On nostalgic night, Kings send Arco/Sleep Train Arena out in style

Associated Press
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SACRAMENTO — It was deafeningly loud.

For one last time, the former Arco-turned-Sleep Train Arena sounded like a jet plane was taking off inside the building — just like it had been in the days that Chris Webber was powering in the paint and Jason Williams was dishing without looking.

Saturday night those same fans screamed when Scott Pollard fired them up before the start of the fourth. They cheered when 50 former Kings players took the court at the half. Those fans grew louder when the 2002 Kings were introduced — Mike Bibby, Vlade Divac, Doug Christie, Pollard and more of the best Kings’ team ever. Then the sound swelled to a roar when Rick Adelman’s name got called. They stood and cheered when Kevin Johnson — the former player turned Sacramento mayor that kept the team in town — was shown on the big screen.

There were countless cowbells being rung one last time. One more chant of “Sac-ra-men-to.” It was the Sacramento fans celebrating their history for one final night in the building that will now be retired.

It was also those fans celebrating one more win — Darren Collison hit a couple of big shots down the stretch that shook the old building like it was 2002. The crowd stood the final minutes of Sacramento’s dramatic 114-112 victory over Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. It felt like old times.

“The building had electricity in it from the very beginning,” said George Karl. “It helped us. We rode the way of the crowd and the energy.”

Next season the Kings will move to a beautiful new building in the heart of downtown, one with all the amenities — better seats, sight lines, food options and wi-fi for the fans, not to mention much-needed locker room upgrades for the teams.

“I know one thing: the visiting locker room sucks…” said Rudy Gay with a smile. He had come to the arena as a visitor before joining the Kings. “When I used to come here and play it sucked. I’m glad that’s going to change for them.”

All those things with the new arena had to come to keep the Kings in Sacramento — something those fans fought for. That’s the future.

Saturday started out as a night for nostalgia.

“One thing about this building was, when we had really good teams and all that, it was loud,” said former Kings’ coach Adelman. “There was no building like it…. when we got it going, those people went crazy. The home court advantage was incredible. I remember that. Those were good times.”

“There’s been a lot of great history in this building, a lot of great players, a lot of great teams,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “On one hand it’s probably starting a new phase, moving on to an arena downtown. You’re closing down a lot of memories in this building. When I had Jason Williams (at the University of Florida), and he was drafted and was playing here, I followed him closely just because Jason was there. That was a time when they were striving for an NBA championship, they were really close, they had a heck of a team. We were watching games on TV and this place was just electric, and it was alive, and it’s always been a hard place to play.”

At every break in the action Saturday — as well as before and after the game — Kings’ legends were on the court and taking part in the entertainment. Brad Miller in a tricycle race can be funny, and the fans soaked it all up.

“I was here four years, and they came out and cheered hard for four years,” said Spud Webb.

But as the game wore on and the Kings — who are just flat out better when Darren Collison plays instead of Rajon Rondo — hung with the Thunder, the fans wanted one more memory. One more win. The building was at it’s loudest all night when Collison hit a few key shots down the stretch, and when Gay hit the free throws that earned the win with a second left.

“The fans were amazing as always,” said DeMarcus Cousins, who fouled out of his final game in the arena, which just felt appropriate. “The energy in the building, all the legends in the building, the support, just a fantastic night all around…

“It shows the passion of this city, it shows the passion of these fans, the loyalty is there. You couldn’t ask for a more perfect place, in my opinion.”

Next year that passion will be on display in a much nicer, more comfortable building. It’s not going anywhere.