows, as the lack of role definition is causing him to have one of the worst years of his career in Sacramento (his 32.7 percent 3-point percentage is the lowest of his career thus far, and his 10.3 PER is the second-lowest of his career, above only his rookie year where it was 8.2 and he was buried on the bench by Don Nelson, who typically does that to rookies).

As for Collison, he filled in admirably as a starter lasts season (not easy to do considering he was replacing fan favorite Isaiah Thomas) and has given some fire and depth to the Kings’ bench this season. Also, he has been a nice complement on the court to Rondo, as Collison can not only shoot a bit from the outside (to help mask Rondo’s shooting woes and open up the lanes for him to drive and create), but he can also be a good running mate for Rondo on the break, as his speed and playmaking ability (though not as strong as Rondo) give the Kings a viable second point guard who creates a lot of options in the full-court game. According to PER, his tenure with the Kings has been the strongest of Collison’s career (16.8) and he has maintained his ability to generate shots for others (23.9 assist rate) despite the presence of Rondo, while still being efficient with the ball (13.5 turnover rate, which is better than Rondo’s 24.7 rate, and one of the best rates of his career thus far; he’s also doing this despite their usage rates being quite similar, with Rondo’s 19.1 and Collison 20.4).

Collison has been a more positive story in Sacramento while Belinelli has been more of a disappointment. Despite their different skill sets and performances as Kings, they really share what should be the same fate: they ought to be explored for possible deals by the February trade deadline or by the end of the year. Collison has only one more year left on his contract, while Belinelli will have 2 more after this season, and they are both complementary players that can help a playoff team or a team on the cusp solidify a spot in the playoffs. But, they are not much more than role players, and the Kings need to fill in these spots with younger guys who have more upside and are a lot cheaper to boot.

Kosta Koufos may be in the same boat. But I hesitate to throw him in, because his contract his a bit longer and more expensive than Belinelli’s and Collison, and he is a good insurance policy for Cauley-Stein (whose health is worrisome) and Cousins (whatever the Kings should do with him). Unless you could straight up trade him for a young big man, Koufos probably merits a place in the Kings’ future, or at least until they are able to find another projectable young big to fill in the void for Boogie should he be gone (more on this later). And Koufos has proven to excel in Karl’s system (as he did in Denver) and after a down year offensively, he has picked it back (his PER is 15.3), though his defense hasn’t been as dominant as in years past with Memphis (that may have to do more with Memphis’ system and defensive-minded players, something the Kings lack, as per Karl).

And lastly, Casspi deserves to stay with this roster. His best years have come in Sacramento and he has proven to be a valuable fit to the chemistry of this team. He has been one of the few players to really mesh well with Cousins, and he provides good leadership and stability to a squad that lack those two characteristics tremendously. If there is such a thing as “untouchable”, Casspi is it in my mind. He’s only costing the Kings six million combined this year and next year. Keeping him should be a no-brainer for Vlade Divac and Kings management.

The Draft Picks

Willie Cauley-Stein and Ben McLemore

Cauley-Stein is an injury risk. He got hurt in college at Kentucky, and his injury this year isn’t promising, especially considering how injuries can derail post players in a hurry (Greg Oden, Joel Embiid, etc.). But, Cauley-Stein showed some promise in the beginning of the year, and he is the kind of defensive player who could help change the culture of the Kings organization. He has a tremendous skill set and athleticism that allows him to guard multiple players on the floor, and his abilities are certainly missed, especially as the Kings’ defensive effectiveness continues to plummet. WCS probably will never be more than an average offensive player (his 13.5 PER this year is a bit discouraging for a big, which PER tends to favor). That being said, I think he could have a Steven Adams kind of impact on this Kings team, and i think that is worth keeping around for in the Kings’ long-term future, or at least through the duration of his contract which could be as early as 2016-2017 or as late as 2018-2019 depending on whether the Kings pick up his option.

McLemore on the other end has really disappointed this season, especially after a promising start last year. Unlike Cauley-Stein, it seems as if McLemore’s future as a King is in doubt. He gets buried behind more veteran players in Karl’s rotation (specifically Belinelli, Casspi and even Collison, who plays more crucial minutes at the 2 with Rondo), and he hasn’t really developed into the kind of scorer scouts imagined he would be when the Kings drafted him No. 7 (and many thought that was a steal, as he was projected to go Top-3). He still shoots the 3-ball well (40 percent this year with 37.8 of his total shots 3-pointers), but the rest of his offensive game still leaves a lot to be desired (hence his 10.0 PER). And defensively, he constantly seems lost and gets taken advantage in switching situations (and he certainly doesn’t get much help from his teammates in this regard either).

I like McLemore more so than most (maybe it’s the Kansas connection for me). But, I don’t see the Kings going forward considering how far his stock with management and fans has dropped in Sacramento. He needs a change of scenery, and with his rookie contract up after next year, McLemore could be a good low-risk pickup for teams looking to add some perimeter scoring to their rosters.

The Veteran Stars

Rudy Gay and Rajon Rondo

The outlook on Rondo is not complicated. He needed Sacramento because they were the only team that would take a risk on him after his dysfunctional stint in Dallas, and his injury plagued last couple of years in Boston. Rondo did what Rondo needed to do to get himself back in the discussion as one of the more desirable point guards, and his value hasn’t been higher since his  pre-Brad Stevens Boston days. (And if you think about it, I would take Rondo over Derrick Rose at this point, something unthinkable a couple of years ago.) That being said, I do not think Rondo ever envisioned a long-term future with the Kings and I don’t think management did either, and it’s obvious on the court, as he does seem a bit more aloof and at arms-length with this current squad (I mean, they can’t even help him up correctly, just showing how not on the same page they are). Watching him make incredible dimes and show glimpses of the Rondo that tore up the Eastern Conference during the “Big 3” days of the Celtics has been a joy to watch in Sacramento, but his tenure as a King from Day 1 has always felt like it was just a temporary pleasure rather than a sign of things to come.

