Lighting the Beam With De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis
A few nights before we speak, De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis lead the Sacramento Kings to a 176-175 double-overtime victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. Fox closes it out in style, with a pull-up jumper to go up one with 36 seconds left on the clock.
It’s the game of the year, and indicative of the high-scoring, big-winning sort of season it’s been for the long-suffering Kings, who sit third in the NBA’s Western Conference. And Fox and Sabonis have been central to the team’s success, orchestrating a fast-paced pick-and-roll attack among the league’s most deadly. Fox, 25, is a pleasure to watch—a lightning-quick callback to the guards of the early 2000s who has nonetheless been controlled as a Janet Jackson album in the half-court this season. Sabonis, 26, was the main attraction in a trade with the Indiana Pacers that helped change the team's trajectory. The son of legendary international star and Portland Trail Blazers center Arvydas Sabonis, he’s a scorer and a distributor who can pop for a shot and roll to the basket, and a gritty rebounder who likes to bang more than you’d expect.
Together, these two gentlemen are changing the view of Sacramento Kings basketball. The beam helps, too. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? After the Kings win a game on their home court, a purple laser streaks into the Sacramento sky and loyal fans chant “LIGHT THE BEAM.” Together, Fox and Sabonis have ignited a glow in the city not seen since the days of Vlade and C-Webb. GQ caught up with Fox and Sabonis after their win Sunday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Y’all are third in the West. What are the biggest difference between the team last year and this year?
Fox: Well, he [Sabonis] just got here a year ago, in fairness. But for me, I think it is obviously about talent, shooting, and selfless guys who want other guys to succeed. Having a coach [in Mike Brown] who brings a different mindset. He was able to use every player who we gained in a trade last summer or and build an offense around us. I feel like it is perfect for everybody.
Sabonis: I feel like Coach Brown has done a good job of pushing us to be better every day. No one wants to get his bad side. If you do something bad, he's calling you out right away, so that kind of adds that extra layer to every practice and every game. And then like Fox said, a lot of guys are playing unselfishly. Everyone has the same goal, and that goal is to win as many games as we can to put us in a great position in the postseason.
What have you learned from Coach Brown in particular?
Fox: Oh, for me, I would say, really, a leadership mindset. I feel like he brought that in. Obviously, he's a guy who's won many championships. So just being able to have that, going into games, going into practices, when we're on a losing streak on a winning streak, what this looks like, and I feel like he's helped me with that a lot.
Sabonis: Coach comes in every day for practice, and the whole coaching staff is on it. Like he says, they're holding us accountable. They're pushing us. There's not one day that's gonna slide by. So that's really important throughout the course of the season, because it's just gonna prepare us for the moments that matter.
De’Aaron, you were somebody who always won—besides your first few years with the Kings. Talk to me about that adjustment. Was it hard to deal with that?
Fox: It was definitely different. Obviously, it was frustrating. You don't want to be selfish—like, well, I got my numbers but we lost. So it was definitely hard. But I feel like a lot of guys, especially when you're a top pick, those things happen. You go through struggles. Obviously, I don't want to go through five years of struggle, but I feel like it makes winning even more sweet. And it's something that you want to just be able to continue and be consistent throughout the years.
Domantas, you got traded from Indiana last year—what was the adjustment like, coming to Sacramento?
Sabonis: It definitely was different. Spending five and a half, six years, in Indiana to come to the team with a lot of high expectations as a player and as a competitor. That's something you're always looking forward to. I feel like everyone was excited this year to come in and do really well, because it just makes the year a lot more fun, and it makes it easier with teammates that care for each other. I feel like everyone's been loving the season so far, you know, and the best is yet to come.
I’m a music journalist by trade. What kind of music are y’all listening to?
Fox: I got a little Ed Sheeran.
Fox: Damn, man! I got to listen to rap?
No, not at all! Not at all. I shouldn’t have reacted like that. My bad.
Fox: Damn! [Laughs] This guy Luke Christopher is good. He’s from Southern California. Does a lot of rap and R&B.
What about you, Domantas?
Sabonis: Other than what the guys are listening to in the locker room, I got some Ed Sheeran too. He was the first concert I went to too.
What was that like?
Sabonis: It was amazing. He gets into it with the fans like it was just an interview.
Take me through that marathon of a game against the Clippers.
Fox: Man. We were on the back to back night. So just the way that the game was going, man, it was up and down. I feel like the defense wasn't terrible—there wasn't just a bunch of dunks and wide open layups, those were tough shots. It was a very high level of shotmaking. I mean, if you go look at the 16 shots Kawhi [Leonard] made, he was probably open on one, or maybe two—where there was like a miscommunication. He was open. Everything else was a tough shot. But he had a step back three over, I think, Malik and Trey. We doubled and he had to step back. So it was very high level shotmaking. But I was tired, man.
Sabonis: I don’t know how he did it.
Fox: Yeah, I was just on a night of back to back and like, obviously I want to get stops. But if they're scoring, you have to try to keep your offense at an elite level. I think we were down 14 in the fourth quarter. And we were able to come back. So we kept getting down and we kept fighting back. And I mean, I'm just glad we won that game.
Domantas, how about you? Any memories from that game?
Sabonis: Same thing as Fox. In the first quarter it was 40 to 40. But looking at it being on the court, [it wasn’t] like we weren't playing defense, we weren't rotating. We were everything. It was just a good game. It was bucket after bucket but, like, the defense was there. You know, we were executing.
Malik Monk has helped y’all. What does he bring to the team?
Fox: I love Leek. Played with him in HS—
At Kentucky too, right?
Fox: Yep! We took our official visit together. We actually never talked about playing the league together until the summer it really happened. But I mean, he's a microwave and he could always explode like that. He had 47 in a college game once, too.
Speaking of Kentucky, do you ever think of the UNC game? [In 2017, Fox’s Kentucky Wildcats lost a March Madness heartbreaker to the Tar Heels.]
Fox: It was funny. Luke Maye’s brother followed me on Instagram the other day, I meant to be like, Oh, fuck your brother. For sure. I mean, honestly, I'm not angry. I’m in the league now.
Besides the Kings' arena, what are some of your favorite places to play?
Sabonis: Madison Square Garden, for sure.
Fox: So, I haven’t played in New York the past two seasons. At this point, Staples Center is always fun. Probably my favorite.
I’m going to ask this question gently, but y’all played in the game—do you two think the All Star Game needs fixing?
Fox: He can answer that because I do not care. [Laughs]
Sabonis: At times being on the court, it felt kind of weird. Like, I felt bad for the fans? You know, they're here to watch. And we weren't giving our best, let's say. But I don't know. I mean, it's the players who are there.
How excited are you to bring the playoffs back to Sacramento?
Fox: It’ll be so lit. Like, I think just the vibe that you get around the city. It’s the Kings’ city. Even when we were not in the playoffs, it was the Kings’ city. You can go anywhere in the greater Sacramento area, and the Kings are everywhere. So that first playoff game, hopefully we have home court advantage. It will also be my first playoff game. It’ll go crazy.
Sabonis: Even if we secure a spot in the playoffs. That last home game will go crazy.
Originally Appeared on GQ