How 'light the beam' became a Sacramento Kings rallying cry

ByMarc J. Spears ESPN logo
Monday, April 17, 2023

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Minutes after scoring a game-high 38 points following the first Sacramento Kings' playoff victory in nearly 17 years, guard De'Aaron Fox walks to the scorers' table and greets owner Vivek Ranadive. The 18,253 fans at the Golden 1 Center know what's coming next as a countdown begins and a laser technician waits atop the roof for the signal.

3 ... 2 ... 1 ... LIGHT THE BEAM!

Fox hits the comically large Kings-branded, purple and silver buzzer and sends a 300-watt purple laser beam to the heavens.

Little did Fox and the Kings know that some seven months ago, lighting the beam was but a figment of a marketing idea turned lightning rod for a franchise yearning for something to rally around following decades of losing.

The idea of the new victory beam seemed quite ambitious entering this season considering the Kings haven't been to the playoffs nor had a winning record since 2006. Ranadive bought the Kings in May 2013 and hasn't had much to celebrate -- until this season.

No major North American pro sports franchise entered this season with a longer playoff drought than his Kings. The franchise nearly moved to Seattle in 2013 until late NBA commissioner David Stern sparked the momentum to halt that major change. Countless draft picks that didn't pan out offered more reasons for Kings fans to groan. NBA agents were known to steer their athletes away from a hapless Sacramento franchise. About the only thing the Kings had going for them in recent years was a rising star in Fox and their new downtown arena that opened in 2016.

So when the Kings boldly put out a media release Sept. 16 announcing the victory beam to increase fan engagement and bring attention to the arena, more jokes for a struggling franchise could have been made.

"Whenever it was announced, I was like, well s--- we got to win, or this would be a bad meme after every loss if we're not winning," Fox told ESPN. "I didn't want to be made fun of."

NBA teams still poked fun on social media at the "light the beam" gimmick, but the Kings could be the ones getting the last laugh.

With 48 regular-season wins and entering the NBA playoffs as the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, the Kings beat the sixth-seeded Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of their first-round series Saturday, proud to uniquely "light the beam." A franchise that entered the season with a reason for newfound hope and excitement didn't expect to be the talk of the NBA for all the right reasons on the court -- and the roof.

"I didn't think there was much chance that it was going to stick," Kings forward Harrison Barnes told ESPN. "You hear that they wanted to market this name. Everything had to come together for this to work."

Ranadive said the idea for the victory beam was sparked by Silicon Valley colleague and close friend David Kelley, CEO and co-founder of IDEO, a global design & innovation firm, as they brainstormed ways to enhance the Golden 1 Center experience.

Ranadive talked to Kelley and Kings executives about ideas for the Golden 1 Center when the franchise was in the planning stages of building the arena. Kelley was intrigued by the purple that the Kings used in their color scheme and wondered how it could be used. Kelley recalled how Virgin America made all its airline passengers feel VIP when they entered their planes with the use of purple light. So Kelley suggested that the Kings use purple lighting all over Golden 1 Center. Ranadive and the Kings' brass loved the idea and eventually came up with the beam concept.

"Right away you say to yourself, 'This is amazing. This is going to be a unique experience. It's going to be great,'" Ranadive told ESPN. "But the notion of the purple lights got stuck in my head. And I would often ask, 'Can we have purple LEDs on top of the building?'

"If I'm flying from Sacramento to New York, I'll be able to look out the window, and if the lights are on, that means the Kings are in the house! ... My guys came up with the notion and said, 'Hey, we don't do LEDs, but we got something better. We'll do a laser instead.'"

The plan was to shine a 300-watt laser-powered purple beam powered by six laser cannons -- that received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration -- over the grand entrance at Golden 1 Center after every Kings win until midnight PT. The Kings said their victory beam would be the brightest full-color laser equipment in the world and would rise further than our eyes can see. But because Sacramento's first victory of the season was in the afternoon of Oct. 29, the beam couldn't be seen until hours later and went virtually unnoticed.

It wasn't until the Kings won 118-105 on the road against the Charlotte Hornets on Halloween that the beam lit at nighttime and was first truly noticed by many spooked onlookers. With the purple beam extending from Golden 1 Center to the sky, Sacramentans who had missed the victory beam announcement were humorously concerned about what they saw on Halloween.

KTXL sports reporter Sean Cunningham said he received several emails that night from locals asking, "What is that purple light in the sky?"

"People were freaking out because they're not used to seeing something in the sky," Cunningham told ESPN. "The thing I love about it the most as someone from this town is it's hard to have an original idea anymore. And people will bite off of other teams and other leagues. But this was something that came up organically."

There was little fanfare after the Kings' announcement of the victory beam in September, and not just from the fans.

"At first, I thought it was corny," Kings coach Mike Brown told ESPN. "I was like, 'What is this?'"

Fox showed faith in the victory beam concept by tweeting "Light The Beam!" after a 120-114 road win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Nov. 11, the night where Barnes said he and his teammates started falling in love with the beam as well.

"I thought it was something fans would want," Fox said.

Fox was right as Kings fans began to quickly leave Golden 1 Center after home wins to see the beam as it was lit and to take selfies to document the victory. A seven-game November winning streak built momentum for the victory beam. By the time the Kings routed the Indiana Pacers 137-114 on Nov. 30 at Golden 1 Center, excited Sacramento fans were all-in on the new slogan as they chanted "light the beam!" in the closing seconds.

"It just so happened that the slogan comes out, we go on that winning streak, and everything comes together," Barnes said. "It becomes something more. It was impeccable timing. ... It wouldn't have worked without the winning streak off the bat. That is what allowed it to come together."

Kevin Huerter also got in on the victory beam fun by coining #BeamTeam as a nickname for the Kings on social media. The phrase quickly became a hit with fans, and it was put on T-shirts and signs all over the city.

"We talked about trademarking 'The Beam Team' in the locker room," Huerter told ESPN. "The nickname just seemed fun. I never heard of a team doing a gimmick like that after a game. So, I just trying to have fun with it and do something for the fans."

The "light the beam" chant has even traveled on the road with the Kings. During the final minutes of the Kings' 123-96 win against the LA Clippers at Arena on Dec 3, Sacramento fans started chanting, "Light the beam!"

"It's a chant. It's a rallying cry after every win. You hear people start to chant it after every game. It's cool," Huerter said. "You can't come to someone else's building and your own fans are cheering. It's not good for them. I don't know if that could ever happen in our building."

Today, Kings players can't go anywhere now without people yelling about the beam. And they love it.

"When we go to a restaurant on the road, people will yell out, 'Beam team!' or 'Light the beam!'" Barnes said. "That is crazy. In your mind, you think it's just a Sacramento thing. But it's made its way around and it's cool to see."

According to the Kings, stories including the victory beam have reached an audience of approximately 373 million people.

Now that the world is familiar with the victory beam story, Ranadive hopes it can also be viewed as a "symbol of hope" for more than just Kings' victories.

"One of the things that has never surprised me is the passion of the fans," Ranadive said. "And so, the fact that the fans just loved it was not a surprise. What was a surprise was just the, not just national, but global phenomenon that it became."

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