NORTH NATOMAS – It was only one word to describe the Sacramento Kings opening night at Sleep Train Arena Wednesday night: Crazy. However, at the the end of night, the team made the evening worth all the while and ensured enthusiastic patrons that they are proud to keep playing in Sacramento for many more seasons.
Under first-year coach Mike Malone’s guidance, the Kings beat the visiting Denver Nuggets 90-88 in front of 17, 317 sellout fans that wore purple with pride. Center DeMarcus Cousins had 30 points, 14 rebounds and two blocked shots to lead the Kings. Guards Greivis Vasquez and Isaiah Thomas each had 17 and 16 points, respectively.
The Kings were on the verge of moving to Seattle after the end of last season. But as far as anyone could tell on opening night, that struggle is a distant memory. The win by the Kings was a clear definition that the team is here to stay. Sleep Train Arena was rocking.
“Last year home opener was pretty good,” said third-year guard Thomas. “But this year, the fans came out and it felt like one of those games with (Shaquille O’Neal) with the Lakers. That’s how loud it was. It was great and these fans are one of kind.”
Sleep Train Arena was filled to capacity, drawing standing-room only access. Many more fans that couldn’t get a ticket hung outside the arena just to be a part of the madness. The Kings did not move north to Seattle and NBA Commissioner David Stern was pleased that they didn’t.
“I think the Kings are still here because the city step up,” Stern said on the purple carpet before he entered the building to see the Kings take on the Denver Nuggets. “We’ve had the best fans in the NBA here and have been supporting us for 28 years. I was here at the opening in 1985 and I’m glad to be here in the effect of a new beginning.”
And a new beginning it was. The Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive opened up the late afternoon with a special news conference with Dr. Shaquille O’Neal by his side. It’s only been a few months since Ranadive, 24-hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov, and a host of other minor owners took the reigns of the team. It’s now clear that keeping the Kings in the city was for the best for the Sacramento region.
“I thank you guys,” Ranadive said in his opening statements. “All of you are amazing and because of you we are here to stay in Sacramento.”
Ranadive not only talked mostly about upgrading the Kings’ profile, he also mentioned raising NBA’s status around the world and combining it with technology. Ranadive termed the phrase, NBA 3.0, several times.
Stern said before the game that he likes Ranadive’s vision, love for the game, and passion for innovative ideas. Most importantly, Stern said he is just pleased with the Kings placed in protective hands.
“Strangely enough, we were looking for an owner who would buy the team, build a building, and satisfy the needs of Sacramento,” Stern said. “The globalization issue was a bonus, but did not factor into our decision with respect to Vivek.”
For his role in helping the Kings stay put and placing the team in Ranadive’s care, Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson and Ranadive presented Stern with a key to the city during one of the breaks in the game.
“This was a game and night that no one thought would ever come true,” Johnson told the OBSERVER. “We here in the community are so thankful that (Stern) built the NBA into one of the finest sports league in the world. He did it in a way that put fans first. He also made sure that fans’ voices really matter. That’s why I gave him a key to the city on the behalf of the fans. His legacy is this crowd here tonight,” Johnson stated.
By Antonio Harvey
OBSERVER Staff Writer