HOUSTON - The day was spent talking to Kings players about the difference between having Ron Artest and not having him, so I hardly needed a reminder that he wasn't playing in Sacramento anymore.
But en route to tonight's flight to Houston for the Ron-Ron reunion at the Toyota Center on Friday night, I noticed the sale rack at the sports shop in the airport where only the most prominent former Kings have their numbers retired in a very different way: No. 93, $14.99 (regular price, $59.99, I believe), in all its shiny gold and purple glory. It's official now, especially since he changed to No. 96 with the Rockets.
This is the outlet where visitors can see which King was put out to pasture last, although I wonder if they should make an attempt to stay a bit more up to date. The Mike Bibby jerseys didn't come off the racks all that long ago, and Kevin Martin fans could search high and low for his No. 23 and come up empty. I asked an employee once why they wouldn't have any Martin duds, considering the store is so Kings-heavy and Martin had become the front-and-center star.
"I think they order a year in advance, so I guess he wasn't that good then," the young man said.
As for the obligatory Artest storyline here in Houston, his former teammates opined about how his unpredictable personality was a challenge but generally shared good feelings about his Sacramento stay; Artest, meanwhile, says he's far too excited about his prospects this season to have any ill will about being a King.
Beyond that, don't forget that this game will matter far more than those that came before it for both teams. Rockets coach Rick Adelman says he'll be running a rotation that is close to regular season-ready, while Kings coach Reggie Theus will certainly play his regulars more minutes, although swingman Francisco Garcia will be out with a sore left foot and guard Quincy Douby is out with a sprained right ankle. - Sam Amick