Gay on the other hand is a bit of a different story. It seemed the past couple of years that Rudy was starting to mature as a player and buck the bad mojo he got from his days in Memphis and Toronto. The common adage was that those teams “got better” when Gay left town because Rudy was the kind of efficiency-killing scorer that could put up great numbers, but didn’t help his team win on the court. In his first one and a half years in Sacramento, he seemed to be a welcome surprise. In 55 games in 2013-2014, he put up 20.1 ppg and 5.5 rpg and finished with a 19.6 PER and accumulated 4.5 win shares (compared to 0.3 in 18 games with Toronto that year). The next season was even better, as he averaged 21.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 3.7 apg in 68 games and bettered his PER to 19.7 and win shares to 6.1. For all those Gay-critics out there, Rudy did his part to demonstrate that he was capable of being the “star-like” player in Sacramento that many envisioned him to be back in Memphis and Toronto. Kings fans grew to love him, management rewarded him with an extension through 2016-2017 (with a player’s option in 2017-2018), and he even represented Team USA roster in the FIBA World Cup (though he was an alternate who was chosen after a bazillion others declined).

But this seasons unfortunately has been a regression to the performance that Memphis and Toronto fans warned Kings faithful about. His scoring has dropped to 17.5 ppg, his PER has dipped to 15.9 (barely above average), and his true shooting percentage has fallen 4.1 points from 55.6 percent to 51.5 percent this year. Rudy is no longer dominating in any regard, but seeming to settle as the efficiency-killing scorer who seems moreconcerned about impacting his numbers rather than his team’s standing in the win-loss column. This self-absorbed nature with numbers is not surprising considering the addition of Rondo has seemingly usurped Gay’s role as the No. 2 to Cousin’s alpha dog title. It seems like Gay has struggled to develop his role on this Kings team with Rondo taking his place, and because of that, he is getting less touches (his usage rate is down from 27 percent to 24 percent) and trying to do too much when he does have the ball to prove he still can be a Robin to Cousins’ Batman. Much to his and Kings fans’ chagrin, Rudy instead has gone from Robin to Alfred, only if Alfred was bad at keeping care of the house or had a tendency to spill the beans about Batman’s whereabouts every now and then.

Now the one argument you could make with Rudy is that Karl has gotten him to adjust his offensive shot selection, as he has made more of an effort to take more shots in more “effective” areas. Take a look at Rudy’s shot chart from a year ago:

Screenshot 2016-01-01 at 4.28.52 PM

Now let’s see how Gay has altered his shot selection in a full off-season under Karl:

Screenshot 2016-01-01 at 4.31.52 PM

As you can see, Rudy is relying less on the elbow mid-range shot (a staple shot of his, especially last season) and focusing more on the corner and elbow 3 pointers as well as finishing at the rim more. So, though Rudy has struggle to fit in amidst the addition of Rondo, and his percentages aren’t as good as a year ago, it could be that Rudy is simply growing through this shot adjustment (not a bad thing because him taking better shots will be better in the long run). Maybe he’ll get back to his old numbers and perhaps even surpass them as the season goes along and as he plays more under Karl. That is one argument that makes Rudy worth keeping around in Sacramento.

Despite this shot selection “improvement” though, the main issue with evaluating Rudy is that despite his talent and the flashes of brilliance he showed with the Kings prior to this season, the days seem to be dwindling for him as a King. As long as Rondo is on this team, he won’t be the kind of player that was so effective the past two years for Sacramento. At the same time, even if Rondo goes and Rudy becomes the focal point again (along with Cousins), will this Kings team be a playoff contender or the same kind of squad that hovered in the 28-34 wins range? The answer to that question seems to be closer to “no” than yes, especially considering the Kings were more talented than they were the past couple of years, and still don’t seem much better than a 28-34 wins squad.

And as talented as Rudy is, he doesn’t seem to be the kind of player that can be “the guy” for this Kings team, especially if Cousins leaves. He probably could not handle team’s best defenders, and he wouldn’t have the complementary talent to help ease the pressure off of him and help him succeed offensively (he always succeeded as a secondary threat remember in Sacramento). And thus, the Kings are stuck in this situation where having Rudy really is more damaging than good, but they probably won’t have a lot of options with him. He is a solid role player, maybe a bit better than the typical role player, but he can’t help a team get over the top and he can’t lead a team by himself. And to make matters worse, I cannot imagine Rudy’s stock is high, simply because NBA executives know about this label for Gay, and they know adding him would be a bigger risk than it is worth. Hence, that makes the decision to deal him so difficult because the Kings know they would be severely under-compensated in any transaction involving him.

It’ll be interesting to see what they do with 22. I think the Kings would be better off without him, but it’ll be interesting to see if the Kings will suffice getting the short end of the stick in order to change the scenery in Sacramento or if they will hold onto him knowing that they put a lot of money into him and they want to see their investment through, with the slight hope Rudy can be the Rudy of the past two years and somehow go against history and be more of a “star” player that can help the Kings over the top in year 4 or the tail end of year 3.

I know…that sounds like wishful thinking but don’t underestimate Vivek and this Kings management.

The Franchise Player and the Head Coach

Demarcus Cousins and George Karl

What do the Kings do with Boogie? Is it time to cut ties? Do they try another coach? Do they close their eyes and hope for the best.

Basically we have to come to an agreement to this central fact: Boogie and Karl cannot get along and are poisoning this team whether intentional or not.

So, that means either Cousins goes or Karl goes…and this is where things get dicey.

I believe the Kings should ship Cousins and stay with Karl through the duration of his contract.

/gets ready for eggs being pelted at him.

/gets hit in the head. Says “I’ve been shot!”

/wipes eggs off forehead.

Now the first thought in many Kings’ minds is this: why let Cousins go and stick with Karl? Shouldn’t it be vice versa?

This pains me to say because I love Boogie so much as a basketball fan. He has an incredible skill set. When he is amiable, he is one of the most charming players in the league and maybe in Kings history. To have a guy who can average 20-10 and be one of the most feared post players in the league isn’t an opportunity that is available every draft. I really believe Cousins’ is one of the league’s 10 best players in sheer talent, impact and long term value.

At the same time, there are times when places or situations just are not fits. We saw it in Philadelphia with Barkley and the Sixers. Webber had to go through two organizations (Golden State and Washington) before he really found his niche in Sacramento. Zach Randolph had failed stops in Portland, New York and the Clippers before he really was embraced by Memphis and established ‘Grit ‘n Grind’.

