Sunday Musings: Basketball officially returns to Sacramento

The giant Sacramento sign at Here We Buy Night 1. (Photo: Steven Chea)

The Sacramento Kings begin the 2013-14 season at home against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night. It will be an emotional evening for everyone involved.  Basketball is officially returning to the city of Sacramento.

Denver is opening the season without coach George Karl for the first time since the 2004-05 season.  The 62-year-old Karl was replaced this summer, along with the Nuggets’ entire front-office staff.  It’s a season of change for Denver, but nothing compared to the transformation the Kings have undergone.

This night is two years in the making in Sacramento, and it means something different to so many in attendance.

Of course the fans will be over-the-moon excited. They played a huge role in keeping the team from picking up and leaving town. From Here We Stay to Crown Downtown, different groups have been showing up to city council meetings, mayoral press conferences, rallies and games since our friend Rob McAllister broke the original Anaheim relocation story in January 2011. They’ve made signs and chant flyers, t-shirts and documentaries. And in the end, they’ve weathered the storm and become an extremely tight-knit group.

They will celebrate opening night like they have since the team moved to Sacramento from Kansas City before the 1985-86 season, but this night boasts a little more meaning. It won’t take Katy Perry or Robin Thicke to make this a special evening. So many ordinary people have personally helped change the outcome of this story and whether they’re at home watching the game on TV or one of the lucky 17,000+ fans in attendance, there will be an incredible amount of emotion when News 10 begins running the pre-game show on Wednesday evening.

The fans aren’t the only ones who are looking forward to the opener. Hundreds of employees are back for another tour of duty. Things are a little different this time around and there might be a few hiccups along the way, but jobs were saved in Sacramento. Get ready to see security guards wearing suits and ushers donning new purple vests.

The arena doesn’t look noticeably different on the inside or outside, but expect the level of service to be different. The new ownership group has dropped plenty of money trying to keep the 24-year-old building formally known as Arco Arena afloat for the next three seasons. There’s nothing they can do about the serious weaknesses of an antiquated building that has been neglected for the last half-decade, but they will raise the level of customer service and add new amenities where they can.

For most of the new ownership group, this is their first taste of the NBA. Sure, Vivek Ranadivé was a partner in the Golden State Warriors franchise over the last few seasons, but he’s the only one who has owned an NBA team in the past. The group has added a new second row of seating behind Kings row to accommodate their sheer numbers and many, if not all, are expected for the opener.

Most of these folks have watched a game live before, but not as owners. Former 24-Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov has already brought his young family to a couple of preseason games, and Ranadivé has been around the team plenty. But for most of the 30-plus new owners, opening night will mark a new experience.

We do not know if soon-to-be Hall of Fame center Shaquille O’Neal is scheduled to make an appearance. The former Laker bought into the Kings ownership group in September and has promised to be around the team as much as possible.

He may not have the global appeal of O’Neal, but former Kings great Mitch Richmond is also a new part-owner, and we would be shocked if he didn’t make it out for a truly memorable night.

Mayor Kevin Johnson will sit courtside and probably be recognized by the team for all of his hard work in saving the team. NBA commissioner David Stern repeated late this week that he will make it out from Miami for the game, and no one would be shocked to see him roll up wearing a purple tie.

Coach Michael Malone will make his regular-season coaching debut and his friend Pete D’Alessandro will get the joy of watching the his first NBA game as a general manager in the league.

Rookie Ben McLemore will participate in the first official NBA game of his career and he may even start. Greivis Vasquez will make his regular-season debut for the team, and DeMarcus Cousins will step into the circle with a new $60-plus million extension.

The Kings may not beat the Nuggets. Regardless of a 5-2 preseason record, this team is a year or two away from making its big leap, but that doesn’t matter. Wins and losses don’t matter – at least not this season.

Wednesday will be a special night. More than 17,000 people will fill a building and the emotion will be incredible. The game on the floor will have no real significance in the grand scheme of things. It is one of 82 this season and one in a couple of thousand that will be played in Sacramento over the next few decades, but it’s a big one.

For the fans, the Kings employees, the new owner group, the new coaches and new management, this is a moment of rebirth.  After years of uncertainty, the impossible has happened – basketball officially returns to Sacramento.

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About: James Ham

James Ham provides coverage through news analysis and in-depth interviews with Kings players and staff. James is also one of the producers behind the award-winning, independent documentary "Small Market, Big Heart". James graduated UC Davis with a degree in history and is happily married with two children.