Over the next few days, we are counting down the 16 fanbases that suffered the most pain during the 2012 calendar year. For more on how this countdown works, click here. Monday: the final four teams
4. SACRAMENTO KINGS
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Opening statement, by Mike Prada
For most fanbases, the pain of on-field disappointment is what drives them to feel sorry for themselves. To those fanbases, I say: it could be worse. You could be fighting for the very existence of your team in your city, like Sacramento Kings fans.
Relocation has happened before, to be sure. Supersonics fans still feel the pain of their team leaving in 2008. But the Kings' situation is even more messed up and has caused even more anguish for their fans. Ten months ago, the team's owners stood side-by-side with city mayor Kevin Johnson to celebrate the plans to stay in the city. The fans' intense efforts to keep their beloved team had finally paid off.
... well, at least until six weeks later, when the family backed out of the deal.
From there, it's been the start of what might be a long, slow death. There's been bad performance on the court, turmoil in the front office and a well-publicized spat between the franchise player, his coach and everyone else in the organization. All of those things alone would be enough to merit consideration for this list. Throw in the ownership situation and the very real threat of relocation, and this franchise belongs way up here.
The evidence, by Tom Ziller
- The Kings finished with the fifth worst record in the NBA in 2011-12. This was the third time they have been in the bottom five since 2008-09. They have never landed in the top three via lottery in those years (or any year since 1989).
- The Kings are on their way to another bottom-five finish in 2012-13. They have the second longest active playoff drought behind the Timberwolves.
- The team's most promising player, DeMarcus Cousins, has been suspended three different times this season. It's still December.
- Not content to simply rip Sacramento's heart out once, the Maloofs miraculously agreed to a generous deal with the NBA and city officials in late February, ensuring the Kings would stay in town for the next few decades. Within six weeks, the Maloofs had withdrawn from the deal despite the NBA offering to loan the family all their required capital and, in an unprecedented move, gifting them $7 million to take the deal. The episode culminated in a surreal press conference in which George Maloof spent hours arguing that Sacramento could not be an effective NBA market.
- This is the trade most likely to happen for the broke, brain-dead Kings.
Expert witness: Akis Yerocostas, Sactown Royalty
3. THE ENTIRE NHL
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Opening statement, by Mike Prada
OK, we cheated. Not content to pick a single NHL franchise, we ultimately decided to pick them all because this lockout affects them equally. As usual with lockouts, this entire process has been completely unnecessary. The league was in an excellent place prior to shutting down after spending years recovering from ... an earlier lockout. One would think that neither party would be interested in risking the same sharp decline in the game that resulted in 2005. Clearly, that's not an issue.
(Note: if we had picked one or two individual NHL franchises, Columbus and Phoenix would have merited heavy consideration).
The evidence, by Travis Hughes
You think your team has it bad? Fans of even the most successful NHL teams are legitimately wondering if their league will ever be the same. Hell, if their sport will ever be the same. Will there be an NHL as we know it if Gary Bettman and Don Fehr run another season into the ground? If 2012-13 mirrors 2004-05?
- The NHL broke records last year. The Kings won their first Cup after one of the most entertaining playoff seasons we've ever seen, ratings were up, general interest in the game was up. It was a good time to be a hockey fan, even in league-owned and perennially-threatened Phoenix where the Coyotes went on their deepest run in franchise history.
- And then, Gary Bettman happened. The owners decided that pillaging the remnants of the NHLPA in 2005 wasn't enough, and they wanted more. Hundreds of millions in player salary givebacks and fewer rights for those players at the same time.
- For what? The owners have lost nearly a billion dollars 100 days into the third lockout of Bettman's tenure. They've crippled a booming business, and the most insane part is that they've won nearly all of their demands already.
- The players hired Don Fehr for a reason: They don't want to get embarrassed like they did seven years ago. They're in this CBA fight with legitimate leadership, and even though they've already lost, they'll dig in as long as they have to on the remaining issues. It's as much about the owners' demands as it about the dignity of a group that's been raked over the coals already.
- It's all a recipe for disaster. Despite the fact that the two sides have agreed on nearly everything, we're two weeks from the cancellation of another season, a reality the league may never be able to recover from. All because the sides can't collectively bargain like adults on issues that could have been solved with a few lawyers and a calculator in July.
- Your team might have it bad, but no matter what, you'll have a team next year. Can NHL fans say the same thing with confidence?
Expert witness: Dominik Jansky, Lighthouse Hockey
We were all just standing there, minding our own business, cheering like subservient hockey fans, digesting the shootout the league forced down our throats and paying some of the most expensive ticket prices in sports. We'd embraced the league's social media pioneering, taking our rabid support to new levels 24/7, helping the league save itself from itself as it rebuilt itself after the lost season of the 2004-05 lockout.