Yes, Cousins is a rare talent. But the Kings need to move on and cut the cord for the sake of their organization as well as for fans’ psyche. This relationship is akin to an unhappy marriage that was in dire need of divorce long ago. And furthermore, Cousins needs a change of scenery for his own sake as a player. The Kings have tried multiple coaches, different GMs and even a new ownership group and it’s the same issues popping up time and time again. The attitude. The lackluster defensive effort. The yelling at teammates. The ejections. The pissed off interviews post game. Cousins may truly develop into a major superstar in the league, capable of carrying his team into contention in the Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone or Hakeem Olajuwon mold, but he needs to be in a winning environment. He needs to be in an environment or around players that will call him out on his shit, and he needs a coach that will utilize his talents properly while still challenging him to grow as a player and a leader. I just cannot foresee that in Sacramento. He’s gotten away with too much, and the organization has let him down too much that he cannot trust them with anything and vice versa.

I do not know where Cousins will end up. However, if he cares about winning and his legacy, he will go to a team where there will be “true” veteran leadership. There needs to be an organization with a clear plan, and a coach that won’t be afraid to stand up to him, but keep things in house. I hope Cousins succeeds because he seems to be a really good person at the core (like I said, this guy has really had no issues off the court as a King). And furthermore, when he is on, he can be one of the most enjoyable throwback players in the league to witness. Just watch the highlights below and you can see what I mean. Hopefully, a new organization will give him more of the good (as evidenced in the highlights) and less of the bad and ugly that unfortunately has tainted his career in Sacramento overall.

And with Cousins days likely (and in my opinion should be) numbered, it only makes sense to see Karl’s true vision for this team. A lot of people say that the Kings should focus more on the half-court and slow it down and be a style that is more akin to the Memphis Grizzlies or 90’s NBA, which means getting rid of Karl. However, that is a style that only made sense with Cousins. Without a true big to build around, and Cauley-Stein more of a defensive-specialist, it makes no sense to fire Karl and try to build that style of play. There is a lot of dysfunction with this Kings team, but Karl has them playing well offensively: they are 3rd in the league in points scored and 19th in offensive rating (and doing this despite underwhelming performances and lack of chemistry). If Karl can really get the players he needs, the kind of quick, up-tempo savvy athletes that made his system work in Seattle, Milwaukee and Denver, then the Kings may be better sooner than people think.

And if people think the idea of Karl rectifying the ship without Cousins is a wishful fantasy remember this: After the 2010-2011 season, the Nuggets parted ways with Carmelo Anthony, whom the Nuggets got a big haul for which included no-name guys and a lot of draft picks and cap-clearing pieces. Two years later, the Nuggets were one of the best teams in basketball, despite not having a “star” player (yes, they lost to the Warriors in the first round, but if you look at the whole picture and the struggles of some key players, not to mention the injury to Danilo Gallinari prior to the playoffs, a lot went bad luck-wise for the Nuggets heading into that series, which Karl or anyone else couldn’t control). In my mind, Karl can do that again, especially considering the Kings seem to be a little tweak here and there from being a playoff team in a year or two. Just look at what the Nuggets did that season below and tell me Kings wouldn’t be excited for that in the new arena:

If Karl has more say in player personnel, and if the Kings can net good hauls for Rondo, Rudy (perhaps) and Boogie (and whoever else I said was expendable above), it is entirely plausible to think that Karl can have the Kings in the playoffs in the 6-8 range as a fast-paced team with a strong core of young talent as well veterans whom mesh well with Karl’s coaching philosophy. Vivek wants the Kings to play up-tempo. The Kings have thrived for the most part in such a system beyond Cousins and Gay (to a degree though on Rudy; let’s wait and see until the second half of the year). Why not give Karl a real shot at making this happen without the baggage that is preventing this from really seeing it through (i.e. Cousins)?

It will be interesting to see how things develop within this organization over the remainder of the season. Will Vivek finally give into what Karl has been harping for behind the scenes (trading Boogie)? Will Vlade finally re-tool this roster into a team that has a good long-term future and not just short-term one? And will Kings fans buy into Karl and let him do what he was hired to do (build a playoff team in the mold of his former Sonics, Bucks and Nuggets teams)?

They will all be questions that most likely will be answered before or by the February trade deadline. It will be fascinating to see what kind of Kings team will be hitting the floor when the Golden 1 Center opens its doors in 2016.

Making Movies’ “Carnaval”, the 2006-2007 Phoenix Suns and a Refreshing Scope of Kansas City

Making Movies performed and hosted “Carnaval” which proved to be one of the best and most unique music fest of the year.

If you had a chance to attend the 2nd Annual “Carnaval” at Knuckleheads Saloon on Saturday, September 19th, you were presented with quite a treat. Over the past year, I have been to quite a number of live shows at a variety of venues in Kansas City (Grinder’s, the Uptown, Midland, etc, the Riot Room, etc.). And I have seen some great indie and slightly bigger acts that have put out incredible performances, with Sean Rowe, Madison Ward and the Mama Bear and Iron and Wine at the Middle of the Map headline venue at the Uptown Theater combining to produce one of the best shows I have seen up until Saturday.

But with apologies to those indie folk bands and singers I listed with reverence above, last night’s Carnaval topped that and all the other shows I have seen in the past year considerably.

First of all, Knuckleheads is simply an incredible venue. Located on the outskirts of historic Northeast, the venue doesn’t have the local attractions of Grinder’s (which is in the Crossroads, and makes it a great venue for First Friday concerts) or Midland (Power and Light) or Uptown and the Riot Room (Westport). But the dual inside-outside stage set up made it ideal to host a musical showcase like Carnaval. There was plenty of room to roam, bars were plentiful and didn’t require long waits (and they had Schlitz! Bonus points!), and the sound projected throughout the venue, making it easy to hear the bands playing no matter where you sat. Without a doubt, Knuckleheads is a place I definitely will be paying attention to when it comes to scoping out potential shows.

