Sacramento’s unlikely arena opens to NBA basketball

3:15 AM ET

SACRAMENTO, Calif. –- I came to Sacramento five years ago to write a story about the Sacramento Kings and their imminent move to Anaheim, California.

It wasn’t really a question of if the Kings were moving to Anaheim at that time. That ship had seemingly sailed long before. I had already gone to Las Vegas to interview then-owners Gavin and Joe Maloof about their local television deal in Southern California, their practice facility in Orange County and their new name. With the Los Angeles Kings already in place, the brothers’ attorneys had filed trademarks for the Anaheim Royals.

But then, one moment changed how I viewed Sacramento, the Kings and a story I felt I already knew the ending to. As Kings broadcasters Grant Napear and Jerry Reynolds were signing off from the final game of the regular season against the Los Angeles Lakers on April 13, 2011, the finality of the moment was too much for them. The lovable duo that had brought so much joy to the people of Sacramento over the years began to cry.

No city deserves to lose a sports team. Teams don’t leave because of bad fans: It’s the biggest fallacy whenever a team relocates. They leave because of bad facilities and an inability to get help funding a better one. So there were Napear and Reynolds, crying — as parents and children wiping away tears chanted their names in the stands behind them. It seemed so wrong and so unfair.

So I was happy when the Kings didn’t move to Anaheim to become the third NBA team in Southern California along with the Lakers and Clippers. And I was happy two years later, when a sale and relocation to Seattle failed and the Maloofs were forced to sell the team to Vivek Ranadive and his group.

But Monday was the culmination of a journey I have been following from afar for five years and have felt emotionally connected to since the night I saw Napear and Reynolds overcome with emotion at the thought of the Kings leaving Sacramento. The Kings played their first game at the new Golden 1 Center — a $557 million arena in downtown Sacramento that is arguably the finest in the league.

“I’m still pinching myself,” Napear said as he took his seat for the start of Monday’s game against Israeli basketball club Maccabi Haifa. “I was standing near the grand entrance and I was watching people walk in for the first time and just to see their expression. It’s just like, ‘Wow!’ To me, this building symbolizes this entire community for all the things this community did to keep this team. This building, to me, isn’t about the Sacramento Kings, it’s about this entire community fighting to keep the Kings and getting a state-of-the-art arena.

“I have trouble putting into words what this moment means to me.”

There is a distinct Sacramento feel to the arena, with old neon signs from historic Sacramento businesses — such as Tower Records, Shakey’s Pizza and Franke’s Pharmacy — featured in its corridors. The arena serves local dishes and wines, with 90 percent of the food and beverages sourced from within 150 miles of the facility. There is a hangar door above the arena’s main entrance that can open on a nice, 70-degree night like Monday, allowing in a breeze for fans walking the concourses of the 17,500-seat facility, home to 34 luxury suites.

“They did a marvelous job of getting the Sacramento atmosphere in here,” Reynolds said, as he looked around the arena before Monday’s game. “Sacramento is its own city. It doesn’t want to be Los Angeles. It doesn’t want to be San Francisco. We’re very proud to be Sacramento.”



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