If members of the Sacramento Kings kneel during the national anthem before Wednesday’s regular season opener at Golden 1 Center, at least one person in the building will have their backs.
In an interview with The Sacramento Bee on Tuesday, Kings owner and chairman Vivek Ranadive opened up about how his experience as an immigrant, his father’s arrest decades ago and his own son’s recent enlistment in the U.S. Army have shaped his views on free speech and social justice.
“I personally, being an immigrant, I love the national anthem, I stand up for it,” Ranadive, a native of India, said in an office overlooking Golden 1 Center from the fourth floor of the adjacent Sawyer Hotel. “But I 100 percent support our players in every way. Part of this is that everyone is shaped by their personal experiences.”
Ranadive’s father, Yeshwant, was arrested in the middle of the night in the 1970s by the Indian government for warning that a new aircraft flown by Indian Airlines was unsafe. Ranadive was a young boy when his father was jailed and recalls waking up the next morning and seeing a photograph in the newspaper of his father behind bars.
“They did that because he spoke his mind, he said the plane was unsafe,” Ranadive said. “The memory of him in a jail cell and seeing that picture is etched into my soul. So free speech is something I value greatly. It’s one of the things I value about this country.”
Yeshwant Ranadive, known by those close to him as “The Captain,” was a national hero. He flew Spitfires in combat during World War II and was named secretary general of the pilots’ association when he returned.
Now, decades later, Vivek Ranadive’s 29-year-old son, Andre, is beginning his own service.
Andre Ranadive enlisted in the Army a few weeks back and is enrolled in basic training at Fort Benning in Georgia, his father said.
“He’s got a big heart and he wants to serve his country,” Ranadive said of his son. He’s proud of Andre, but “obviously as a dad, I’m afraid.”
Ranadive, one of the few NBA owners who is a minority, has been outspoken on social issues before. He was one of the first owners to denounce former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling after recordings surfaced in 2014 of Sterling making racist remarks.
“The Kings have always been on the right side of history,” Ranadive said. “If our players have views they want to express in a way that’s not harmful or destructive to anyone, I fully support them. Our players have amazing track records in terms of what they do in the community. These are generous and big-hearted people and I love them and I support them.”
In 2014, Kings players wore black T-shirts with the words “I can’t breathe” printed on the front during pre-game warm-ups. The shirts were a protest repeated around the league after Eric Garner, an African American man, died in a chokehold while being arrested in New York.
“I reject the notion that you’re unpatriotic if you let the players have an open mind (about the national anthem),” he added.
The interview with Ranadive came as the Kings are about to begin their second season in Golden 1 Center. The 250-room Sawyer Hotel is open, and guests lounged by a pool deck overlooking the arena plaza on Tuesday. Restaurants, stores and a revamped movie theater are expected to open in the Downtown Commons neighborhood by the end of the year.
“I’m thrilled,” said Ranadive, whose ownership group has invested around $1 billion in the area. “Four years ago I was down there and we had a rundown mall and I stood in front of the city and I said no other city was going to steal our team. And I said Sacramento would never have to play second fiddle to any other city in the world.”
In its first year, Golden 1 Center hosted 153 ticketed events, including 43 concerts, 34 family shows and 68 sporting events. That included the first NCAA men’s basketball tournament games in Sacramento in a decade and concerts by Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar and Sir Paul McCartney.
More than 1.6 million people attended games and concerts since the arena opened, according to the Kings, and the facility ranks among the 15 busiest in the country so far this year for concerts, according to Pollstar, which tracks the concert industry. In terms of concert ticket sales, Golden 1 Center has been busier in 2017 than arenas in San Jose, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Houston.
According to figures compiled by the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, the arena and surrounding development are helping to spur large investments in the urban core. More than 20 new businesses have opened in the area in the past year and office vacancy rates have plummeted.
As the Downtown Commons develop, Ranadive expects it to be the city’s “communal fireplace.”
“There’s going to be restaurants, there will be movies, concerts, games, farmers markets,” he said. “It’s going to be a spectacle every night. This is just the beginning.”