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Kings home opener: Party atmosphere reigns

Golden 1 Center doors open, cowbells clang for Kings home opener

Despite the rain, an eager crowd of Sacramento Kings fans waited for the doors to open for the team's home opener at the new Golden 1 Center arena downtown. The Kings played the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday, October 27, 2016.
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Despite the rain, an eager crowd of Sacramento Kings fans waited for the doors to open for the team's home opener at the new Golden 1 Center arena downtown. The Kings played the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday, October 27, 2016.

No amount of rain was going to dampen this party.

Thursday night offered a new level of festivity and fanaticism for Sacramento in a once-decaying downtown setting few dared dream of just a few years ago.

The Kings broke in their glistening new digs, Golden 1 Center, with the dawn of a new NBA season and a 102-94 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. There was no tailgate scene because there is no major outdoor parking lot, but the energy was palpable outside.

Fans packed in, 17,500 strong, greeted by a sea of purple shirts, saying “There’s no place like home,” draped over plush gray and black seats.

The words “Let’s do it, Sacramento!” are bolted onto a spacious concourse wall, the rallying cry delivered by Mayor Kevin Johnson when he vowed a city-wide pledge to prevent the Kings from being sold and relocated.

“No need to frown with weather because we’ve really got something great to celebrate here,” said 73-year-old John Ellis, a season-ticket holder since 1985.

No need to frown with weather because we’ve really got something great to celebrate here.

John Ellis, 73, a Kings season-ticket holder since 1985

This is the third arena opening for the Kings and for Ellis, a retired engineer, and scores of others who have invested time, finances and untold emotions into their beloved team.

“It’s here, finally, and this arena belongs to this city,” said Scott Moak, a Sacramento native in his 15th season as the Kings’ public-address announcer. “And it’s for all those people who went through that pain, that angst, the suffering. Tonight, they can let it go and be done with it.”

This is also the third Kings arena opening for Jerry Reynolds, who has been associated with the Kings in some capacity – assistant coach, head coach, executive, TV analyst – since the club moved from Kansas City in 1985.

“This is the second-greatest sports night in the history of Sacramento,” Reynolds said. “The first was when the first building opened because that showed that the NBA was here. This arena solidifies that this franchise has a chance to be successful going forward. There’s no reason this team can’t get back to the glory days. It just makes you feel proud.”

Each arena opening was unique. The initial Arco Arena was temporary, a small building wedged into the NBA’s big time. NBA Commissioner David Stern attended the game and marked the night a victory for small-market cities. Stern, now retired, also was present Thursday night.

In 1988, ARCO II opened for $40 million – on the cheap – and it sparkled in its early years. Stern deemed it “a first-class facility, as good as any other in the league.” Then-owner Gregg Lukenbill said Arco that night was “the Disneyland of sports complexes anywhere in the world.”

That image didn’t last, but it certainly holds true for Golden 1 Center, constructed for $557 million. Commissioner Adam Silver was on hand Thursday and raved about the place, taking selfies with appreciative fans. He told The Bee that Golden 1 Center is “clearly the new gold standard in the league” and that the NBA is “absolutely determined” to have the All-Star Game in Sacramento.

The national anthem was performed by Chris Infantino, part of the construction crew that built the arena. A moment later, principal owner Vivek Ranadive stood at midcourt and told the roaring crowd, “Welcome to your new home. Go Kings!”

This is the second-greatest sports night in the history of Sacramento. The first was when the first building opened because that showed that the NBA was here. This arena solidifies that this franchise has a chance to be successful going forward. There’s no reason this team can’t get back to the glory days. It just makes you feel proud.

Jerry Reynolds, who has been associated with the Kings in some capacity – assistant coach, head coach, executive, TV analyst – since the club moved from Kansas City in 1985

Reynolds sat nearby, decked out in a 20-year-old tux and a bow tie. His TV partner, Grant Napear, also wore a tux. The image at the end of the 2010-11 season of the teary broadcasters closing what they feared was their final Kings game endures for area fans.

On Thursday, Napear and Reynolds were all grins.

“Who would’ve thought we’d come all this way?” Reynolds said.

Reynolds said his tux had a moth hole in it, and his wife, Dodie, groaned.

“She said, ‘You can’t wear that!’ ” Reynolds said. “Yes I can!”

The sounds of cowbells reverberated throughout Golden 1 Center. The beer and food lines were buzzing, as were the team shops. Cash flowed. The smiles, too.

Kings fans are a loyal lot. They have rooted for a franchise that has produced just eight winning seasons and 10 playoff teams in 31 seasons in Sacramento. And three arenas.

Del Enos has seen all of them. He’s the team’s official scorekeeper/statistician since 1985.

“The opening of this place is a lot like the aura, the magnitude, the buzz of the first arena,” Enos said. “And now this? This is just so beautiful, all of it, and it’s so needed.”

Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD

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