But back to the event, a great venue is nice and all (though the location by the train tracks makes it not ideal when trains are making late night runs, as they did last night), but without good acts, it can ring hollow and simply not make it much better than the typical P&L bar on a Friday night in July (i.e. not my style). Fortunately, for everyone in attendance, the show was entertaining from start to finish and worth more than the $20 price of admission. Coinciding with the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month and organized by the Latino rock band Making Movies (whose members sport a mix of Panamanian and Mexican-American heritage), the 2nd Annual Carnaval was a bountiful and diverse showcase of eclectic musical styles and the progression of Latin-American culture and music in this millennial generation.  As a 2nd generation Filipino-American, it made me jealous a Filipino counterpart of “Carnaval” doesn’t exist in Kansas City. The energy of the crowd, bands and music was so intoxicating and gravitating that I felt a tad sad when it was over. I wished that it could have gone hours longer and it bummed me out that I would have to wait a whole year for a similar event to occur again. (Come on Kansas City! Let’s get some Filipino-American acts here! Or another Carnaval-esque event in the Spring at least. As long as we get Making Movies to perform!)

That’s how great and impacting “Carnaval” was for me. Just when I think “Man, I don’t fit here. Kansas City just seems so distant and unfamiliar to what I know from being in the West Coast all my life in terms of culture and attractions,” something like “Carnaval” comes along, pumps me full of energy and gives me hope in this damn city all over again. It’s a dreadful cycle, this love-hate-love again relationship with this city, but I am willing to go through this to attend events like “Carnaval” and watch acts like Making Movies, etc. The aura of the moment of those performances simply outweigh any funky misery I go through time to time with my experience with this city.

As I got home, being the basketball junkie that I am, I got to thinking: if you could describe “Carnaval” as any NBA team in any period of history, which team would it be? After a minute or two, I came to an easy answer: the Seven Seconds or Less Suns. Like Carnaval, the Suns were a distinct but enjoyable contrast to the current atmosphere in the NBA at the time (mid-2000’s). The team consisted of a unique cast of NBA characters who brought a bevy of unique talents and capabilities to form a team that performed well, but went under-appreciated because they did not win a title. Carnaval proved to be the same: unique acts and styles of music, blending into a show that probably will go under-appreciated in the retrospect of shows in 2015 from magazines like The Pitch or Ink because the bands don’t have the mainstream appeal or the hook that will attract most KC music scene people (i.e. they’re not Madison Ward or traditional Indie Folk…that is not a knock on Ward…love them, but they’re sound and style will attract a majority of the young live-music-attending public here in KC).

So, to review each act, I am going to compare each band to a member of the 2006-2007 Phoenix Suns, which arguably was the best of the SSOL bunch (and could’ve gone far if not for Robert Horry “hip check” moment). The only act I will not review is Heart of Darkness, as I only caught the last couple of songs of their act. Thankfully, the band is Kansas City-based, so hopefully I will be able to check them out at another venue sometime in the near future (if anybody has an inside track on where they’re playing in the future, it would be much appreciated).

So here it goes, act by act reviews and Suns player comps from Carnaval!

Migrant Kids: The Shawn Marion

I witnessed Sports a couple of weeks ago at the Riot Room. A electro/pop/rock band from Tulsa, Oklahoma, I enjoyed Sports for their 80’s-esque sound that made me feel as if I was listening to the soundtrack of an early Bret Easton Ellis novel like “Less than Zero” or “The Rules of Attraction.” Migrant Kids, a trio from Austin, Texas, sported the same kind of sound: rock, but with an electronic tinge that made you hark back to the 80’s.

To be honest, I wonder if this is some kind of new trend emerging, as I find it surprising that Sports and Migrant Kids would be sporting the same kind of sound. Last time I checked, I don’t recall a lot of people in the scene these days clamoring for homages to “Huey Lewis and the News” and Phil Collins, and yet Sports and Migrant Kids are producing that kind of sound (though more obvious in Sports than Migrant Kids) much to my surprise and enjoyment. That is why I compare Migrant Kids to Shawn Marion: a tweener of a player with long arms and probably the worst looking jump shot in the history of the NBA. There certainly wasn’t a lot of clamoring for his skill set, but despite the eccentric package, he put up a memorable and productive career with the Suns that defined and highlighted his playing legacy. The electronic sound of Migrant Kids may not be familiar or in huge demand with the typical indie music person, but damn it, they do it extremely well and are extremely enjoyable to listen to.

Playing inside, three songs stood out for Migrant Kids: ‘Thread”, “Canvas of Me” and “Primordial Soup”. “Soup” stood out as the strongest song of their set, the haunting sounds and lyrics and heartfelt passion of the performers on stage capturing the audience over the six-minute span. I liked Migrant Kids’ act so much that I bought their album off of ITunes the next day. However, I was a bit disappointed, as “Primordial Soup” was not on it, and neither was “Thread” (only “Canvas of Me” was the song I recalled). Furthermore, the album was filled of ambient sounds that seemed like a waste of album space. Migrant Kids live is like Marion in Phoenix: unique, vibrant and entertaining. Migrant Kids on their album though is like Marion everywhere else: underwhelming and not exactly what we hoped or were expecting (though certainly not poor in any means).

Maybe Migrant Kids is building up to their next album and it will really rock the house, similar to their live performances. But for now, I will just enjoy them mostly for their act, which they performed incredibly well at Carnaval.

Hurray for the Riff Raff: the Boris Diaw

Hurray for the Riff Raff, led by Alynda Lee Segarra, was probably one of the more unique acts at Carnaval. Based out of New Orleans, her act is more American Folk than the Latino-inspired fusion acts typical of Carnaval. And that is what makes her the Diaw of the bunch: a 6’8 big man who plays more like a guard? They have Steve Nash, Leandro Barbosa, Raja Bell and in a pinch Marion. How does Diaw fit in, especially with Amare Stoudamire in the post? You could be saying the same thing about Riff Raff? How does her Folkish-style fit in with the other acts at Carnaval?

