Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Oklahoma City Thunder 122 at Sacramento Kings 118 - January 15, 2017


In 2011 I made an emergency trip to Sacramento to see what was billed as the final game in Kings history. At that time, it looked like the franchise would be on the move again, this time to Anaheim, and I needed to see a game at Sleep Train Arena before it became inactive. The Kings lost an overtime heartbreaker to the Lakers and afterward, the fans hung around the court hoping to convince the powers that be to keep their team in California’s capital. With help from Sacramento Mayor and former NBA All-Star Kevin Johnson, the NBA Board of Governors put the kibosh on the move, and the Kings remained in Sacramento for the 2011-12 season. However, rumours of a move to Virginia Beach and then Seattle kept fans in limbo over the next couple of campaigns. But Johnson and the fans kept up the pressure and the NBA did not allow the Maloof family, who had owned the team since 1998, to follow through on any sale that would result in relocation. Eventually the Maloofs were forced to sell the team to Vivek Ranadivé, who promised a new downtown arena by the 2017 as part of his proposal. Just months after the change in ownership, the new arena project was formally announced and the saga of the Kings potential relocation was finally ended.



Fast forward to 2016 and the opening of Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento, a year earlier than promised. Naming rights were purchased by a local credit union, which is fitting as the final cost will exceed half a billion dollars, with half of that coming from city coffers. It is money well spent though, as the finished stadium is certainly a sparkling addition to the Club 122 venue list. There are a  lot of features to note here, for example, a controversial, publicly-owned sculpture by Jeff Koons at the main entrance (above). The arena also boasts of being 100% solar-powered, with 85% coming from a solar farm 40 miles away while the rest is captured from solar panels on the roof.



The exterior panels feature a digitized Sacramento Live Oak leaf, which is somewhat visible below. From a distance, it appears to be a treescape, though I did not notice this from up close.



The stadium is located on two city blocks just east of I-5 and Old Sacramento, with the main entrance along 5th Street. I did not see much traffic as I walked from my hotel about ten blocks away, though perhaps fans were parking for free on the street as garages were charging $15 per vehicle.



There are five large hangar doors that open into a plaza, allowing for expedient entry through security and into the arena. Make sure to use to the main entrance where the sculpture is located rather than the entrance closer to L Street as that one seemed to be a lot slower.  Inside the main entrance is a large plaza that feeds into the lower concourse, as well as a standing area that many fans use during the game (view below).



As you make your way around, you will probably be impressed by the variety of food on offer. It is not cheap, with $7 hot dogs an example, but there is something for everyone, including an Asian stand and another featuring Indian food. Beer is plentiful but again overpriced, with tall boys coming in at $13, while those who prefer California wine can buy whole bottles at Raley. Priced much like a restaurant, a bottle will run you $40 or more, and you are given a plastic decanter and shatterproof glasses to make things a bit safer for you and those around you.



There is a designated driver program, but only the first 50 fans receive a coupon for a free soda, so get there early if you desperately need some free carbonation.



The lower concourse (above) is not typically oval as in old-style arenas, rather there are more angles and openings. It does get tight in some places, but as all the concession stands are against the wall, you can see the court as you make your way around. Again, standing areas are scattered here and there and are actually great spots to watch the game (view from one standing area below).



The upper deck is reached by a relatively short escalator or staircase...



...and although there are two levels of suites between the upper and lower bowls, seats upstairs are still quite close to the action, especially from the first couple of rows which are separated from the rest of the bowl.



The upper bowl does not encircle the arena; there is an opening above the plaza directly inside the main entrance that contains the Sierra Nevada Draught House, a great place to watch other sports on TV and hang out with friends.



As regular readers know, I am rather tired of casual fans showing up to games to socialize (i.e. talk about themselves) rather than watch the action and the Kings have done a great job to provide an area for those fans, thus taking them out of the seating bowl. There is a standing area here too, so fans can ostensibly watch the game they paid to see (view below).



One interesting point for fans traveling solo is that there are single seats in the first row right next to this opening. It almost feels like watching from home as you have no obstructions and can get in and out as you please. Section 201, Row A, Seat 1 is available for most games if you are so inclined, the view from that seat is below.



With so many fans standing, there are a lot of open seats in the bowl, and although the empty seats are not a good optic on TV, it is great when you have one next to you. The game was sold out (capacity here is 17,068), but I’d estimate about 10% of fans were standing at the various areas around the stadium.



