Phil Oates morphed from business man to giddy fan and apologizes for none of it.
The Kings minority owner hustled over to Gregg Lukenbill on Wednesday afternoon during groundbreaking ceremonies for a new $477 million downtown arena to enthusiastically shake his hand. As a local developer, Lukenbill was the front man for the group that purchased the Kings in 1983, relocating the NBA franchise to Sacramento in 1985, making the groundbreaking and the 30th season opener in the state capital hours later all the more meaningful.
Lukenbill beamed at the sight of construction crews downtown, and he beamed some more as he was introduced in the first quarter of Wednesday night’s game against the Warriors to a modest cheer, probably because so many don’t fully comprehend his role.
The sparkling new arena Lukenbill helped open in 1988 for $40 million – ARCO II – has aged, but it still rocks with the best of them, including the plywood floors he wanted so fans could stomp.
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Lukenbill sold his interest in the Kings in 1992.
“I just had to go over and thank Gregg for what he did 30 years ago, because he’s the birth of all of this,” Oates said at Sleep Train Arena before the tip. “It’s a great story. He said, ‘Let’s bring the Kings here, plop them in the middle of this land and see what happens.’ Gregg was right. It could work here. He needs to be acknowledged. The story of the Kings here doesn’t even begin without Lukenbill.”
Luke and leaks – Gary Gerould, the Kings radio voice since 1985, said one of the wildest moments in his broadcasting career was describing Lukenbill’s efforts to stop a leak on March 1, 1989 as powerful winds forced rain through exhaust fans. Lukenbill took this personal.
He buttoned up his flannel shirt, left his luxury suite and crept along the rafters and catwalks without a safety harness, 85 feet above the floor. He reached over to a Sacramento Sports Association banner and pulled it under the leak, hammock style, to the roar of fans, some bearing umbrellas to lighten the mood. Given Lukenbill’s impact, maybe the Kings will someday hang a flannel shirt from the rafters, next to the retired jerseys.
“I’ll always remember Gregg and that leak,” Gerould said. “We’re playing Charles Barkley and the 76ers. We had a 43-minute delay with water on the floor. How are we going to resume this game? All of a sudden, there’s this guy in his flannel, on the beam, doing something about it. That’s Lukenbill. Amazing man who got this all started.”
Nice view – Tim Roye is in his 26th season broadcasting NBA games, six with the Kings and the last 20 with the Warriors.
He applauds Northern California NBA fans in general. The Warriors sold out during some lean times and have been a hot ticket in recent seasons with the dynamic backcourt of Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry.
“Fun team,” Roye said of the Warriors. “A couple of years ago, when the Warriors started to get really good, a listener told me, ‘Wow! You sound really good on the air!’ That was great. See what a good team does?”
Opening nights – The Kings came into Wednesday with unique momentum, having gone 23-6 in home openers. The Kings were 15-1 in home openers since 1998 – Rick Adelman’s first season as coach – the best current run in the NBA.
Yesteryear faces – Players from the Kings’ first teams were introduced, including Reggie Theus, Terry Tyler and LaSalle Thompson. Doug Christie, a cornerstone for the Kings playoff teams last decade, was also acknowledged.
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.