KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Reggie Theus may be the only member of the Kansas City Kings who looks forward to playing in the Ingelwood Forum against the Los Angeles Lakers in the opening round of the NBA playoffs.
The Kings have not won a game in the Forum since 1974 -- that's a string of 24 consecutive losses including three this season. But Theus has two reasons to look forward to his team's trip to the West Coast this week for the opening two games of the best-of-five series.
First, Theus is from Inglewood and still lists the Forum as his favorite NBA arena and Los Angeles as his favorite city. So he's going home. Secondly, Theus gets to play in a post-season game, and that's something he didn't anticipate as late as mid-February.
Theus was a first-round draft pick of the Chicago Bulls in 1978 and over his first five seasons earned invitations to play in two NBA All-Star Games and also climbed to the No. 5 spot on the franchise scoring list.
But Theus couldn't get along with Kevin Loughery, who was hired to coach the Bulls this season, and he found himself on the bench by January and on the trading block by February. The Kings picked him up cheaply at the NBA trading deadline Feb. 16, swapping backup center Steve Johnson and three No. 2 draft picks for the 6-7 off-guard.
The deal paid immediate dividends for the Kings, who had been struggling both on the floor and at the gate. The talent of Theus helped the Kings win 12 of their next 17 games following the trade to scramble back into the playoff picture and his charisma -- he was the most popular player on the Bulls -- helped brighten things considerably at the gate.
The Kings began marketing Theus with a series of commercials and game-day promotions and went on to average 11,324 fans for the 14 games that he wore the home uniform -- almost 2,300 more fans per game than what they averaged over the entire season (9,030).
Chicago was one of seven teams to miss the playoffs this season with its 27-55 record. Kansas City, on the other hand, finished 38-44 to claim the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Division and that opening-round series with the Lakers.
Theus had a career 19.5-point scoring average in Chicago but it has slipped, apparently by choice, to 15.8 points during his stay thus far in Kansas City.
Theus, trying to shed the rap he gained in Chicago of not being a team player, passed the ball almost to a fault with Kansas City and was often encouraged by Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons to shoot more. He assisted in double figures in five games and averaged 7.0 assists per his 29 games with the Kings.
'When I came over here, I concentrated very hard on blending in and doing what I thought was necessary for this team to succeed,'Theus said. 'I appreciate my coach and teammates for accepting me. It's just a great feeling to get back into the playoffs. The opportunity to get back on the dance floor excites me.'
Kansas City was 0-5 against Los Angeles this season, 1-9 over the last two seasons and hasn't won in the Forum since Oct. 20, 1974. The Lakers will host the Kings for Games 1 and 2 Wednesday and Friday nights before the series shifts to Kansas City for Game 3 Sunday.
'Things that happen during the season don't mean a thing in the playoffs,' Theus said. 'We're not going out there to make a good showing -- we're going out there to win. Playing the Lakers won't be any harder than the road we've had to travel just to make the playoffs.'
'The challenge is there,' Fitzsimmons said. 'This is the biggest challenge I've ever had in my coaching career. Not only have the Lakers beaten us routinely at the Forum, they've beaten us -- period. They've pounded the Kings in recent years. It's a pride thing now. Nobody likes to get beaten up by the same guy over and over again.
'If we do pull it off and beat the Lakers, we'll not only be the talk of the NBA, we'll be the talk of the entire basketball world. No one expects it of us.'