By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer

Fans of the Sacramento Kings paid their last respect to ARCO Arena last week. The facility, which opened in 1988, will be torn down and cleared for a hospital in its place. The last Kings game was played there in April 2016. Antonio R. Harvey, OBSERVER

On Oct. 29, 2003, Cleveland Cavaliers’ 18-year-old rookie LeBron James scored 25 points, dished out nine assists, and pulled down six rebounds in a 106-92 losing effort against the Sacramento Kings.

It was the now-historic first professional NBA game for “King James,” and it was played at ARCO Arena, the 17,500-seat facility in North Natomas. James’ appearance was one of many memorable moments in the building.

On March 19, the Kings hosted a final farewell to their former home. ARCO Arena —also known as Sleep Train Arena and Power Balance Pavilion — will be demolished to make way for a much-needed hospital in the area.

“As we close the final chapter of the arena in Natomas, we (welcomed) fans to pay one last visit to the old barn,” said Sacramento Kings owner and chairman Vivek Ranadivé. “That arena was widely known as the loudest place to play in the NBA, and the memories created there will last forever because one thing that remains consistent is the passion and devotion of our fans.”

Free and opened to the public, Kings fans were able to take one last visit inside the arena for photo opportunities at center court, which featured the 1985 red and light blue logo.  

Spectators were also invited to scribble farewell messages in the arena that will be included in the redevelopment construction, ensuring that memories remain on site. 

On the southwest of the building, fans were provided access and opportunity to take home complimentary memorabilia including t-shirts and fan gear, promotional items, posters, autographed items and more.

Tall grass could be seen in every direction of ARCO Arena’s parking lot with faded signage in most areas familiar to former employees and guests. But the blight did not stop the thousands of people who came out to pay their last respects. 

A long line of people waited to get the last of the Kings memorabilia. All of the merchandise was given away for free. Antonio R. Harvey, OBSERVER

On April 9, 2016, the Kings played their last game at the arena, following 28 seasons at the location. The game took place in front of a packed venue when the team outscored the Oklahoma City Thunder, 114-112.  During the game, more than 50 former Kings and Monarchs players were on hand and the arena was “retired” as the seventh man of the team. Following the game, fans were able to go on the court.

The arena, which opened in Nov. 1988, hosted the team during eight winning seasons and nine playoff appearances. Notably, the WNBA’s Sacramento Monarchs won a 2005 title in ARCO Arena.

In almost three decades, the arena, with its many changing monikers, saw more than 4,800 events, and hosted nearly 43 million people.

Since the last Kings game, the arena has had a variety of uses, all while working toward redevelopment on the property. Youth basketball camps/clinics have been held at the Natomas Practice Facility. Multiple concerts have also used the site for rehearsals. 

The Stockton Kings use the Natomas practice facility and when the city had to close the convention center, the Kings hosted the Jehovah’s Witness 3-day convention in June-August with more than 100,000 guests. 

In April 2020, the arena was activated as an Alternate Care Facility to provide beds and medical care as part of the statewide effort to expand hospital capacity and relieve projected pressure on the health care delivery system due to COVID-19.

Fans write about their experiences at ARCO Arena. The messages will be featured at the new hospital. Antonio R. Harvey, OBSERVER

Last June, the Kings, in partnership with the City of Sacramento and California Northstate University announced redevelopment plans for Natomas. The plan includes 35 developable acres of land donated to the university for the construction of a medical school and state-of-the-art teaching hospital, creating an innovation hub. 

In February, the Sacramento City Council unanimously voted to approve the zoning and design guidelines for the redevelopment of the site. 

Demolition of the arena is set to take place within the next six months.