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Brown and Wennington recall their Sacramento days

As the Bulls face the Kings for possibly the last time in Sacramento, Sam Smith talked with Randy Brown and Bill Wennington about their days with the franchise that has seen better days
Randy Brown was reluctant to leave Sacramento in 1995, and he feels the same way now as the Bulls may play their final game Wednesday in Sacramento with the team being sold and possibly moving to Seattle.
(Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)

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Randy Brown never wanted to leave Sacramento despite how bad the team was, and they were as bad as just about any team ever when the Bulls special assistant to the general manager played there in the early 1990’s.

In fact, Brown says one of his biggest highlights during his first four seasons there as an NBA player was the team celebration after they broke the league record 43-game road losing streak in Orlando.

“It was some party,” says Brown.

And then when his contract was up in the summer of 1995 and he’d yet to be in a playoff game in four years and had played for teams averaging 30 wins, Brown said he asked his agent to pursue resigning with the Kings even as the Bulls were chasing him.

“I was torn apart about leaving,” said Brown, who played at Collins High School. “I didn’t want to leave. I told my agent to do everything to stay. It wasn’t until Michael (Jordan in a pickup game that summer back in Chicago) got in my ear and told me how crazy I was, that I had no choice but to leave. But I was telling Mark (Bartelstein) that they gave me my opportunity, that I wanted to stay. Michael kept telling me I was crazy to not come home and play. I ended up signing and we won three championships.”

But Brown was reluctant to leave Sacramento, and he feels the same way now as the Bulls may play their final game Wednesday in Sacramento with the team being sold and possibly moving to Seattle.

“Great fans,” said Brown. “They stuck by you win or lose. I hope they get to keep their team.”

It’s a tough time in the state capital as the Kings are once again suffering, tied for last in the Western Conference at 22-43 with a disorganized and dysfunctional team. The owners are committed to selling, so management and likely the coach will soon be out whether they move to Seattle or not. Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former Phoenix Suns star guard, is fighting to keep the team raising money and finding investors. Though NBA commissioner David Stern said the new effort has fallen short so far. The potential buyer, Chris Hansen, has announced a season ticket reserve buyer list. The potential buyers will make presentations to the NBA in early April with a decision later that month by other owners.

Which probably hasn’t affected DeMarcus Cousins that much even as the team expects him to be suspended again for the Bulls game Wednesday. Cousins, who already has been suspended twice by the NBA this season and one other time by the team, was ejected with a flagrant foul 2 against the Bucks for elbowing Mike Dunleavy. Cousins, who seems delusional much of the time, claimed Dunleavy challenged him to a fight and he had to protect himself. Yes, Mike Dunleavy.

Too bad. I was going to suggest the Bulls have Nate Robinson guard him.

Though the Kings can be dangerous. At least in a basketball way when Cousins isn’t on the court with guards Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton, Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette. And with Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson likely still out, there isn’t anyone not dangerous to the Bulls.

It will be interesting to see if the Kings, not as well coached as the Lakers, front Carlos Boozer, as the Lakers did with Ron Artest. With Nate Robinson mostly playing point guard, he has trouble passing over the top when someone is fronted. So Boozer was essentially taken out of the game by the Lakers’ game plan and Artest’s aggression. With Gibson out, that proved fatal to the Bulls.

To Kings fans, the loss of the only major league franchise in the city would be equally devastating, and the former players understand.

It’s really been a mess of a franchise. They’ve only had seven winning seasons since moving there in 1985 from Kansas City (previously Cincinnati and Rochester), all consecutively with the Chris Webber teams of the early 2000’s, one of the league’s most entertaining teams. They’ve been a mess of gimmicks from hiring the disinterested Bill Russell to run the franchise in a 1987 disaster to the epic road losing streak.

But the fans became known as some of the rowdiest ever in the early 2000’s with their cowbells, and Bulls broadcaster Bill Wennington said in his two playing stints there it was a remarkable fan base.

Bill will talk about it more before and during the Bulls broadcast on ESPN 1000 with partner Chuck Swirsky. Chuck also will be interviewing Brown and eminent Bulls broadcaster Neil Funk, who was a Kings broadcaster in Kansas City.

“The fans really loved and supported the Kings,” said Wennington. “The second time I was there (finishing his career in 1999-2000), I’d be in restaurants and even though I was with the Bulls winning three titles people would want to talk about the Kings year when I played with Wayman Tisdale, Lionel Simmons, Travis Mays, Rory Sparrow, Duane Causwell, Eric Leckner. The fans were great.”

It was one of the wackier franchise histories, the Kings in Wennington’s first time there playing with four first round picks, one of whom, Simmons, looked like a bigtime NBA star until felled by perhaps the oddest career ending injury in sports history. Simmons’ career was shortened by carpel tunnel from playing video games too much.

“Lionel really could have been good,” said Wennington. “But I’ve never seen anyone every waking hour he didn’t have a basketball in his hand he was playing that game.”

Eventually hand trouble forced him out of the game. Onetime Bulls coach Dick Motta was coaching the Kings then after replacing Russell and Jerry Reynolds and Motta said if he couldn’t make Mays, Causwell and Simmons All-Stars there was something wrong with him. Motta was fired 25 games into the next season.

“I liked living there,” said Wennington. “I was married, wasn’t looking to go to the clubs. I wasn’t a big club guy, anyway. You were an hour and a half from San Francisco, two hours from Tahoe and Reno, an hour from wine country. It was good for camping and skiing, things I liked, a temperate climate with a mild winter. Just the fog might roll in for a week. And when you are playing there with no other teams you are the focal point.”

Wennington had two one-year stops while Brown played his first four seasons there.

“It was a place you’d see the same people, the same 12,000 and you’d remember them,” recalls Brown. “It was perfect for me, a rookie, a small market team, not a huge media. It was difficult not winning, but I also got an opportunity to play and get better.”

A second round pick with a limited potential, Brown developed into a specialist like Bruce Bowen and earned his way to titles back in Chicago and a 12-year playing career.

“I learned how to be a pro under my mentor Mitch Richmond,” said Brown. “I got the confidence as a player. I learned how to practice and approach a game, maybe things I wouldn’t have had a chance to do in a bigger place with more pressure. It got me ready and I’ll always be grateful. I sure hope we’ll be coming back for a long time.”

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