This was the Kings' opener of openers, a purple carpet ride for the decades, an evening when the past and future converged on a cleaned-up old barn just north of the city.
Fireworks in the parking lot. A cricket demonstration featuring a 7-footer and a diminutive owner. High-tech videos. VIP banquets. Tours of the facilities. An almost overwhelming global vision presented to a small-market community that is delighted just to keep a basketball team.
It was a bit of a circus but in a charming, Sacramento sort-of way.
There was chanting and cheering, hugging and high-fiving, and several moments of some serious deep breathing.
"I'm so relieved," center DeMarcus Cousins said before tipoff. "I'm trying not to get too excited. I just want to go out and let the game come to me. We've waited a long time for this."
Make that three years and counting. Cousins was a chubby, chatty rookie when the threats of relocation became serious. The moving vans were forever on alert for the commute to Anaheim (2012) or Seattle (2013) or, depending on the hour and which of the many Maloofs was consulted, Las Vegas, San Jose, Kansas City, Virginia Beach or any number of other cities coveting one of the league's 30 franchises.
Yet when the smoke cleared – and the air was thick for most of the first period after pregame festivities – the Kings were still here. Alas, reason to celebrate. Cousins is slimmer, older, more committed. Isaiah Thomas is the undersized guard who believes he's a 7-footer. John Salmons is back for another season, Jason Thompson is challenging for a starting berth, and Jimmer Fredette is itching to become relevant. And, of course, another coach stalks the sideline, confident he's the man to lead the Kings back to the postseason, back among the elite.
"I've got no nerves," Michael Malone said before his head-coaching debut. "I've been preparing for this since September. It's a great opportunity for us, in front of our fans, to say thank you for all their support, their fight to keep the team here."
The pinch-me moments just kept coming: A wan-looking Phil Horn, the Kings' vice president who donated a kidney to his wife, Danea, only weeks ago, came back to work for the opener. Longtime season-ticket holder and breast cancer survivor Barbara Rust – best known as the Sign Lady – was in her customary seat. Kings general manager Pete D'Alessandro and assistant GM Mike Bratz, both of whom were with the Nuggets this time last year, savored the scene.
"My tie is purple now," D'Alessandro said with a grin.
Amid all the pomp and circumstance, the celebrity sightings and excitement generated by the dynamic ownership group headed by Vivek Ranadive, some of the most enthusiastic reaction was reserved for Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and NBA Commissioner David Stern.
During a midcourt presentation between the first and second periods, KJ ran the point, and Stern stood in the middle, per the pattern of the recently turbulent times.
"You could be anywhere tonight, but you chose to be here in Sacramento," an impassioned Johnson said as he gave the commissioner a key to the city, "so let me say as loudly as I can, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you."
Ranadive, who joked that Stern will have plenty of idle time when he retires Feb. 1 after 30 years as the league's highest-ranking executive, handed the commissioner a hard hat.
Eventually, there were alley-oops, spin moves, outlet passes and big 3-pointers, along with the usual allotment of opening-night mistakes. But for the last time in a while, the final score was a small frame in the big picture.
As the Kings move into the future, the last word on the matter belongs to the commissioner. Asked how he rates saving an NBA franchise for Sacramento among his career highlights, Stern paused. The list is undeniably long.
"I have had so many highs in my career," he began. "It's not fair. I love the WNBA, the D-League, the Dream Team, seven expansion teams, globalization, digital, sort of supremacy for our guys and our players, (but) it feels really, really good to keep the Kings in Sacramento."
Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208. Follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.