Nostalgia overflows as Sacramento Kings prepare to exit ‘Old Barn’

If you want to be on hand when the Sacramento Kings end their 28-year run in the arena formerly known as Arco, you’d better be prepared for playoff-level prices. The handful of tickets still for sale are going for $105 and up.

Want a better view? For $20,000, you and a date could mix elbows with Sacramento glitterati courtside.

The team, which has been pouring on the promotions as the season nears its end, said the final game at the old barn will be an evening appropriate for the moment.

“Sleep Train Arena, or Arco, is such a special place for our fans and our community, that we simply want to give it the moment it deserves – legends, highlights, special guests and a few surprises,” said Chris Granger, the team’s president and chief operating officer.

The Kings play the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday night before taking on the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday in their final North Natomas game. Tickets to the second-to-last game are more reasonable. Nosebleed seats are still available for $14, lower bowl seats for closer to $80.

When next season opens, the team will be playing in the new $519 million Golden 1 Center, an entertainment palace rising improbably on K Street in downtown after years of failed attempts and a very public effort by city leaders to keep the team from leaving. It will boast ultra-fast Wi-Fi and the NBA’s largest video scoreboard – a home as sleek and modern as Sleep Train is creaky and outdated.

The team has dialed up the nostalgia in recent weeks with a series of throwback nights featuring the team’s powder blue uniforms and ’80s musical acts Vanilla Ice, Young MC and Tiffany. Tuesday was technology night at the arena, and included a first-of-a-kind entrepreneurs showcase with fans picking a winner via social media.

As many as 50 former players will attend the finale – along with other notables – to say goodbye to the old arena.

The wistful reverence being used to describe the arena as its tenure winds down is far different from the rhetoric used by team executives when they needed to persuade the City Council to pass a $255 million public subsidy to help replace it.

As longtime Sacramento public address announcer Scott Moak explains, saying goodbye to Sleep Train is a lot like moving out of your drafty childhood home for something bigger, nicer and in a better neighborhood. “There is obviously a lot of nostalgia for that building, your first house,” said Moak, who has been with the team for 14 years.

It’s a moment – after years when it looked like the team would leave Sacramento – that Moak said he hardly believes is real. “Emotionally, it’s still hard to think we are going to walk out of the building and not be playing basketball in it anymore,” Moak said.

Longtime television play-by-play announcer Grant Napear said he, too, has mixed emotions about moving on.

“I do have some sadness because I announced the very first game ever in this building 28 years ago,” Napear said. Those years have produced a lot of special memories. His boys, now 17 and 19, first started attending games as infants, he said.

“Am I looking forward to going to the Golden 1 Center? Yeah,” he said. “Will it be sad walking out of here for the last time? It will be beyond sad.”

Longtime radio announcer Gary Gerould called it bittersweet.

“We’ve seen all kinds of bizarre things happen (there). A lot of bad basketball, a lot of wonderful basketball,” Gerould said.

Some fans also expressed nostalgia – up to a point.

Rudy Rodriquez, of Galt, said he’ll gladly trade having beers in the parking lot for the ambiance of pregame drinks at a bar near the new downtown arena.

David Sobon, a Sacramento art collector and auctioneer, said he won’t miss the building’s defects.

“I’m definitely not going to miss the disrepair of the bathrooms,” Sobon said. But he said overall he feels a bit of sadness given all the memories made in the old building. He said he will proudly display a memento from his years as a season ticketholder.

“I’ve been a season ticketholder for those seats for a long, long time, so I get to take them with me,” Sobon said. “They’ll be displayed magnificently in my downstairs man cave.”

It’s unclear what awaits Sleep Train after the Kings depart. For now, Granger said it will still be booked for events. Concerts, trade shows and graduations are already planned through the summer.

Longer term, he said, the Kings will continue working with the community and consultants to identify a use for the 185 acres the team controls in North Natomas. He has previously said future development could include offices, housing, public parks, research and educational facilities.

Ed Fletcher: 916-321-1269, @NewsFletch

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