AP Sports Writer
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Was this the end for the Kings in Sacramento?
The chatter around Sleep Train Pavilion centered on that question Wednesday night. With NBA owners debating whether to approve the franchise's sale and relocation to Seattle, the ever-faithful fans of the Sacramento Kings pushed the uncertainty aside and did what they have done for parts of four decades during a 112-108 loss in the regular-season finale against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Maybe for the last time.
Hope rang out in those trademark cowbells. Optimism showed through purple-painted faces and in the jerseys of players past and present worn throughout the announced sellout crowd of 17,317.
Stacey Petit-Williams, 32, held a hand-made sign that read: "TAKE MY LIFE BUT NOT MY KINGS." Her husband, Kenneth Williams, 33, carried another that said: "BEST FANS IN THE NBA SINCE '85."
"The Kings are like our stepchild," said Kenneth Williams, born and raised in Sacramento. "It's like family. We're here to cheer something we love."
Fans cheered at full throat during player introductions and often shouted "Sacramento!" Dozens more held up signs at any stoppage with phrases such as "NBA Please Don't Take Our Team" and "This is NOT goodbye." Thousands stuck around for about an hour after the final buzzer, chanting "here we stay" and "save our team" while security guards lined the court with ropes to prevent fans from storming the hardwood again.
Coaches and players returned to the court after showering and getting dressed to thank fans for their support. Guard Marcus Thornton signed autographs with "See you next year."
At one point, Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" blared over the loudspeakers as a tribute to the victims of the bombings during the Boston Marathon. Assistant coach Bobby Jackson, a former player, finally told the crowd: "Kings ain't going anywhere."
The scene was a far happier one than the home finale two years ago, when the Maloof family that owns the Kings was making plans to move the franchise to Anaheim, Calif. Everybody from fans to arena workers -- even the team's broadcasters -- shed tears on the court long after the Kings lost 116-108 in overtime to the Los Angeles Lakers.
With Sacramento once again standing on the ledge of its NBA future, this season's finale felt more like a pep rally.
"It's still nervousness, but it's a lot more confidence this time," Petit-Williams said. "Our city, our mayor, our fans, we've been here before and won."
Former Kings guard Mitch Richmond sat in the first row behind the basket closest to the home team's bench. Richmond looked up at his No. 2 jersey retired in the rafters just before the game, saying "I don't even want to think about the possibility of that being taken down."
"It's time to give this team back to the fans," Richmond said.
Brad Miller, who played for the Kings from 2003 to 2009, sat in the Maloofs' courtside seats. He also came with his 6-year-old daughter, Aniston.
"Felt I had to be here," said Miller, stayed late to shoot baskets as arena workers cleaned up.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, in full cheerleader-in-chief mode, also sat in a courtside seat. He fist-bumped "Slamson," the team's lion mascot, as players took the court. He said at halftime he feels confidents about Sacramento's bid to keep the Kings.
"I think the advantage has to go to the home team. We're an incumbent," Johnson said. "We have fans here, still filling up Sleep Train Arena."
Others couldn't help but feel nostalgic.
Gary Gerould has been Sacramento's radio play-by-play announcer since the Kings moved from Kansas City in 1985. He hopes to continue for several more years, but only if the team stays because his family lives in Northern California.
He sat down in the morning and did the math on games he has missed during his career. In his 28 seasons in Sacramento, the 72-year-old Gerould has called 2,198 games -- including preseason and playoffs -- by his count.
Wednesday night might have been his last.
"It's a weird feeling," Gerould said. "Two years ago, I was absolutely convinced this team was gone. There was not a doubt in my mind. Now there's at least a ray of hope."
The Maloofs have had a signed agreement since January to a group that wants to buy the Kings, move them to Seattle and rebrand them the SuperSonics -- who left the Pacific Northwest for Oklahoma City in 2008. Led by Johnson, Sacramento has fought back over to make the sale and relocation of the Kings a real debate.