Surprisingly, like Diaw, amazingly well. Without a doubt, Riff Raff was the most mellow act of the night, as the crew I attended the event with had remarked that they didn’t dig her sound in compared to some of the others. But, I appreciated Segarra’s heartfelt passion and skills on stage. On a handful of songs, Segarra went solo with just an acoustic guitar and killed with songs like “Blue Ridge Mountain.” But songs that incorporated the use of the fiddle is when Hurray for the Riff Raff really stood out: it was Lumineers meeting Mumford and Sons meeting First Aid Kit in one unique blend similar to the uniqueness of Diaw’s ballhandling, passing and three-point shooting in a 6’8, Croissant-loving frame. There is no questioning Segarra and Riff Raff’s talent. It will be interesting to see if Riff Raff will continue to grow in Folk circles and break through in a crowded  scene.

But furthermore, one thing that was also endearing about Segarra and Riff Raff is her passion for music. Earlier in the day at Carnaval, Segarra worked with young musicians in helping them with the process for creating songs. That kind of generosity is endearing in an industry that seems at times so cutthroat. And that’s what makes Riff Raff like Diaw: much like Diaw seems to be a good teammate and good dude on the court who really has a profound respect for the game, Segarra and Riff Raff seem like genuinely awesome people off stage who really care about people and music.

Gio Chamba: the Raja Bell

I’m not going to lie: the group I hung out with kind of took it easy when Gio Chamba played inside after Hurray for the Riff Raff. With good seats, it didn’t make sense for us to move and put our great seats at risk, especially with the headliners (Las Cafeteras and Making Movies) both playing back-to-back on the outside stage. So, we just watched them on the projector screen, their music still clearly audible from where we were sitting.

Raja Bell typically got the same kind of treatment. When it comes to game-planning, opposing teams are thinking about Nash. They’re planning to stop Amare and Marion on the pick and roll. But Bell? Forget it. To other teams, he’s the fifth guy, a supporting role player at best that is there to just fill up a spot because they don’t have anyone else on the bench better equipped to be the starter at the shooting guard.

And then Bell starts making 3’s. And then Bell starts locking up your scorers on defense. And before you know it, teams are like “Crap! How come we didn’t account for Raja Bell damn it!”

Gio Chamba had the same kind of effect on me. The energy was incredible. They switched between instruments seemingly on the fly. They went on and off the screen, on and off the stage, head banging, bongo drumming, going to the turntables, going away from the turntables for a bit, going absolutely insane, loving every second of what they were playing and the crowd that was there to listen and support them. It seemed from where I was sitting they were having so…much…fun.

And when I went to the bathroom and then tried to debate whether or not to buy a seven-dollar pack of Camel menthols from the cigarette vending machine outside the bathroom, I was able to swing by the stage and see them in action. The crowd was absolutely into it, jamming as hard as Gio Chamba was on that stage. They didn’t play long. Hell, I can’t even remember what any of their songs sounded like or if they were even a band (I think technically Gio Chamba is a DJ). But they were an act filled with energy and reckless abandon and you gotta love that.

Next time Gio Chamba is performing I won’t sleep on them. Just like opposing teams won’t sleep on Raja sitting in the corner ready for the catch and shoot 3-pointer.

Las Cafeteras: the Amare Stoudamire

Amare will always be one of the more special players in the history of the NBA. Not only did he have a unique and dominating skill set as a big, but he was also one of the more unique players in the league. He was one of the forefathers of dressing like a “Hipster” post game, and he had some weird habits to help with his health (like bathing in red wine...HOW IS THIS A THING? HOW RICH DO YOU HAVE TO BE TO FLUSH GALLONS OF RED WINE LIKE THAT!??)

Las Cafeteras is a unique band that really goes against the grain when it comes to Latin music. Yes, they have a unique Latin rock sound, but at the core they are more activists than musicians. They have only produced one official album, but their impact in social rights issues in California as well as nationally also has helped Las Cafeteras gain so attention in music circles. And yes, their passion for human rights is inspiring. But they aren’t activists masquerading as musicians. This is a talented and diverse musical bunch and it was on full display Saturday night.

Despite being quite large in number (the band features seven members: four men and three women), their sound and energy captured the audience from the start of their set. With high energy numbers like “Ya Me Voy”, “La Zapateado” and “La Bamba Rebelde”, they had the crowd dancing and singing along, even if we weren’t totally sure what the lyrics were. Like “La Bamba Rebelde” for example. I knew it wasn’t technically “La Bamba”. But the way they invited the crowd…it didn’t matter if their version of “La Bamba” was a little different in the band’s eyes. They made their act feel less like a performance and more like a drunken New Year’s celebration in your Filipino uncle’s backyard. They just wanted the crowd to have fun and they certainly were immensely successful in doing that.

However, they certainly are fantastic performers, and that shouldn’t be minimized. The lead singer’s voice had a scratchy/raspy tone that enhanced the songs and the lyrics. One of the female singers, a redhead in a black flower dress, displayed her tap dancing skills on frequent occasion (sometimes with help from Making Movies’ own dancing band member). Las Cafeteras may be about the crowd experience during their act, but musically, they are incredibly diverse and talented in their skill set.

And that is why Las Cafeteras may go under the radar, like Amare goes under the radar as one of the better big men of all time. We focus on what they are not. Las Cafeteras is too big in the number of members in their band. Amare doesn’t play defense all that well. Las Cafeteras doesn’t produce enough songs. Amare doesn’t have a great history of playoff success.

But like Amare, we should quit trying to figure out what Las Cafeteras ought to be or should be doing to make it big and more maintream, and simply appreciate what they are: a talented group of diverse musicians who have a fantastic sound and are incredible, energetic performers on the stage. If they are performing anywhere close to you, you should make it a priority to see them.

Making Movies: the Steve Nash

I could go on for days about Making Movies. I have seen them perform three times, including Carnaval. I dropped 45 bucks solely because they were the opening act for Rodrigo y Gabriela at the Uptown (and I left midway through Rodrigo y Gabriela…talented duo, just a terrible set up for a concert). I can listen to their album A La Deriva on loop for hours on end like I could watch Steve Nash work the Pick and Roll on tape for hours on end as well. Making Movies killed it, like they always do. Every time I see them, they seem to get better and better, even if the songs are the same. “Pendulum Swing”, “Chase your Tail”, “La Cuna de Vida” it doesn’t matter. They all shone as they have at every previous show I have been to, but in a slightly different way from each performance. That’s the sign of talented musicians: they make the same songs seem unique and distinct with each and every performance.

