Being a Sacramento native and huge basketball fan, the news that the City of Sacramento and the Kings owners, the Maloofs, couldn’t come to terms on a way to keep the city’s only professional sports franchise here is nothing short of heart-breaking. I’ve been putting off writing about this for a while in hopes that by some miracle, Mayor Kevin Johnson would be able to bridge the gap between the Maloofs, the politicians, and the taxpayers that have all but bid farewell to the most successful sports franchise our city has ever known.
I remember when the Kings came to Sacramento in 1985. I was just a kid but I was old enough to be excited about NBA legend Bill Russell being a coach in the early years, and even at the potential when the Kings drafted Pervis Ellison. Yeah, it has been a very long road for us dedicated fans. I remember going to a few games with my Dad at the original Arco Arena, which nowadays serves as offices for a branch of the State of California. If you think the current “old” Arco Arena is outdated, simply try hunting down the original. It sits just a mile or so from the current Power Balance Pavilion and to the average person, it is just your ordinary office building standing a few stories high.
When the current stadium was built, it seemed huge, like unbelievably huge, of course being built in the midst of a bunch of empty fields helped magnify its size. Back then it was Kings’ managing partner Gregg Lukenbill that pushed for the new stadium, which had things gone his way Sacramento would likely have become home for NFL’s Oakland Raiders, maybe the Oakland A’s, and probably a Major League Soccer team as well. Lukenbill’s vision of the Arco Sports Complex was bigger than just basketball and in my opinion, would have been one of the best things to ever happen to the city had he not been run out of the Kings organization. Lukenbill was all about Northern California sports, even pushing (a little too hard maybe) the then crazy idea of a baseball-only stadium in downtown San Francisco. 20 years later, hindsight shows his vision is 20/20, although it was someone else that carried out the Pac-Bell turned AT&T Park dream. (Disclosure: I may just be a fan of Gregg Lukenbill because he’s known for showing up in a suit and sneakers.)
When Mitch Richmond came to town in the early 90s, I thought I could never be more excited. Here was one of the most exciting young players in the league and it seemed like he actually wanted to play in Sacramento. I, along with most of Sacramento, couldn’t believe it. Things were finally looking up for the team. Mitch became a regular All-Star selection and a member of the Dream Team 3. The Kings had become what everyone had hoped for, a decent team with exciting players to watch. Even though they couldn’t win on the road, Arco Arena was the one stadium NBA players didn’t want to travel to. We the fans were the 6th Man of the Year. We willed the team to victories many times over.
When Geoff Petrie came to town in the mid-nineties though, there was an energy that was unexplainable and it seemed like destiny was finally throwing us a bone as the team found some success, even making it into the playoffs in 1996. We had a somewhat successful team, a passionate General Manager in Petrie, and were poised to build a franchise that players, fans, and the rest of the league wanted to watch.
Petrie brought Jason Williams, Peja Stojakovic, and Chris Webber to Sacramento. He built the best teams that ever played here. The stretch of playoff-caliber teams that were here in the late 90s-early 2000s will never be forgotten by me, by Sacramento residents, nor by anyone who has ever watched NBA basketball. We had the type of teams that were exciting to watch and although we never won a championship, we were competitive.
As the Maloof’s became more involved with the team during this stretch of success, it seems to me that at some point around 2003, they decided the team needed to play somewhere besides Sacramento. The Palms had been built in Vegas, the City of Sacramento was still unable to come up with a plan for a stadium, and the taxpayers weren’t buying the Maloof’s 1/2 cent sales tax that would raise a couple of billion dollars over the years.
Now, years later, the Maloof’s have successfully interfered with the best GM in the NBA. They’ve successfully taken a franchise to its knees in order to show the city and the NBA that something has to be done. Although I don’t think they needed to throw away success to prove their point, Power Balance Pavilion is dated and the smallest venue in the NBA.
It may be too late but what Sacramento needs today yesterday is the next Gregg Lukenbill, someone who isn’t afraid of being made fun of for dreaming bigger than the rest of us. Lukenbill was just 29 when he led the group of people that brought the Kings here from Kansas City. His ideas were crazy, and they were overwhelming to taxpayers and to NBA executives, but there was enough passion to make it happen. And by making it happen, I mean to make the best thing to happen to the City of Sacramento in the last half-century or more.
Being of the age and demographic that goes to games regularly, and more importantly a life-long fan, I am obviously a proponent for keeping the Kings here in Sacramento. Even for the games, I don’t get to see in person, you can likely find me at a local restaurant supporting the Sacramento economy (like so many of us regularly do), all in the name of the Kings. The team may be struggling but we have a couple of young stars in Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins and Marcus Thornton that could be the next late 90’s Kings team. Remember those exciting teams that had the entire Sacramento region thriving?
The big picture is empty without the Kings. Living downtown, seeing how the government furlow days continue to starve local businesses, I can’t see how anyone with any influence would let this happen. Let go of the egos, the worries, the doubts, and make a miracle happen. This is bigger than basketball. This is about the livelihood of a city. Not just any city… A city we should be proud of… A city that is the capital of one of the biggest economies in the world.
We, the fans and residents of this city, deserve to have a team to be proud of and cheer for. The time is almost up.
EDIT- Just read this great article on Gregg Lukenbill, (http://www.sacbee.com/2011/03/13/3471709/ailene-voisin-ex-owner-lukenbill.html) definitely worth the read if you made it through my letter.