The Sacramento Bee is celebrating its 160th anniversary this year. This story is part of our ongoing coverage.
April 10, 2016: June Hudspeth arrived at Sleep Train Arena at 3:20 p.m. Saturday, a solid four hours before the Sacramento Kings were scheduled to tip off against the Oklahoma City Thunder. She’d been coming to the old arena in North Natomas since the day it opened and hadn’t missed a single game the last two seasons.
“It’s bittersweet,” she said, standing at the front of a long line of fans waiting to get in. “We’ve got a lot of great memories in this building.”
The funky, crowded, loud little arena hosted its final National Basketball Association game Saturday night after 28 seasons. A few other events, including a Selena Gomez concert and the Sacramento State graduation in May, are scheduled, and other events may be added.
But the arena, which has held multiple names over the years, will always be best known as the home of the Kings.
Hundreds of fans were outside the arena three hours before the game started, banging cowbells and sharing stories. Inside, a lineup of former players and coaches walked the concourse. Some mingled outside in a light drizzle, posing for photographs with fans and signing autographs.
More than 40 veteran players with the Kings and Monarchs, Sacramento’s former Women’s National Basketball Association team, were scheduled to attend the game. Some of them – including Otis Thorpe, Kenny Smith, Rodney McCray and former player and coach Reggie Theus – took to the court for pregame festivities.
Current and former Kings owners were also on hand, and principal owner Vivek Ranadive led a pregame ceremony. Members of the Maloof family – who owned the team for 15 years but attempted to sell the franchise to a group from Seattle – were not there.
Former player Scot Pollard said at first, he didn't consider the last game to be that big of a deal.
“It's not like it's the end of an era; it’s just the end of a building,” he said.
But as the evening approached it started to hit him.
“It’s starting to tear at a lot of heartstrings,” he said. “I’m nervous I might shed a tear.”
Kings fall short in first major league game in city
Oct. 26, 1985: In a couple of years they’ll be wheeling and dealing soybean futures or some such in the warehouse-home the owners built for the Kings. They’ll gut the place after they build their bigger, more permanent arena, and make it into just another nondescript office building. Something the Pucker’s Pickles people might admire as a regional headquarters.
And there’ll be no evidence whatever of the things that went on there Friday night.
As far as that goes, someone will probably put a wrecking ball to the permanent arena, if not in our lifetime, then surely in our children’s. No, what went on there Friday night won’t have quite the lasting impact of what the Wrights did at Kitty Hawk.
That having been said for the sake of perspective, let’s take a moment for high-fives all around (cheers and tears optional; black tie, too). A major-league team with Sacramento in front of its nickname played a game of ball here Friday against a team from Los Angeles, before 10,333, which is capacity, in a wonderfully raucous building … and perspective eludes me much the way victory eluded the Kings.
It was Clippers 108, Kings 104 in the first major-league game of anything ever played in this city. Derek Smith, a castoff of the Golden State Warriors only two years ago, scored 36 points for L.A., and Sacramento’s new team squandered a 19-point lead.
Joe Kleine, their future but not yet their present in the mind of his coach, Phil Johnson, sat out the fourth quarter.
It was not the sort of game that would get an arena designated a historic site.
But all the same, a small plaque seems in order:
“On this spot, on the 25th of October, 1985, Reggie Theus scored the first field goal ever scored in this city, and 10,333 people went out of their minds.”
What went down this night, the pride and the joy and especially all the noise made by Sacramentans, over Sacramentans, will linger in at least 10,333 memories.