If you closed your eyes, you’d swear it was 2002 again, when Sacramento had the best team in the NBA and the building crackled nightly with excitement. That’s what it felt like Saturday night, as the Sacramento Kings made their final appearance at Arco/Power Balance/Sleep Train Arena, and the 17,317 fans in attendance were back to making the noise Sacramento became known for during the height of the team’s glory days.
Saturday night was a fitting farewell for the 26-year-old building built in 1988, known to locals then as Arco Arena II. The sights and sounds Saturday were almost too overwhelming and the ooze of nostalgia was at every turn. The festivities before the game had all the makings and feelings of a graduation: “Time of Your Life” by Green Day blared throughout the arena, reflecting the bittersweet sentiments of the Kings moving on to another arena. A drumline beat outside the arena as rabid Kings’ fans waited eagerly for the matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Fans began showing up as early as two and a half hours before the game to take in the sights and to show their pride.
The Kings’ history at Sleep Train Arena was placed at the forefront of the festivities. Old video clips of early Kings’ legends and favorites were shown on Sleep Train’s massive displays, from Jason Williams’ signature flashy passes to Mike Bibby’s game winning shot in Game 5 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Minutes before the game, the national anthem was led by a number of Sleep Train Arena staff, a few of the Kings’ dancers, and a couple of Kings legends. The lights then dimmed, and the entire arena quickly became awash in a sea of purple glow sticks.
The fans roared as if to break eardrums and sound barriers. The clanging of cowbells rained down on the arena as fans screamed for their Kings. This game could be labeled one of the most important games of the season, not for any playoff implications or change in how their season will end, but because of what this one, last game at Sleep Train Arena meant to the Kings and their fans.
This game was a game of sentimentality; a game that represented the vast history the Kings made within that arena. It represented the respect, sweat, and tears that fans had put into the Kings, and the same respect and work the Kings gave back to their enthusiastic fans. It represented the start of a new beginning for the Kings and the direction they would be head.
All of these sentiments came to a head at the game’s halftime ceremony. Retired Kings legends were introduced by decade, from Reggie Theus to Kenny Smith to Spud Webb. Finally, the moment almost every fan had been anticipating happened: the introduction of the famous late 90s/early 2000s Kings team led by Chris Webber and Rick Adelman, when the Kings seemed to be at the height of their power and popularity.
Although Chris Webber was noticeably absent, most of that famous team was present: Mike Bibby, Peja Stojaković, Vlade Divac, Doug Christie, head coach Rick Adelman, and others made their way to center court as fans fanatically cheered. At no other time during the ceremony did fans scream louder than they did when this team was introduced.
The ceremony was capped by the hanging of a new banner up in the rafters next to the retired jerseys of Kings players: a banner reading “Arco Arena/Sleep Train Arena 1988-2016,” commemorating the Kings stay there. It only seemed fitting that the arena was “retired” for the Kings, as it acted as a seventh man for the team, much like how the Kings’ boisterous fans act as a sixth man.
The matchup between the Kings and the Thunder was hotly contested throughout, with the game coming down to the wire within the final seconds. Tied at 112-112, Rudy Gay sank a pair of free throws with a second left to seal the 114-112 win for the Kings. As Russell Westbrook heaved a desperate half-court shot and the final second ticked off the game clock, the deafening cheers of Kings fans thundered throughout the arena. The Kings gave what the fans asked for, and were able to say goodbye to Sleep Train Arena with a winning bang.
With the ending of the game came also an ending for the Kings’ stay at Sleep Train Arena—and the dawning of a new era for the Kings at the new Golden 1 Center, which opens mid-October. The Kings will go on the road for their last two games and another season will end without making the playoffs.
If nothing else, Sleep Train Arena’s 26-year run let us all see what it was like when an NBA elite franchise called Sacramento its home. If the Kings can put in the work, effort, and changes needed to make it happen again, the team and their loyal fans have a great future to look forward to.
Timothy Huynh and Steve Martarano contributed to this story. Photos by Steve Martarano.
Patricia Osborn shows off the cowbell that made Sacramento famous. Will they return at Golden 1 Center?
Dozens of former Kings and Sacramento Monarchs players were part of the pre-game, halftime and post-game festivities Saturday night.
Rick Adelman, head coach of the Kings during the team’s glory years from 1998-2006, reflects while one of his players, Vlade Divak, looks on.
This was a common scene Saturday night at Sleep Train Arena as former players reunited with old teammates
Reggie Theus, the Sacramento Kings’ first star player, with former guard Jim Les, who is currently the head basketball coach at UC Davis.
DeMarcus Cousins, who had fouled out, exits the floor of Sleep Train Arena before returning for the final ceremonies.
Original Kings owner Gregg Lukenbill shares a moment with current owner and chairman of the Kings, Vivek Ranadive.