June Hudspeth arrived at Sleep Train Arena at 3:20 p.m. on 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.
We brought the noise with us here, so I hope the new place is loud.
Duane Hicks, longtime season ticket holder
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.”
It’s starting to tear at a lot of heartstrings. I’m nervous I might shed a tear.
Former Kings player Scot Pollard
When Arco Arena was built, there wasn’t much else in North Natomas. The neighborhood grew around the arena, replacing fields where goats grazed. Theus recalled carrying a hunting rifle in his car and stopping on the way to practice hunting pheasants.
The building opened in 1988 as Arco Arena II, replacing a prior venue in North Natomas that’s now a state office building. It cost a relatively modest $40 million to build. The arena held that name until 2011, when it took on the moniker Power Balance Pavilion for a season. It’s been Sleep Train Arena the past four years.
The Kings and city of Sacramento have tried to replace Sleep Train Arena many times over the years. But it wasn’t until 2013, when the Kings nearly moved to Seattle, that the effort finally took hold. Golden 1 Center, at the site of the former Downtown Plaza shopping mall, is scheduled to be finished this fall and is expected to cost around $519 million by the time it’s finished.
Hudspeth said she’ll be there. She’s been a season ticket holder since 1985 and she’s already bought her seats in the new arena. She and a lot of other fans have one request for the new place: Keep it loud.
“We’ve had our ups and downs here, but the atmosphere was always great,” said Cathy Hopper, waiting in line with her twin sister, Pam.
Through all the coaches, owners and players, the one thing that remained constant at the arena was the fans, said longtime season ticket holder Duane Hicks. He was standing in line behind Hudspeth, waiting to climb to his upper bowl seats one last time. His season tickets at Golden 1 Center are in the lower bowl.
“We brought the noise with us here, so I hope the new place is loud,” he said. “It’s time to move up.”