But, I compare Making Movies to Nash not because they were the headliner of Carnaval similar to Nash being the headliner of the Suns. But like Nash, there is an endearing quality to Making Movies that goes beyond their music. One of the great things about Nash is how candid he is when it comes to his career and basketball issues. If you ever have seen the Finish Line series by Grantland, it’s amazing how open and insightful he is in describing the end of his career as a NBA player. But furthermore, Nash always seemed to be concerned with more than just basketball and more than just his own personal future and legacy. He helped fund documentaries. He is helping build the Canadian Men’s National team into a more competitive team in FIBA circles (and with Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson and Kelly Olynyk, they could be; they are one of the youngest national teams in the World, with no one on their roster over 30). Nash has such a profound respect for his background and his country, that he seemingly puts his own personal ambitions aside for the long-term benefit of his country and the game in his country. That kind of “give back” is unique and refreshing in a professional athlete.

Making Movies has the same kind of vibe. They could be worrying about their own act, making more songs, performing more in hopes of becoming more maisntream, but instead they’re hosting an event like Carnaval. Their singers and band care about Kansas City. They care about their Latin American culture. They care about Latinos in Kansas City. For an industry that can be so insular and self-absorbed, they truly give back. And not just with their performances or events like Carnaval, but in the way they demonstrate their passion with music and young musicians in Kansas City, especially young Latino musicians. Just like Nash, there is something incredibly genuine about the members of Making Movies and that makes you as a music fan root for them, and hope they get more recognition, not just for their personal fame, but so their genuineness can reach and impact a greater number of people outside of Kansas City.

Carnaval in my mind is one of the Top-5 Music Events in Kansas City and should be going forward. I hope Making Movies continues to put this on. I hope Knuckleheads continues to host it. I hope more and more unique Millenial Latin-American bands continue to grace the event.

Because events like Carnaval make transplants like myself truly appreciate the diversity Kansas City has to offer that may not be obvious at first glance or a lot of the time. There is more to Kansas City than Royals, Chiefs, BBQ, P&L, Westport, and KU and K-State alums and Wichita and St. Louis transplants.

Thank you Making Movies and Carnaval for helping us see Kansas City in amazing and refreshing new ways. I look forward to 2016.

Rating the Boulevard Year-Rounds as Midwest College Basketball Teams

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Boulevard Brewery has become one of the best craft breweries in the United States over the past decade.

I love the NBA. However, I still do appreciate college basketball. While I feel the NBA is head and shoulders a better product than the college game these days, I still enjoy a lot of the nuances of the college game as well as the diversity of teams across the nation. In the Midwest, the college game remains supreme with the number of established programs (Kansas, Indiana, etc.) and lack of big-time NBA franchises (the major ones reside in the coast with the exception of Chicago; Milwaukee, Indiana, Minnesota are small-town Midwest NBA franchises).

So, it is important to focus on the college game every now and then here at Flannel, PBR and PER. And it’s also important to impart some of the college game into Kansas City culture, especially craft brewery culture, which continues its boom and recognition on a national basis. One of the best craft breweries in the nation has to be Boulevard, which resides here in the heart of Kansas City, near the Liberty Memorial and World War I Museum. Founded in 1989, Boulevard has grown to not only be a major player in the crowded Kansas City and Midwest brewery scene, but on a national level as well. In fact, it seems Boulevard is on its way to becoming the Midwestern “Samuel Adams”, a boon for Midwesterners who have typically been thought of as the “American Light Lager”-drinking community (typical because Budweiser was founded in St. Louis and Miller in Milwaukee). But with Boulevard’s excellent variety of quality craft selections (their Smokestack Series really is phenomenal), they are proving that you don’t need to resort to the coasts for great, quality beer.

I could spend this whole post just talking about every single Boulevard Beer from the Year-Round collection to the Smokestack Series. That being said, that post would be like 10,000 words, so I’ll keep it short and just focus on the Year-Round selection. So, let’s take a look at Boulevard seven-beer collection as Midwestern College Basketball teams.

(Also, I’ll be ranking them in order of preference, so the first listed will be my favorite and the last one will be my least-favorite.)

80-Acre Hoppy Wheat Beer: Butler Bulldogs

80-Acre Hoppy Wheat Beer is Boulevard’s most complete beer out of their year-round selection. The beer is an innovative mix between an IPA and a Wheat and is a classic Midwest (known for Wheat Beers) meets Coastal (which is known for IPAs, especially on the West Coast). The result is a beverage that will satisfy IPA fans while also catering to those who typically don’t have the palate for the Hoppy-ness of IPAs and Pale Ales. When beers go hybrid and try to satisfy multiple tastes, it can fall flat on its face. 80-Acre not only avoids such a pitfall, but actually rises to the top as the brewery’s best-tasting year-round beer.

I compare 80-Acre to the Butler Bulldogs because the Bulldogs have been one of the best basketball teams in the Midwest the past decade. Since 2007, they have only missed the NCAA Tournament twice and have been to the National Title game twice (2010 and 2011). They are also one of the more innovative teams in basketball (much like 80-Acre is one of the more innovative beers of the year-rounds and at Boulevard in general) as former coach Brad Stevens eschewed traditional coaching techniques (i.e. always yelling at refs or players) and employed advanced statistics in helping develop game strategies and player development. Though Butler certainly has had their share of moments against my alma mater (i.e. Gonzaga), the Bulldogs have been one of my favorite college basketball teams to follow in the Midwest as of late.

80-Acre doesn’t seem to get the distribution or publicity like other Boulevard selections such as Boulevard Wheat, Pale Ale or even Tank 7, and Butler may not roll across the tongues of Midwest college basketball fans like Kansas, Indiana or Iowa State. However, both have proven that they are quality and are probably the better in their respective venues than most people would give them credit for.

Boulevard Wheat: Kansas Jayhawks

Boulevard’s best-selling and most popular is exactly what you would expect from a Midwestern beer. It is refreshing, light, with a cool finish and hints of citrus and it is the perfect beer to drink with barbecue either at a restaurant, a festival or just your own backyard. Wheat beer, in my opinion, exemplifies Midwest living and flavor (easy, laid back and not fancy, but still of strong quality), and Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat proves to be the epitome of what Wheat Beer should be from the Midwest.

