All Aboard: In Defense of Sleep Train Arena, and Sleep Train, and Some Other Things

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The Sacramento Kings are an NBA franchise owned, for now, eternally for now, by sub-Trump bankruptcy magnets and casino magnates Gavin and Joe Maloof. Everything ridiculous about the franchise, which is most things about the franchise, springs from this circumstance.

The Maloofs are aggrieved, frankly wounded, by the Great Recession's outright gutting of California's capital, a government town collapsing under the bizarre plutocratic belief that government jobs simply are not jobs and should be annihilated forthwith. And while the Maloofs split their passions to Achievexcellence, Winnovate, and Succeedominate between half-assed stabs at moving the franchise to Anaheim and pushing cornball decadence to The Next Level, they also seem to be exploring new revenue options.  (Hard out here for purveyors of luxury products in a town without pity jobs.)

One way to get money for nothing raise some dough is, of course, to sell things that don't belong to you sell things that don't exist to sell naming rights for your arena. And so it has come to pass that what was once known as ARCO Arena, then known as Power Balance Pavilion, is now no longer named after an energy company responsible for the country's largest Superfund site nor a bankrupt company that makes (made?) sports wristbands (whatever the hell sports wristbands are), and is now named Sleep Train Arena.

This name was announced a little bit ago, and like most things, the announcement (a) was meme fodder for Twitter for like one morning, (b) brought out people's inner Bob Hope for some more-or-less tired Kings-are-bad/their-fans-are-sleepy HAW HAW HAWs, and (c) immediately sunk beneath the threshold of awareness for most people. (But not everybody, of course, as Tom Ziller broke it down clearly and as optimistically as possible, positioning the move as good for everybody, in at least small ways.)

But there is something, for this California transplant, of note about Sleep Train, beyond the petty Maloovian petty-cash grab, beyond the easy mediocre-team/sleep jokes, even beyond my so-far entirely unsuccessful efforts to make a joke about Sleep Train Arena and sleep apnea. That thing of note is Sleep Train's twin commitment to foster children on one hand and heart-slicingly sad ad campaigns on the other.

At certain times of year, it can be difficult to avoid one or another of the ads helpfully if cruelly compiled on YouTube and findable by searching "sleep train foster children". For whatever reason, the one that hits me hardest is the basketballest one: the one about needing a new pair of shoes.

It's basketball: we've been told since maybe 1989 that "it's all about the shoes", and the kid who says plaintively "I hoped no-one would notice" sure makes that case better than mugging Spike Lee yelping "Money" or not-as-dismissively-smug/contemptuous-as-he'd-soon-become Michael Jordan ever did. And there's a foster-kid/NBA link, too, of course: Alonzo Mourning was famously in foster care for a while, and Rumeal Robinson, and certainly others between those two poles of on-court success and off-court survival.

Meme-y laff riots are, of course, awesome. Digs at graceless greedhead owners are equally so, and the divine right of sports fans to bag on shoddy Kings-like squads is long-established.  But it's cool too to remember some of those virtues sports don't tend to model all that well, virtues like compassion, and whatever the name for it is when you notice that somebody isn't maybe sporting this year's finest threads, and you withhold judgment, and maybe extend a hand. If you want to argue that Sleep Train should have spent their money directly on shoes for foster children, and avoided ad campaigns (and never advertised with Rush Limbaugh), and kept their name off a building where huge humans play a kids' game for large sums, that's okay: it's a reasonable enough argument. But what if this branding initiative doesn't simply redound to the greater glory of the West Coast's leading mattress retailer, and if it instead leads some new people to get some of our society's most vulnerable and most consistently fucked-over individuals some new shoes? Some shoes that fit, some shoes they can maybe even be proud of, for fuck's sake. Then there's nothing to laugh at, really, and the "reasonable argument" can go screw.

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