Jerry Reynolds has witnessed all 31 years of Sacramento’s NBA franchise, held almost every job within basketball operations, fainted on the sideline, screamed foul when the refs stole Game 6, cried when the Monarchs won the WNBA title, broke down again when the Kings almost moved to Anaheim and emerged as a homespun, white-haired fixture on TV broadcasts.
He is an original, our Jerry. Warm and witty. Smart as a college lecturer (which he was). Entertaining as hell. His roots are in French Lick, Ind., but in his heart he is a transplant who fell in love with Sacramento and married its Kings, for better or for worse.
So who better to turn out the lights?
Reynolds, 72, was the only member of the organization who was here when Arco Arena I opened in 1985 and Arco II in 1988, and barring an unexpected case of laryngitis, will still be in the house when the court goes dark after the Kings’ home finale Saturday night. And he has no regrets. He is eager for the move into the downtown Golden 1 Center.
“I know there is a lot of nostalgia about this old barn, and that’s fair after 28 seasons,” he said. “But I can’t wait to get into the new building. It’s time.”
Reynolds only half-jokingly said he hasn’t been this excited about a relocation since the late Cotton Fitzsimmons and former coach Phil Johnson lured him almost 1,500 miles away from Rockhurst College in Kansas City. At the time, Reynolds was a teacher and coach, and the man with the keys to the gym.
The Kansas City-based Kings and most of the visiting teams practiced in his facility, allowing him to forge relationships with Jack Ramsay, Larry Brown, Don Nelson and the league’s other coaches. When Sacramento native and controlling partner Gregg Lukenbill moved the franchise to his hometown in 1985, Johnson recruited Reynolds as his second assistant. But talk about culture shock. Reynolds drove up and saw cows grazing in the fields – no lions, tigers or bears, thank goodness – and later was crammed into an office already occupied by two seven-footers – Bill Russell and Willis Reed.
In the ensuing decades, the man known fondly as “JR” held so many jobs he could have opened his own hat factory: assistant coach, interim head coach (twice), head coach, player personnel director, assistant general manager, general manager, Monarchs general manager, TV analyst. He wrote books, gave speeches, conducted clinics and, through the four ownership groups, has remained the organization’s go-to guy within the community.
Not surprisingly, Reynolds has his favorite memories and teams, along with his most heartbreaking moments. Reynolds said Ricky Berry’s suicide in 1989 after an impressive rookie season was devastating and places all of the other down times in perspective. The Game 6 and 7 losses to the Lakers in the 2002 Western Conference finals hit him hard, the potential relocation to Seattle in 2013 led to sleepless nights, and he will never be embarrassed for tearing up during the 2011 season finale – also against the Lakers – when the Maloofs appeared on the verge of relocating the franchise to Anaheim.
“When the Seattle stuff was going on,” Reynolds said, “I just always felt we had a chance. The Anaheim situation was different. I remember that last night, looking up at the banners in the arena, all those jerseys hanging up there. None of that goes to Anaheim. They have their (NHL) Ducks. We would lose our history, our name, and selfishly, I was thinking about myself. It was like I didn’t exist, like I wasted all those years.”
The Kings reached the playoffs their inaugural season in Sacramento, captured their first postseason victory against George Karl’s Seattle Sonics in 1996, underwent Geoff Petrie’s transformative 1998 offseason that included the hiring of coach Rick Adelman, the signing of free agent Vlade Divac and rookies Peja Stojakovic and Jason Williams, and the trade that sent Mitch Richmond to Washington for Chris Webber – moves that led to subsequent maneuvers for Doug Christie, Mike Bibby and Bobby Jackson.
Reynolds, who tosses out quips with the natural stroke of a Peja three-pointer, also laughed about the night Lukenbill crawled onto the catwalk to plug a leak in the roof, as well as the not-so-humorous evening he fainted on the sideline.
Reynolds, who was the coach during the opening season at Arco II (1988-89), was sleeping poorly and dieting to shed a few pounds; he remembers becoming light-headed and realizing he was in trouble, but little else.
“People thought I was dead or had a heart attack or something,” he said “The next thing I know, (trainer) Billy Jones is leaning over me, preparing to give me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. I said, ‘Don’t you dare put those lips on me!’ It turns out, it was just a fainting spell. But it was a pretty big story nationally. I got calls for days.”
His best memories, those he cherishes most? Besides the Vivek Ranadive group buying the team and partnering on an arena to save the Kings? Swapping the rights to Billy Owens for Richmond, a future Hall of Famer, ranks up there. The noise level inside Arco II for Game 3 against the Sonics in 1996 is something he won’t forget.
But pressed to name a winner, he cites three potential medalists: Bibby’s right-side jumper that clinched Game 5 of the 1992 conference finals against the Lakers, the night his Monarchs won the 2005 WNBA championship and were bathed in a celebration of purple confetti and balloons, and the majesty of the 2003-04 Kings before a visibly hobbled Webber limped back into the lineup after missing most of the year because of a career-threatening knee injury.
“That team with Brad Miller in the starting lineup was the one I enjoyed the most,” Reynolds said. “The chemistry was the best it had ever been. I remember Al Attles once telling me about his Warriors championship team, saying ‘I don’t know how we got it, or how we lost it’ the following year. Your main guys don’t have to be the most popular, but they have to be well-liked and respected, and the coaching staff needs a good mix, too. The Monarchs were a great example of that with (coach) John (Whisenant), too. John was well-liked and respected. The key players like Yo (Yolanda Griffith), Ticha (Penicheiro), Kara (Lawson) were unselfish, and great competitors.”
As for these Kings, Reynolds sits in the chorus. The last words belong to the man who has been here since the beginning: “The lack of chemistry, the lack of consistency on the defensive end, has a lot to do with individual effort. Regardless of scheme, if you don’t take pride in guarding your guy? In being a professional? That’s an oversimplification, but that’s where it starts. You have got to find a way to get better chemistry, and whoever has to go to make that happen, just do it.”