(I know some people are on the fence with this one, as many say a lot of imported Wheat or “Wit” beers are better or other craft breweries have produced better quality Wheats; I think Boulevard deserves some credit for being the first to really push Wheat beer’s popularity in a primarily Pilsner or Lager territory, and while it may not have the “flash” or “boldness” of some modern Wheats or Imported Wheats, it’s contribution to Wheat beer popularity in the Midwest and its still strong flavor after all these years to me merit the high praise.)

When I think of Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat, I think of the best qualities of the Midwest. Kansas Jayhawks basketball represents the best qualities of Midwest college basketball: consistency, success, strong history of talent, dedicated talent, and all kinds of strong roots in tradition (i.e Allen Fieldhouse, James Naismith, etc.). With the exception of perhaps Indiana, the Jayhawks seem to be the “Midwest’s Team” and this has earned them all kinds of praise and derision from people all over the nation (much like the mixed feelings I spoke of about Unfiltered Wheat in comparison to Wheat beers above). As a newer resident of the Midwest, I can appreciate what Kansas (and Unfiltered Wheat) has to offer, but they are a little bit too-mainstream and “traditional” for my tastes. I can appreciate quality and history, but I will take the more innovative flavors (in both beer and basketball) in the end, and that is why Kansas and Unfiltered Wheat don’t match 80-Acre and Butler.

Single-Wide IPA: Marquette Golden Eagles

When you think of the Midwest, you don’t think of IPAs. Maybe that is just me growing up in California and the Pacific Northwest, where there are many breweries that specialize in crafting hoppy India Pale Ale varieties (such as Sierra Nevada in Chico and Bridgeport in Portland), so I am a little hesitant to think that the Midwest can produce quality IPAs like the ones that I have been exposed to back in my original home states. While I jumped on board on the 80-Acre and Unfiltered Wheat’s immediately, it took me some time to warm up to Boulevard’s Single Wide IPA, out of fear that I would be disappointed.

Surprisingly though, Single Wide is a great representation of what a “Midwest” IPA should beer. There’s a great hoppy flavor to it, thought it is not as strong as the more traditional IPAs that I have had before. There is a lot to admire in the boldness of what Boulevard tried to do here with Single Wide. They knew it would be tough to cater to the “IPA Crowd” (especially transplants like myself coming from more “IPA-Heavy” states) but they created one anyways in a fashion that pays tribute to the traditional IPA, while still maintaining that “easy drink-ability” that caters more to Midwestern beer drinkers’ tastes. It’s not quite the balanced hybrid that 80-Acre is, but Single Wide is a surprising tribute to the IPA created by Boulevard.

Single Wide is ambitious, different (for the Midwest) and of pretty solid (though a shade below the 80-Acre excellent) quality. Marquette echoes a lot of similar characteristics in the college basketball world. They are in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which is as Midwest as it can get (Liberal Midwest, but Midwest nonetheless). And yet, Marquette feels more like an East Coast team with their bold uniforms (I have always loved their racing stripes down the sides and they are a Jordan-Brand team, which always is a nice little honor in basketball style circles), history of producing NBA players (Dewayne Wade, Jae Crowder, Steve Novak, Jimmy Butler, just to name most recent…I could go on forever with the ones who played for Al McGuire), and tough, physical play which has resulted in frequent NCAA Tournament appearances (though last year was an off-year in Wojo’s rookie campaign as head coach). Marquette doesn’t rank up there with the Midwest blue bloods, but they certainly are a shade below and have the kind of “cool” factor that one normally doesn’t associate with Midwest traditional Blue Blood programs.

Much like Single Wide won’t make people forget about Sierra Nevada IPA anytime soon, Marquette will not be replacing the elite of Midwest College basketball any time soon. They still are overshadowed by Kansas, Indiana and even in-state neighbor Wisconsin as of late. However, much like Single Wide IPA with beers, they get fan points and respect for their boldness in bucking the trend of what is expected from a Midwest college basketball team, even if they don’t completely succeed compared to the other “established” programs in the Midwest.

Pale Ale: Missouri Tigers

Boulevard Pale Ale is one of the other major-selling year-round beers next to Unfiltered Wheat. In fact, it is quite common to see the Pale Ale variety always tagging along with Wheat in some way. Farmland has Boulevard flavored Brats in Wheat and Pale Ale varieties. Unfiltered Wheat and Pale Ale are the only Boulevard varieties that come in 20 bottle packs. It seems like Pale Ale is always attached to the hip of Unfiltered Wheat, and for good reason. Pale Ale is a quality beer. It’s quality crafted, English style ale with a nice balance of hoppyness and deep, dark flavor and it really is a good complement to the lighter, crisper Unfiltered Wheat.

But, I just can’t help but feel that Pale Ale is the “little brother” to Unfiltered Wheat, much like Mizzou basketball is to Kansas. I’m not trying to knock Mizzou or the university itself by any means, but it’s obvious football matters more at Mizzou and basketball means more at KU. And no matter what Missouri tries to do, even during years where there teams are competitive (not last year that’s for sure), they still seem to always pale (another PUN!) in comparison to their neighbors west of the Kansas border in Lawrence. There were some great seasons under Norm Stewart, and I enjoyed the Mike Anderson/Demarre Carroll era quite a bit. But in terms of basketball, relevance? The Tigers just cannot match what the Jayhawks do on an annual basis.

I know that’s tough to stomach for a lot of Mizzou fans. But, just like Pale Ale will always be in the shadow of Unfiltered Wheat, the Tigers just seems to always be the “little brother” to KU Hoops. That is not to say that Mizzou or Pale Ale aren’t good. However, that stigma of unfortunate attachment prevents either from being taken more seriously in their respective circles.

Pop-Up Session IPA: Iowa State Cyclones

Session IPA’s seem to be the new “Big Thing” in craft brewery fandom circles. And, it makes sense, as Session IPAs seems to be a nice introduction for those who don’t like the bitterness of traditional IPAs. That is an understandable and completely fine thing. But, I don’t know. I just can’t get into Session IPA’s, despite their boldness in trying to cater to their target of beer drinking palates (i.e. traditional pilsner beer drinkers who think hoppyness is bitterness). It obviously tastes better than a traditional lager, but it surprises me that they categorize them as IPAs, since to me it just doesn’t have that taste or finish of what makes IPAs so enjoyable to consume.

