Another reason why we’re lucky to live in Portland!
By Brian Wheeler Posted in: Blazers, Kings
We traveled to Sacramento recently and things down there were very strange. First of all, Arco Arena is no more. The long-time home of the Kings is now called the Power Balance Pavilion. More strange than that, though, is the strong possibility that the Kings won’t be playing anywhere in Sacramento much longer. The city has been home to the Kings since the 1985-86 season. For years, even with bad teams, the fans sold out Arco Arena on a regular basis. In fact, Sacramento and Portland were praised as having perhaps the two most loyal groups of supporters in the entire NBA.
I was in Sacramento for three seasons from 1995-98. The Kings made the playoffs for the 2nd time in their history in the city in 1996, and even won their first-ever playoff game in the 1st round against Seattle. A year later, however, their future in Sacramento was uncertain as then owner Jim Thomas couldn’t afford the payments on the lease to Arco Arena. He requested a loan from the city to help with his financial commitments, and if he didn’t get it, he threatened to move the team to Nashville. And the threat was real as Nashville was building a new arena, and wanted desperately to attract major professional sports to the area. The politicians in Sacramento initially were very willing to let the Kings move, figuring the NBA would grant the city another team in the future. I went on the radio on my daily talk show on the Kings’ flagship station and tried to persuade the fans to let thepoliticians know that they had to do whatever it took to keep the Kings in town because there was no guarantee the NBA would ever give the city another team. It was a back and forth battle for a number of months, but finally, by a 4-3 vote, the Sacramento City Council voted to give Jim Thomas the loan he was seeking, and the Kings were saved.
A couple of years later, the Maloof family bought the team from Thomas, and the Kings prospered like never before in Sacramento, coming within an eyelash of winning an NBA Championship in a couple of different seasons in the early 2000’s. All the while, though, the Maloofs told the city that Arco Arena was not a viable option for staying competitive with the rest of the league, and that the Kings would need a new arena in the near future. Not sure anyone took them seriously, though. After all, Arco was selling out every night and the team was winning. How bad could things really be?
Well, the team’s fortunes took a dip. Suddenly, Chris Webber was gone, along with Vlade Divac, Mike Bibby, Peja Stojakovic, Hedo Turkoglu, and the guy who coached them all, Rick Adelman. No longer were they challenging for a championship. Even the playoffs became out of reach. And soon, the arena wasn’t full anymore. The fans became disenchanted with the direction of the franchise. The Maloofs felt all the more that a new arena was essential for the future stability of the team. They told the city if they didn’t get a new arena, or at least see serious plans to build one, they might have to consider options in other cities. Again, not sure that anyone took them seriously, but I think now we’re seeing perhaps they should have.
First, Las Vegas was considered a good spot if the Kings decided to relocate. After all, the Maloofs owned a casino in that city so it seemed like a natural fit. Only problem was the NBA wasn’t sure it wanted a team in Vegas so that option fell by the wayside. Then there was Anaheim, a city that tried to lure the Clippers there a few years back. The Clips even played a few stray home games there, and always drew good crowds. But owner Donald Sterling decided he didn’t want to drive all the way to Orange County when he and his friends all worked and lived in L.A. so he let the Clippers become a third tenant in the new Staples’ Center to the NHL’s Kings and the Lakers. So Anaheim was still on the outside looking in terms of attracting an NBA team.
Fast forward to this season. Despite a former NBA player, Kevin Johnson, occupying the Mayor’s office in Sacramento, the Kings were no closer to getting a new arena than they had been under previous administrations. And for the first time, Sacramento had competition for the Kings as Anaheim knew they could offer what the Maloofs wanted, an arena where they could finally feel competitive with the rest of the NBA. And now it looks like barring any last minute change, the Kings will be playing their final season in Sacramento, and that city will perhaps never have an NBA team to call its’ own again.
Moral of the story is this. Let’s all be thankful that we live here in Portland, where the Trail Blazers and their fans have forged a rock solid relationship for many years, with fortunately no end in sight. And let’s also be thankful that we have an owner in Paul Allen who helped build the Rose Garden years ago. And it’s a facility that is still among the finest in the NBA, comparing favorably to many other facilities that have been built in the last few years. And Mr. Allen’s commitment to putting an entertaining and winning product on the court every season can’t be discounted either. And he would be the first one to tell you that you, the loyal Blazers’ fans make coming to the Rose Garden a fun experience on a night in, night out basis.
But above all else, let’s make sure we never take this wonderful partnership between team and fans for granted. As we’ve seen far too often in the NBA, things can change quickly. Ask Vancouver, Seattle, and maybe soon Sacramento if they wouldn’t like to have the NBA back in their cities. I think we all know what that answer would be. Let’s just be thankful that we’ve never had to answer that question here in Portland, and let’s pray that we never will!