Aaron Bruski

The Step-back 3

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Sacramento: Losing Its Crown

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

When was the last time you decided to do something big? I'm not even talking about going to college, starting a company or getting married – I'm talking about affecting social change.

This week's Step-back Three takes a break from its normal format to acknowledge the situation in Sacramento, where a city on the brink of financial disaster knows that they have a basketball team for at least a few more weeks. And while the city politicians have squandered opportunity after opportunity to keep the Kings in town, a local group has stepped up to try to save their team.

I had the opportunity to speak with the leader of that movement – a man who goes by the name Carmichael Dave. Immediately after setting the recorder down, it was easy to understand how he accomplished more in one minute than local government did in 10 years. Maybe it was the throng of ideas he had, or maybe because it felt like I was talking to Sir Isaac Newton about a siege of Snookies.

Or maybe it is the arsenal of votes that he's bringing to City Hall on Tuesday afternoon – and the fact that he's not asking them to do backflips. He's expecting it, he's televising it, and you won't need pay-per-view to see it.

But what becomes crystal clear just as fast as you listen to him – is that history is being made in Sacramento. Somewhere down the line, a different team and a different city will lose their common ground, and the Cowbell Kingdom will be the blueprint that all sides use to plot their path.

Save their team – and they will have saved the jobs of thousands and the hopes of millions.

Their message to the rest of the country? Don't wait for a broken system of broken souls to do what it should be doing on behalf of the citizens that empower it.

As of the time of this writing, the #HereWeBuild movement (located here) has secured nearly a half-million dollars in pledges for a new arena in Sacramento, in just about the time it takes for a loaf of bread to grow moldy.

And while the sheer force of the #HereWeBuild movement is a riveting display of technology unleashed, the more human story of a desperate, yet resiliently positive group of citizens fighting for their team -- as if it were a member of their family -- is much more salient. Make no mistake, hanging in the balance is the economic fate of over two million people, who may not even know or care to admit it yet, but their lives are about to get more difficult, and in many cases more miserable than they already are.

Can one man, a Twitter account, and a rabid fan base pull together an upset for the ages? Carmichael Dave will be the first one to admit that the odds are long. The group will march on City Hall today, but it's the behind the scenes work that's going to dictate if they can make some change. And with thousands of jobs shoved to the center of the pot, and the mental and financial health of the 20th largest market in the United States on the line – one man stands at the forefront of affecting social change.

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Tell our readers a little bit about yourself

I've been a Kings fan my whole life. I've been a sports fan my whole life. I was a caller to the (local radio station) KHTK since I was 13 years old, and that's where I got my name. I was Dave in Carmichael, which is a suburb in Sacramento, like Fred in Fair Oaks or John in Citrus Heights, and like a number of callers whose names get switched around by the hosts I became Carmichael Dave. I then interned for the station for a while doing sports updates, and finally got my job there with the Carmichael Dave Show. I took a bit of a different road, and I literally am a fan with a microphone.

By now everybody knows that Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof are considering moving the team to Anaheim, and they will have to make a decision by April 18 whether or not they want to move pull the trigger. There is a chance the other owners could vote to block the move, but most think that the move will be approved. Now all of a sudden the #HereWeBuild movement has popped up on billboards, TV, and the Internet with just two weeks to go. So tell our readers what #HereWeBuild is and what it expects to accomplish in such little time.

Well, #HereWeBuild is as grassroots as it gets. It was me responding to the Anaheim city council voting 5-0 to approve $75 million in bonds for the Honda Center to help the Kings move down there, and I sent out a tweet on Twitter saying 'Carmichael Dave votes 1-0 to pay $200 out of his pocket toward a new arena who's with me.' So I sent out a few more tweets, and got a few more responses, and I sent out a few more tweets and got a ton of response and within a few hours, I think within three hours we raised our first $100,000 online. Jiffy Lube of Sacramento, a local business here, donated $30,000 of that and by the next morning had six digital billboards around Sacramento – very viewable, in very high traffic areas, each with the #HereWeBuild Twitter hashtag and a running total of what we had raised.

The goal, part of it, we're accomplishing it as we speak. The goal was to fix the tenor of the conversation here locally in Sacramento, which was extremely negative, with the towel pretty much thrown in not just by our city council but by our mayor himself in many senses. A lot of negative publicity has turned over the last three, four, five days into positive publicity. We've been on the front page of the Sacramento Bee, we've been on every TV station here in town, numerous blogs, the New York Times, and with you guys – and instead of the focus being 'the Kings are leaving, the Maloofs and the city council are fighting, and Sacramento's going to be without a team in two weeks,' it's now turned to 'well that still all may very well happen, but in the meantime the fans are speaking up and they're putting their money where their mouths are and trying to make a difference.'

It's a Hail Mary pass, it's the bottom of the ninth, it's the 15th round – whatever sports analogy you want to use. But we're going down with a fight, which is a lot more different than things were going just a few days ago.

I've never seen anything like this move quite so quickly, and I think it speaks to the power of social media and Twitter. What has Twitter meant to #HereWeBuild as an organization?

If #HereWeBuild is a house, Twitter is the foundation and the first floor. It's the start, it's the genesis, it's everything. Just a few years ago in order to reach a large audience you had to, at best, maybe have a website, put something up there and hope people went to that website via email or word of mouth. Twitter is basically a global text message to whomever is following you, and whoever is following them, and so on. This infinite loop of eyes looks at a very short, sweet statement in 140 characters, and they run with it. And really, that's why this happened so quickly, that's why this has spread like wildfire. Now we brought in a website, we brought in Facebook, and we brought in traditional media and word of mouth. As for Twitter, before we started this interview I sent out a tweet that was updating the media about what we had done this evening and what was coming tomorrow, and already it's been seen by more than 100s of thousands of eyes – and that's at a late hour on a Sunday evening.

So Twitter's everything, it's gotten us off the ground and then some, but now we need real life events and efforts to continue our momentum.

I saw you on the local Fox 40 news report saying that the next steps for #HereWeBuild included looking for the 'smart kids in class.' Why are you looking for the 'smart kids in class' and what are the next steps for #HereWeBuild.

That's the question and answer right there. We're looking to hear from the smart kids in class because we're looking to get to the next step – because this thing has been so fluid. And even as this thing grew – I didn't believe it would grow this much, nobody does when things like this happen. And nothing, as you said, like this has ever happened before in this capacity. As it exploded I started to feel a weight on my shoulders and a good weight, that in order for this thing to work, we have to move it somehow. We have to keep momentum going.

Now we have all these pledges out there but its Monopoly money, it's not real. It's pledges, just like any telethon, but we haven't cashed them – and that's gotten us a lot of good PR. The next step is to turn that into actual dollars, so what I need, and my thing from the get-go, from day one, is that we won't collect a dollar of pledges until we have assurances that all laws are being followed, that everybody is protected, and that the goals of the movement are spelled out ad nausea, and let's face it – we're realists here. We know that the odds are against this thing being successful, so there's more than a decent chance that every penny is going to have to be returned. And if the people of Sacramento and the surrounding regions that are Kings fans, when they are losing their homes and losing their jobs, and they're still willing to dig into their piggy banks and to donate whatever they can – I need to give them assurances.

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Aaron Bruski has covered hoops for Rotoworld since 2008 and has competed in national fantasy sports competitions for nearly two decades. You can also find his work over at ProBasketballTalk, where he received critical acclaim for his in-depth reporting of the Kings' relocation saga. Hit him on Twitter at Aaronbruski.
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