How They Stayed

by Jonathan Santiago / @itsJONsantiago

All but gone.

That was the overwhelming feeling regarding the Sacramento Kings following the conclusion of the ‘10-11 NBA regular season. The Maloofs were expected to file for relocation and move the Kings to Anaheim. But then something improbable happened.

They stayed.

Small Market, Big Heart is an upcoming documentary produced by bloggers-turned-filmmakers, James Ham and Blake Ellington. The project aims to tell how the Sacramento community has rallied and still fights to keep the Kings for good.

Ham’s journey to documentary filmmaker starts and finishes with his passion for the Kings. Last October, Ham joined with Ellington’s grassroots group, Here We Stay. Its primary goal? To educate fans and the general population on efforts to build a new Sacramento arena. Then Ham’s ever-evolving media career caught its first major break when he joined Cowbell Kingdom, a blog in ESPN’s growing TrueHoop Network (which both he and I currently edit). Through attending practices and games, he has gained an incredible amount of experience covering the Kings firsthand as a credentialed member of the press.

“When the season ended, I think a lot of us saw that the lockout was coming and that there was a fight going to come to keep the Kings in Sacramento,” Ham said. “Even if we bought a season, we needed people to do something more than what they were doing.

“We didn’t need the grassroots campaigns to lose their momentum,” he continued. “And so my group turned to filling a niche that was needed, and that is to tell the story of ARCO Arena, of the Sacramento Kings, of the fans, the community, the love (and) the support).”

The film’s story will be told through the words of key figures throughout the course of the Kings 26-year history in Sacramento. Ham says they’ve conducted a total of 24-25 interviews for the film, including conversations with Kings television commentators Grant Napear and Jerry Reynolds, current and former Kings Doug Christie and Donté Greene, as well as Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.

“We’re taking that story from the beginning,” Ham said of the film. “And we’re bringing it all the way up to where we are right now.

“Really this film is meant for people to understand how difficult this journey has been for this community to stay relevant,” he continued. “How much the Sacramento Kings are part of our fabric. They’re a part of what we’re known for worldwide…”

Small Market, Big Heart is currently in post-production with plans for an early December 2011 release.

SLAM: How did the idea for the documentary come about?

James Ham: A group of individuals from the grassroots campaigns (that pushed to keep the Kings) were given an audience with the NBA and the Sacramento Kings. And in that discussion, the opportunity to do a full-stadium tour was given to us by both the Kings and the NBA. That developed into an idea to make more of a full-length documentary out of the arena saga. So I got together with a group of people and we basically put together a plan and over the last three months, we’ve been implementing that plan at full speed.

SLAM: Production began in mid-July. From fans to local politicians, you’ve reached out to a number of key figures in Kings history to tell this story.

JH: Basically, we wanted to center on people who actually had a role in this story. We didn’t chase people just to chase them. We looked at people like Rob McAllister from (KFBK radio) 1530, who originally broke the story on the Kings negotiating with the Maloofs and Anaheim. When we wanted to tell the story of the 1990s and the 2000s through the media’s eye, we turned to someone like Marcos Breton of the Sacramento Bee, who covered the Kings as a columnist the entire time. When we wanted to know about the organization’s beginnings, we turned to (former Kings managing partner) Gregg Lukenbill and (former Kings executive) Greg Van Dusen. That’s how we’ve told this story – through the eyes of people who have actually done the work.

SLAM: The fans played and continue to play an important role in this story through social media. Grassroots groups were given platforms to be heard through Facebook and Twitter. How is that told in the film?

JH: I would say that social media does come up as a huge, huge part of the grassroots campaign. Social Media is something that gives someone the ability to voice their opinion in a different way. For example, it gives (Sacramento radio host) Carmichael Dave an opportunity to throw something as basic as just a call to arms, “I’ve got a hundred dollars, how about you?” for a new stadium. And to watch something grow and to kind of develop into its own living, breathing thing out of social media is just incredible.

It’s like the modern day phone tree. It’s so incredibly wild to watch how it grows and how it spreads so quickly. It is a big part of the Here We Stay and the Here We Build story. But they’re only a portion of our film. The film is more than just the window between March and May where the grassroots campaigns really fought.

SLAM: When you talked to people for this film, was there a constant theme that kept arising during your interviews?

JH: I think more than any one thing when you do a documentary, you have to understand that going in, it’s an organic process, that you’ve got to let the story tell itself. From the early beginning of this, the word community came out and it just kept coming out every single time. Every interview, it was about how incredible this community has been from start to finish. 19 seasons out of 26, the Sacramento Kings have sold out ARCO Arena. This is just a story of a small market community that has a whole lot of fight in it and a whole lot of love for its professional franchise.

SLAM: You’re in the post-production phase now, still working to finish the project. But when it’s complete, what do you want people to take away from watching this documentary?

JH: I would say that if there’s one message we hope to show from the movie, (it’s that) this is a community’s fight. This is a community’s fight for relevance on a national stage. Sacramento has very little opportunity to show themselves on the national stage. The Sacramento Kings afford us that opportunity. That having a professional franchise is an imperative part of any culture, in America specifically. It gives a rally point. It gives people something to pull for together. And I think that’s what we want to show. We want to show that this has been a fight, that things aren’t easy when you’re dealing with a smaller media market. And I think our story will capture sort of the voice of the Sacramento community, how it’s a blue collar town and how this is really a place that needs something like this, but also deserves something like this.