The scene: Staples Center before the rally. At one point I looked up at the retired jerseys on the wall and blurted out, "There's going to be a banner up there!"
I don't know why I said that out loud. I was rolling on pent-up glee and half price margaritas.
Mostly, I think it never hit me till then.
We were supposed to see it next week. It was going to be on national television, with Bob Miller presiding, right before the home opener against the Rangers. Now, with at least five games wiped out, that long-awaited day will have to wait.
I know we've had it better than most. All summer long, we've had a lot to be giddy about, with the added pleasure of victory after decades of waiting. One of my favorite things to do is to search for galleries of Kings fans getting their moment with the Cup, and just looking at all their happy faces. All their epic, glorious, crazy poses. Hugs, kisses, two thumbs up -- friends and couples, kids and families. The Cup transports everyone, and this is special. We're not taking anything or granted; if you want, we could fly.
But ever since July, when the impending lockout became page one news, there's been this other side of hockey to deal with. The shadow over our sun. The economics-side ugliness.
I understand this is a business, but it's messing with my sense of unity.
Maybe you're thinking: "That was your mistake. You're just a fan. They don't care about you. Even if you feel connected to them, they just want your money. They're taking us all for granted." And it's true -- despite the lip service, no one has acted like they care enough.
But there's an emotional level of connection here that goes beyond simply exchanging your money for the chance to watch a high-level sport. When you follow a team, you're not just pulling for the players on the ice, you're also sharing the highs and lows with every fellow fan. There are a lot of other ways for me to spend my entertainment dollars. But having a favorite team is like stepping into an instant community.
So I keep thinking back to the magical day of the rally. Fans, management, and players were all together then. Everyone was giddy; everyone was there to express their gratitude. I thought to myself, "They really are like a family." The emotion in the building was overwhelming. How many times in your life do you get to be with more than 18,000 people and know you're all feeling the same thing?
Was that the last time we are going to be together for a while?
I'm not going to pretend like solving this is easy; I know a lot of money is at stake. I see no point in complaining about how much the players or owners make, either, because I accept that pro hockey is a big entertainment business. They make money because we are willing to pay. But the one thing I want is to not be taken for granted.
Fans came back after the last lockout when the league wasn't expecting us to. They expect us to again. The difference seven years later, I think, is that absolutely everyone thinks it's pointless this time. And if it's really true that there are leaders on both sides who never wanted it to go this far, it's paramount that someone act like it. That means meeting without preconditions and convincing the other side that this can be conducted with mutual respect. Otherwse, you're taking a hammer to that feeling of unity. You're finally going to convince the only fans you still have that they shouldn't feel a damn thing about you.
We're still waiting for this banner to rise. Be bigger than this.