HALFMOON — For the last seven months, Kevin Huerter has experienced first-hand one of the most fun and contagious phenomena in the NBA this season: Light the Beam!
The post-victory ritual at Golden 1 Center, home of the Sacramento Kings, has been for the sellout crowd of 18,000-plus to chant “LIGHT. THE. BEAM,” at which point somebody gets to punch a cartoonishly big activation button courtside, signaling a technician on the roof to turn on a 300-watt purple laser beam into the sky.
On Thursday, the 24-year-old Shenendehowa graduate sat in front of a couple dozen luncheon folks at the Impact Athletic Center and told them about his first season as a shooting guard in Sacramento, after having been traded by the Atlanta Hawks last summer.
Lose the Blender!
He was interrupted twice when a worker whipped up a smoothie behind the cafe counter. Huerter laughed it off, and continued with his story, which has brought him from his days as a ball boy at Siena College games in Albany, to Shenendehowa, to the University of Maryland and finally to the NBA, where he helped the Kings reach a Game 7 against the defending champion Golden State Warriors before being knocked out in the first round on April 30.
These days, he’s as comfortable guarding the Warriors’ Klay Thompson in front of a huge crowd as he is surrounded by friends and family in his hometown.
“It’s actually funny, this specific matchup,” he said. “This Warriors dynasty, for as long as it’s been going on, I remember having friends over in high school and watching Steph [Curry] and Klay play, and that time it was against Oklahoma City [in 2016], and Kevin Durant was on that team. I was literally watching their games growing up.
“You fast forward to now, and I’m guarding Klay Thompson in a playoff series.
“So that was fun.”
Huerter, who, with his brother Thomas, led Shenendehowa to the 2015 New York Class AA state championship, was the 19th player selected in the first round of the 2018 NBA draft and spent four seasons in Atlanta.
He was vacationing in Spain last summer when he found out via Twitter that he had been traded to Sacramento.
That presented the usual challenge of making the transition to a new team, but also the challenge of a new … coast.
Other than zipping in and out of airports in Los Angeles and San Francisco for road games, he had never spent any amount of time in California.
“It was shock,” he said. “In this profession, you always know it’s [trade] a possibility, but until it happens, you never believe it. So initially it was shock.
“Second, was how far away I was going. Sacramento was the complete opposite side of the country.
“I remember from playing against Sacramento, they always had a lot of young guys, always had a lot of athleticism and talent, they just couldn’t figure it out. I knew the pieces in there were close and saw myself fitting in there. De’Aaron Fox was my age coming out of high school, so I had a little familiarity there. Then they signed Malik Monk, same thing. So I was excited about it.”
After signing a four-year contract worth $65 million, Huerter found his comfort zone there, and enjoyed his best season as a pro, averaging 15.2 points per game while starting 75 games.
And Sacramento may not have been on everyone’s list of playoff contenders before the season started, but the Kings became one of the feel-good stories of the 2022-23 NBA season.
“We won every preseason game by 20-plus points and I’m thinking, ‘Wow, we’re going to be really good,’” he said. “This is preseason, and we’re blowing out the Lakers. Then we started the season 0-4, and three of those games were at home. Right away, I remember thinking, ‘Man, this is going to be a long four years, if this is how it’s going to go. I went across the country, and we might suck.’
“We went on an east coast trip game 5 through about game 10, we picked up a couple really good wins, then we won seven or eight in a row, and it felt like we had to see the results before we could know, as a group, that we could win at a high level. Because Sacramento for so long, as you guys know, it was a 16-year playoff drought.”
One of the adjustments Huerter said he made — and enjoyed — was playing off center Domantas Sabonis, after having worked around star point guard Trae Young for four years in Atlanta.
Besides fitting right in with the team, he also found Sacramento to be an unexpectedly familiar city to live in.
“For people who don’t know or haven’t been out there, Sacramento is a lot like this area,” he said. “It really does remind me of it. It’s a smaller city, especially when you compare it to San Francisco, which is about an hour and a half drive.
“We were bussing in our playoff series, so even that distance is very comparable to here to New York city. It’s the state capital. There’s lakes, there’s mountains, so the lifestyle of Sacramento is very similar to upstate New York.”
Part of that lifestyle became watching for the huge purple laser beam shooting up from Golden 1 Center, signaling to the entire city that the Kings had won, again.
Huerter was responsible for dreaming up the #BeamTeam social media signature — a play off the U.S. Dream Team that lit up the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
He doesn’t get any bonus benefit from that, but that’s OK.
“I wish,” he said with a chuckle. “We tried to trademark it, but the team got to it first, but it was always supposed to be fun.
“It’s almost like everything this year with that city was so new. They finally had excitement and energy around the team, so everybody was trying to come up with something. So a lot of nicknames, a lot of gimmicks. We have the Beam now, we call ourselves ‘The Beam Team’ and people really got behind it.
“Oh, yeah, I hit it a couple times. Four or five times.”
Contact Mike MacAdam at [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.
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