‘Storybook beginning’: Why Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox calls this best year of his life

First comes love. Then comes marriage. Then comes baby in the baby carriage followed soon after by an appearance in the NBA All-Star Game, a breakout performance in the playoffs and an All-NBA selection.

This was quite a year in the life of De’Aaron Fox, a 25-year-old point guard who took his first real steps toward superstardom while leading a long-suffering Kings franchise to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

“I think it was almost something out of a movie,” Fox said. “Just with my life coming together like that, I definitely think Year 25 for me is probably the best year that I’ve had in my life, and I just want to keep this feeling going.”

Fox reunited with boyhood friend and former Kentucky teammate Malik Monk when the Kings signed him as a free agent in July. A month later, he married his soulmate, Recee Caldwell — the new queen of Kings — in a picture-perfect Malibu wedding. In February, they welcomed their first child into the world with the birth of baby Reign. Fox explained it was Recee, a former college point guard herself, who chose a Kings-themed name for their young prince.

Kings coach Mike Brown has given the newlyweds his blessing, saying they are a match made in hoops heaven.

“He’s fortunate, blessed, lucky, however you want to call it, to have Recee say yes to him,” Brown said. “She’s a beautiful, beautiful human being herself. They just make a fantastic couple, and the addition of baby Reign, it’s like a storybook beginning for them as a young family.”

Mother and baby sat courtside at Golden 1 Center while Fox went to work, building on the best year of his professional career. He scored 16 points in his first game back after taking a few days away for the birth of the baby. Then he started flexing his dad strength, scoring 31, 33, 36, 35, 31, 42, 33 and 33 over the next eight games while averaging 34.3 points on 59.8% shooting.

“It was big, just having your family there every single game,” Fox said. “Recee helps me in my development both on and off the court, so a lot of what I do is a testament to her and the discipline she’s helped instill in me, and with the baby coming, I think I started playing my best basketball as soon as he was born. I’m not sure how much that actually helped and the correlation, but just having him here, I think it was fun just having a baby in the house with us.”

Sacramento has watched Fox grow into adulthood since the Kings selected him as a 19-year-old kid from Kentucky with the No. 5 pick in the 2017 NBA draft. He was passed over for All-Rookie honors after his first season, but now he is an All-Star and All-NBA player who just helped the Kings end the longest playoff drought in NBA history after 16 consecutive losing seasons.

Fox averaged 25.0 points, a career-high 4.2 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.1 steals in his sixth season. He shot career bests of 51.2% from the field and 78% at the free-throw line.

Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox (5) dunks the ball defended by Golden State Warriors guard Jordan Poole (3) during Game 4 of the first-round NBA playoff series at Chase Center in San Francisco on Sunday, April 23, 2023.
Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox (5) dunks the ball defended by Golden State Warriors guard Jordan Poole (3) during Game 4 of the first-round NBA playoff series at Chase Center in San Francisco on Sunday, April 23, 2023.

Becoming an All-Star

Fox went to the All-Star Game for the first time as an injury replacement while continuing to emerge as one of the league’s most lethal fourth-quarter scorers. He won the inaugural Clutch Player of the Year award. Then, in an epic seven-game playoff series against the defending champion Golden State Warriors, Fox traded shots with Stephen Curry despite suffering an avulsion fracture in the index finger on his left shooting hand.

Fox averaged 27.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 2.1 steals in his first career playoff appearance. Curry, a two-time MVP and four-time NBA champion who has established himself as one of the game’s all-time greats, averaged 33.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 0.9 steals.

Fox’s performance was recognized around the league and in his locker room, where he has earned the full faith and trust of teammates and coaches. Fox endured five losing seasons under two head coaches, one interim coach and two general managers. Then came this season’s breakthrough under general manager Monte McNair, the NBA Basketball Executive of the Year, and Brown, who became the first unanimous winner of the Coach of the Year award.

Kings forward Harrison Barnes marvels at the development of Fox, who still had a spikey hairdo in his second NBA season when Barnes came to Sacramento in a February 2019 trade with the Dallas Mavericks.

“When I first got here, he was a young guy,” Barnes said. “He still had long hair, and I’ll never forget (former Kings general manager Vlade Divac) was talking to me about him, and he was like, ‘I think this guy can be like a top-five point guard in the league.’

“I was in Dallas at the time and he was one of the guys we wanted to draft, but obviously we couldn’t move up high enough to get him. So I’ve always been a fan of his game, and I think just to see over the years, obviously the maturation of him as a person, just growing as an individual, becoming a husband, a father and all those things, which has been great to see. But I think as a player, growing, developing, and, obviously, this year going up toe-to-toe against Steph and kind of validating that you’re a superstar on that stage, I think that’s just great to see. I think it’s a credit to his hard work and his desire to be great, his perseverance to get through the losing seasons and the different coaches, and all the things that can trip up a player to use as an excuse for why a guy didn’t achieve X, Y and Z potential. I think he’s risen above that.”

Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox (5) waits for the start of Game 6 of the first-round NBA playoff series at Chase Center on Friday, April 28, 2023.
Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox (5) waits for the start of Game 6 of the first-round NBA playoff series at Chase Center on Friday, April 28, 2023.

All-NBA selection

That was apparent Wednesday when Fox and Kings center Domantas Sabonis received All-NBA Third Team honors for the first time in their careers. The two of them orchestrated an offense that led the league in scoring (120.7 ppg) while recording the highest offensive rating (119.4) in NBA history.

Sacramento’s dramatic turnaround can be attributed to the overall accumulation of basketball knowledge and talent from the front office to the coaching staff to the roster. McNair’s front office includes Wes Wilcox, Alvin Gentry and Phil Jabour. Brown’s coaching staff includes Jordi Fernandez, Jay Triano, Doug Christie, Luke Loucks, Leandro Barbosa, Dutch Gaitley, Lindsey Harding and Robbie Lemons. The roster features Fox, Sabonis, Barnes, Kevin Huerter, All-Rookie First Team selection Keegan Murray, Malik Monk, Davion Mitchell and Trey Lyles.

Those individuals all deserve credit for what happened in Sacramento this season. When asked about his personal growth, Fox often steers the conversation back to Brown, Loucks and his new bride, Recee, who worked with Brown and Loucks as a player development intern with the Warriors while finishing her college career at Cal.

“Having Recee here, and obviously once Mike was hired and she worked with Mike and Luke, that was a big part of my development this year,” Fox said. “It’s funny because Jordi was like, he doesn’t think I got a lot better, but it was just the discipline and having somebody who pushed me and being held accountable was a big reason and part of my success this year as an individual.”

Brown, who has coached LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Stephen Curry, believes Fox can continue to build on this season’s success.

“When you’re around great people like that, you want nothing but the best for them .and you feel like they deserve it because they’re that good of people,” Brown said. “And so for me with Foxy, I feel like he definitely has earned and deserved everything he has coming his way.

“He has a chance to be elite. I’ve been around some elite players and they just have something inside of them as well as all the other stuff, the skillset and the talent and all that. I thought Foxy had a chance to be great or really, really good. He surpassed that and I think he has a chance to be elite. It’s going to be harder for him to get to that point, but I think he’s more than capable and I’m just excited to be part of his journey, especially as close up as I am and trying to help him get there, because when he does, Sacramento will be on fire.”