Pop-Up is Boulevard’s bold take on it, and while I appreciate it’s ambitiousness in taking on crafting a Session IPA for Midwest beer drinkers, it falls flat with me in comparison to other Pop-Up Session IPAs. It’s got kitsch factor, and some nice colors and some interesting flavors, but it just really pales (PUN ALERT) in comparison to the other beers Boulevard offers from their year-round lineup. I want to like it. Logic tells me I should like Boulevard’s take on the Session IPA. But in the end, I just end up disappointed (though not completely dissatisfied; after all, it’s still comes in 5 out of 7).

Iowa State, at least under Fred Hoiberg, were the “hip” team to like in the Midwest and college basketball the past few seasons. Hoiberg ran an “NBA” offense. He got the most out of transfers looking for a second chance. The Cyclones became a relevant team again in the Big 12 and the best team in the state of Iowa (any chance to better the Hawkeyes was welcome in Ames). Hoiberg’s nickname was “The Mayor” for chrissakes! That’s the best nickname for a college player/coach in all of college basketball!

And yet, the Cyclones never seemed to grasp with me as much as other Midwest basketball fans. Their squads never really endeared to me, even though I liked the freedom Hoiberg gave his team. They always underachieved in the Tournament, and they seemed to be a hard team to predict, as they had periods of inconsistency during the year where they would beat Kansas, but then lose to a Texas Tech or TCU.

The Cyclones and Session IPA have garnered a lot of bandwagoners as of late. In fact, when I go to concerts, it’s common to see Session IPA on tap, which displays the surge in the popularity of Session IPAs in KC. But, for both ISU and Boulevard, I just can’t swing on either of those bandwagons with any kind of eagerness.

Bully Porter: Kansas State Wildcats

Bully Porter probably has the coolest label of all the Boulevard Year-Round varieties. I mean, it’s a Bulldog, in a tuxedo, with a monacle. How there isn’t a gold medal on the bottle saying “Bottle Design of the Year” to me is one of the great mysteries of our time. If the beer was just average, I would think it would be the greatest beer ever just because of the label. In fact, if I could have a poster of that and put it on my wall, I would.

(This is a bad habit of mine, as sometimes I will be swayed a beer is good simply by labeling. This is especially true with lager varieties; for example, I enoyed Sol simply because I loved their “peeking” Sun logo. However, once they changed the logo, and I had it again, I somehow liked it a lot less. Amazing how things like graphic design can actually change your palate in mysterious ways.)

Despite my affinity for the label art, I struggle liking porters in general. Unless a porter really has a special something, it’s difficult for me to really enjoy one. Porters simply toe that line between beer and coffee too much, and not in a way I find satisfying or appetizing. Unfortunately, Boulevard’s Bully Porter doesn’t really excel in the taste department. It lacks that special “boldness” that separates it from the typical porter, and hence, this one simply fall flat and remains a forgettable selection of the Year-Round varieties.

Kansas State basketball falls in the same kind of boat. They have good looking uniforms and colors, a cool arena nickname (“The Octagon of Doom”) and had Frank Martin screaming up and down the sideline for a good while (great entertainment on its own, though he hasn’t been as good or angry in South Carolina). They had Michael Beasley put up one amazing season that got him drafted No. 2 overall in the NBA Draft. Unfortunately, everything else about Kansas State, especially in terms of their on-court success, is forgettable. They have had good teams in the past, but if you think about it, to the college basketball fans nationally, Kansas State simply doesn’t stick out or really burn in anyone’s psyche. It’s too bad because they have had some good teams, just like the Porter isn’t bad by Porter standards. It’s just that there is nothing that stands out about either except the gaudy appearances.

KC Pils: Nebraska Cornhuskers

Formerly “Boulevard Pilsner“, KC Pils is Boulevard’s take on the American Domestic Lager. This beer caters to what is typically liked by most Midwest Beer Drinker’s tastes: a refreshing, crisp beer in the mold of traditional domestics like Miller, Budweiser and Coors. Unfortunately, KC Pils, re-branding and all, suffers from two major issues that prevent it from escaping the basement of the Boulevard year-rounds.

First, while KC Pils isn’t bad by any means, it doesn’t really distinguish itself from the typical American Lager varieties. There’s a little bit more body to it than a Budweiser or Bud Light, but it’s not considerably fuller tasting or crisper than anything you generally would get on the market. Second, KC Pils is priced as high as any other Boulevard Year-Round, which makes it difficult when you’re competing with bigger Breweries who can offer the same kind of beer for a lot cheaper. So, Boulevard’s Pilsner variety ends up falling in “No-Man’s” land of sorts, with the price and market (i.e. crowded) being a huge factor in preventing it from being more successful. And to be honest, I really don’t think of Boulevard when it comes to American Lagers. If I want one, I would rather go Coors or PBR, High Life or Rolling Rock if I wanted to save a couple of bucks.

Nebraska Cornhusker basketball suffers from many of the same issues as KC Pils. The product is not very good and hasn’t been traditionally that good in their history (sans a couple of years ago when they made the NCAA Tournament). But worse than that, there is a lukewarm attitude about Cornhusker basketball with Cornhusker and Midwest fans. While Nebraska football is religion, basketball is a side-attraction when the local high school team is not playing. Basketball is just not a priority in the state of Nebraska (heck, high school and college wrestling is more attended than college basketball). Considering that they play in a conference that is a major player in the basketball scene (i.e. Big 10) and in a geographic area near the premiere program of the Midwest (i.e. Kansas), and it makes sense, like KC Pils, how Nebraska basketball gets lost in the shuffle in its relevance.

KC Pils isn’t bad tasting. Nebraska basketball has gotten better under Tim Miles. But, there are just a whole lot of better American Lager and Midwest Basketball options out there than those two…and considerably so.

So that’s the list and the ratings. Agree? Disagree? Think I picked the wrong team? Think I was too hard on K-State? Think Session IPAs are the greatest thing in the history of craft brewing?

Let me know in the comments below!