Sleep Train Arena will soon be a memory, but no one was shedding tears Wednesday on opening night for the Kings.
Instead, there was a celebration of what was and what will soon be, with the Golden 1 Center rising downtown to become the Kings’ home beginning next season.
Fans tailgating in the Sleep Train parking lot waved banners, sipped wine and beer and debated the team’s fortunes. Jerseys were popular, from retro – a Reggie Theus No. 24, a 1998 Jason Williams No. 55 and a 2004 Vlade Divac No. 21 – to a new DeMarcus Cousins No. 15.
Fans inside and outside a building that started as Arco Arena, then became Power Balance Pavilion and, finally, Sleep Train Arena, was brimming with optimism and hope. If the building is a relative dump, fans point out that it’s their dump.
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It’s our cozy mess of a building, and we love it, but we’re so ready to bid this old building goodbye.
Thomas Gordon, longtime Kings season-ticket holder from Folsom
“It’s our cozy mess of a building, and we love it, but we’re so ready to bid this old building goodbye,” said Folsom’s Thomas Gordon, 65, a retired engineer and longtime season-ticket holder who was joined by six family members.
Linda Layman and Pamela Ross are best friends confined to wheel chairs, but they are as vocal and animated as any fans at Sleep Train.
They embraced their service-animal cats, Patches and Lady, on their laps. Patches had a Kings collar and a tag that read, “Slamson’s Long Lost Daughter.”
Slamson, the Kings mascot, makes it a point to find Layman and Ross during games. Layman, Ross and their cats attended every home game last season.
“I was hit by a car on Monday,” Ross said, pointing to a cast on her right leg, “but there was no way I was going to miss this opener. This is what we do.”
Is the crowd noise too much for the cats?
“Not at all,” said Layman, with Ross adding, “The cow bells might bother them a little, though.”
Doug Christie and Bobby Jackson used to be fixtures at Sleep Train, too, as backcourt mates during the Kings’ brush with a championship a decade ago. Now they’re teammates again.
Christie has joined Jackson on the pre- and postgame broadcasts on Comcast SportsNet California.
“So excited,” Christie said before Wednesday’s game.
Added Jackson: “I can’t complain. This is good.”
Some fans got riled up when they discovered a picture of a toppled king on a chess board on ARCO’s official Twitter page, with this caption: “Go Clippers! Usurp Sacramento!”
Tweet-backs to ARCO, which had its name on the arena for so many seasons, called it a “lack of respect” and others implored customers to purchase gas elsewhere.
The post was quickly deleted.
Jerry Reynolds has worn many hats during his many years with the Kings, including coach for the 1988-89 season opener when the Kings broke in sparkling new Arco Arena.
He shared the same view as fans: Sleep Train may be a proverbial dump, but at least, “it’s our dump,” Reynolds said with a laugh.
The facility cost $40 million when it opened, and then-NBA Commissioner David Stern attended that opener against Seattle, deeming the place, “a first-class facility, as good as any other in the league.” Kings owner Gregg Lukenbill went further, saying Arco was “the Disneyland of sports complexes anywhere in the world.”
Sacramento’s “Disneyland” started to fray at the edges. It aged quickly.
The Golden 1 Center total cost will near $600 million.
“That’s the most amazing thing,” Reynolds said of the cost of Arco in 1988. “When this first opened, there was the old Chicago Stadium, the old Boston Garden, the old Great Western Forum. They were old and this was new. Now the entire league is new (with buildings).”
The debut game didn’t come without issues, however. Poorly worded road signs to the entrances caused confusion and chaos, and the concourse had an antiseptic look and feel where tile and paint had yet to be applied.
The Kings lost 95-75, were booed off the floor, started 1-9 and finished 27-55.
“We got our butts kicked,” said Reynolds with a laugh, now doing Kings color commentary on TV. “There was so much excitement, but we went out and laid an egg. The old place has served its purpose. I’ve been blessed to experience so much here, some really good times and some really bad times, and I’m happy to see it go.”