We watched another team from the '67 expansion -- one in a sunny, southern climate, no less -- finally win its first Stanley Cup, making hockey cool in southern California (again). As if validating the SunBelt expansion and quest for a North American "footprint" that Gary Bettman inherited and carried to the extreme, the league had Cup finalists from the farthest reaches of the continent. The NHL had everything it wanted, and we willingly paid for it.
And then ... and then. It wasn't enough. Out came Gary Bettman on his high horse. In rode Donald Fehr and his labor ideals, backed by players dressed as regular joes. They had all come out to fight again. Together they would take away hockey again. Together they would out-spin each other and burn the league down and turn it into the joke outsiders always said it was.
And we fans are playing out our Stockholm Syndrome role again: The NHL and NHLPA have deprived themselves of a billion dollars of our money this year, and somehow we're pissed about it.
2. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
Opening statement, by Mike Prada
Oh, the Chiefs. In any normal calendar year, they would have won this thing. Failed expectations? Check. Inept play on the field? Check, check, check. Front-office incompetence? Check. The erosion of fan support, displayed in a very public way? Check. Players sniping at said fans' behavior and the fans sniping back? Check. To top it all off, the season ended with a tragic murder suicide, the kind of tragedy that puts everything that happened on the field into perspective.
The evidence, by Ryan Van Bibber
- The Chiefs are the favorites to land the top pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
- A point differential of -179 is the worst in franchise history.
- Went over half the season before actually holding a lead in the middle of a game.
- Fans were actually relieved/excited to see Brady Quinn take over for Matt Cassel.
- The franchise dealt with the Jovan Belcher murder/suicide tragedy in December.
- The coach got fired, and the inept general manager is staying, for now.
Expert Witness: Joel Thorman, Arrowhead Pride
The 2012 season was a complete and utter disaster for the KC Chiefs by historic standards. The Chiefs called this the best and deepest roster assembled in the Scott Pioli era. We got the least competitive team in franchise history instead. They promised us more quarterback competition before the season, with the owner publicly showing interest in Peyton Manning. We got Brady Quinn instead. Players accused fans of cheering an injury. Fans accused the players of not trying very hard. Losses were piled up, records of futility were set and then tragedy struck with the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide. At that point, the Chiefs season went from disappointing to downright sad. This is, without question, the worst season in the history of the Kansas City Chiefs.
1. PENN STATE FOOTBALL
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Opening statement, by Mike Prada
Really, there's no other choice here. Sure, the allegations against Jerry Sandusky technically started in 2011, but so much happened in just this calendar year. The death and public shaming of Joe Paterno. The whole thing with the statue. The federal investigation. The ongoing Sandusky trial, which featured an amateurish defense by his lawyers. An massive NCAA penalty on top of all that. The fact that the actual team scratched together a decent year provided little consolation for fans.
Put yourselves in the shoes of a Penn State supporter for a second. All around you, people are calling for the program to be ended. The justifiable outrage at the Sandusky allegations, Paterno himself and the rest of the administration is one thing, but you're also dealing with people suggesting that you in some way were responsible for what happened. Your only crime was supporting a program that you've always supported. You root for the folks on the field, not the leaders in charge of them, but how can your fandom not be affected in some way by all of this? Would you feel good wearing Penn State colors in public?
That is why Penn State is the obvious call for the top spot on the "Could Be Worse" list. It doesn't get any worse for a fan than that.
The evidence, by Jason Kirk
Penn State: Oh, your team didn't win enough games this year? That must have been very hard for you.
- The most prolonged and forceful public shaming of any academic institution ever, probably?
- Lifelong patriarch and community architect revealed to be less than his ideal.
- Aforementioned individual died. Passing followed by endless family statements, StatueGate, succession strife, federal investigation, criminal trials and civil suits as far as the eye can see, and so on.
- Right. Sports. Second-heaviest NCAA punishment ever. Team unlikely to compete for championships until 2020 at best. Odds are good your team will win its division or conference at least once before then.
- Penn State fans and alumni will forever be associated with Jerry Sandusky, despite having absolutely nothing to do with his crimes.
Expert witness: Black Shoe Diaries
A list of other teams the editors considered. In no particular order
NFL: St. Louis Rams, New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders.
MLB: Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Colorado Rockies.
NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets, Phoenix Coyotes.
COLLEGE: Maryland football, Iowa football, Colorado football, South Florida football, USC basketball.
SOCCER: Arsenal, Rangers.
Any teams we missed? Any teams that should have been higher or lower? Let us know.