For one night, I am going to be a fan again.
It is hard to remember, but there was once a time when “Sacramento Kings” and “relocation” weren’t found in the same sentence, let alone the same page. On Wednesday night, I am going to go back to Arco Arena and for a few hours, I am just going to have fun at an NBA game.
I’m not sure if it will be my last in Sacramento, but it does make me think of the first time I saw our city’s team wearing those baby blue uniforms.
It is a feeling you only get once, but there is something mesmerizing about walking into the bowl of an arena for the first time. It does not seem so big now, but to my eight-year-old self, every step down the aisle and those steel steps brought me closer to the court I dreamed of playing on one day. The wood seeming to glow from the lights above, the scoreboard appearing larger than my own home and the baskets demanded my attention. This was the greatest place I had ever been. And fortunately, it would not be my last.
My father was the marketing manager for ARCO AM/PM back then and he dragged me along to nearly every single home game during the early 1990s. School night or not, my father had business to tend to inside the Arco suite (now suite CC), and what better way to stay busy than stuffing one’s face with chicken tenders and churros all while watching an NBA game.
It was no secret I loved the sport. At age three, my favorite toy in the world was a Dr. J mini-basketball hoop. You would never find me protesting the chance to go to a Kings game.
And that was especially true when my best friend Bryan got to tag along, too. I can’t tell you how many times we tried to convince the ushers to let us on the court after games, or during quiet breaks, yell at the top of our lungs to see if the sound meters would spit out fake flames from on top of the scoreboard all our own.
One January day back in 1993, while my dad was in the suite, Bryan and I even got to sit courtside for a Kings/Suns game. I didn’t know that No. 7 for the Suns would become mayor of Sacramento someday, in fact I don’t remember Kevin Johnson at all that game. But I do know I learned a few new curse words sitting that close to Charles Barkley for 48 minutes.
It may have been the Chuckster’s foul language that day, but on Feb. 1st, 1996, I can remember witnessing the most incredible game of one-on-one basketball. The Chicago Bulls were in town that night, but this was really about the head-to-head match-up between Michael Jordan and Mitch Richmond. Back then, Richmond’s height and strength allowed him to defend his Airness better than anyone else, but he could also score, unlike others who guarded the greatest of all time. In a back forth match, the Rock put up 30 that game, Jordan had 27. Problem was, basketball is still a team sport and the rest of the Jordanaires were a bit better than Richmond’s teammates and the visitors ended up winning by 20. But for three quarters the Rock did all he could to keep it close.
Those were great memories, but one game nearly put my health on the line. Kings fans are some of the loudest in all sports and in the spring of 2000, they were undoubtedly the loudest.
Thinking about it now, it is funny how my parents would tell me to turn my music down as a kid because they didn’t want me going deaf, yet somehow they let me attend game three of the first round playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers without a single warning. I knew the playoffs were something foreign to Kings fans then, so maybe my folks just didn’t understand how piercing it was going to be inside Arco Arena. I can still hear the ringing in my ears – and I am not talking about the cowbells. (It was the same afternoon a Lakers jersey was burned during pregame, and yes it was also a 99-91 Kings win).
Those games and many others have bled together for the most part, but I do still have a few old tickets lying around. My favorites were the stubs that had red and blue edges and sometimes donned pictures of fans. It’s strange that a ticket stands out more than most games I attended. But I don’t know, maybe it is not that strange at all. I didn’t care if the team won or lost. I just wanted to watch basketball.
Kings games pushed me to play hoops in high school and eventually in college. The dunks by Lionel “L-Train” Simmons, the corner threes by Jim Les and maybe even Duane Causwell’s put-backs at the rim were the reasons why I gave up baseball early on. Sure, I went to Oakland A’s games too, but basketball was in my backyard. I saw up close and personal how great the game truly was. I wanted to be on Fleer basketball cards just like those guys someday. The Kings were more than just people on television; they were real life heroes, standing just a few feet away.
Somehow between failed arena plans and threats of relocation, most of what I loved about the Kings and the game slipped into hiding. It is my job to be a reporter, but it also does not define all that I am.
For one evening, I am heading back to 1990. I don’t need Michael J. Fox and his DeLorean for help on this one. I have other plans.
For Christmas this past year, I promised to take my mom to any play she wanted to see, but she had a different request. She asked to go to a Kings game with her son instead.
So I bought two tickets to the season finale between the Kings and Clippers this Wednesday night. I’m not sure if it will be our last, but I do hope that my ears ring and that churro tastes as good as it did when I was eight-years-old.
Because for one night, I am going to be a fan again.