Tickets vary in price depending on opponent, with a first row upper deck seat going for $60 on this night. I purchased a ticket in Row 6 for $35 on the secondary market and enjoyed the view below for the first half:



In the second half, I moved downstairs and stood almost directly underneath where I had been sitting (below). In both cases, I had no trouble seeing the floor, as the arena has really good sightlines from just about everywhere.



There are a number of interesting features scattered about the venue. Most intriguing are the six neon signs representing companies that have ties to the city; Tower Records, which began in Sacramento and was a mainstay during my time in Japan, is my favourite.



Also notable are the various Kings jerseys from their time in Sacramento, which started in 1985. The Kings are the oldest franchise in the NBA (beginning in Rochester in 1923) and I’d like to see this recognized more clearly.



To be fair, there is a Rochester Royals championship banner from 1951, which is next to the infamous 2002 team that was shafted by the NBA in the playoffs.



Sleep Train Arena is also honoured for its 28 years as the Kings court. Next to that is a banner for Paul McCartney, whose two shows opened the building back in October.



There are also numerous art pieces inside the arena, such as this mobile above the escalator.



Finally, the scoreboard, which is shaped like a Japanese torii (temple gate), is the world's largest indoor video board. At 84 feet long, it is just 10 feet shorter than the court itself. It is a 4K Ultra HD board and one of the best I have seen, so much so that you sometimes forget you are at the game. The scoreboard is just one of many technical attractions here; the arena dubs itself the most technically advanced in the world. I didn't bother to check out the details as I'm happy to just watch the game, but one impressive claim is that there is a 200-gigabit connection to the internet.



The pregame show was rather understated compared to what some NBA teams put out there, with a large cowbell on the floor the main attraction. It is rung after the player introductions to get fans, many of whom have brought their own cowbells, into the mood.



Overall, I was really impressed with Golden 1 Center. It serves its purpose perfectly, not too loud or ostentatious, essentially just right for Sacramento. My only complaints are the overpriced food (I did not eat here because of it) and a lack of franchise history. Those are minor issues though, and I think any hoops fan would appreciate a trip to see the Kings hold court.

The Game

The Oklahoma City Thunder were in town for the 6th in a 7-game homestand for the Kings, who had won just once in those five. Russell Westbrook, emerging from Kevin Durant’s shadow, was the player to watch. He started slowly and the teams were tied at 23 late in the first before the Thunder went on a 17-5 run that took us into the second quarter. OKC maintained the double-digit advantage for the rest of the half, taking a 59-46 lead into the break.



Early in the third, Stephen Adams fell to the floor and hit his head (above), causing a concussion that forced him from the game. With Adams out, the Kings scored the last 8 points of the third quarter to make things interesting down only 88-79, but the Thunder went on an 11-2 run midway through the final frame, capped by a Westbrook trey that made it 107-92 with 5:33 to go. Fans started to leave, but in the NBA these days, no lead is safe, and the Kings amazingly got within 3 at 116-113 on a Rudy Gay three-pointer with 26.5 seconds left. The Kings immediately fouled and Alex Abrines sank both, but then Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins was fouled while attempting a three, and he made all of his free throws to make it 118-116. After Victor Oladipo made two charity shots for OKC, Cousins turned the ball over to Westbrook who finished things off with an uncontested slam to cap his 20th triple double on the year (36-11-10). A late shot by Darren Collison made the final 122-118 in a game that was not as close as the score would indicate. There were 57 total fouls called as well, many of the questionable variety, making the game far less entertaining that it should have been.



The triple-double is one of the most overrated stats in sports. Any starter should get 10 points, and with the way they give assists out, even 10 dimes isn’t that difficult these days for a point guard. Assists should be limited to passes that lead directly to a basket; if the recipient of the pass dribbles or does anything other than shoot immediately, no assist should be awarded. I do agree that 10 rebounds can be difficult for someone of Westbrook’s stature, but even with all those gaudy stats, he ended up -1 on the night, meaning that despite his 36 points and 10 assists, at least 57 points were scored against the Thunder while Westbrook was on the floor. Committing seven turnovers didn't help his cause.

Notes

This was my 700th lifetime venue and with this visit, my membership in Club 122 remains active.

Club 122 will see seven new stadiums in 2017: the Atlanta Braves will open Sun Country Park in April while the Falcons will say hello to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the fall. Two other NFL teams are moving (San Diego to Los Angeles and Oakland to Las Vegas) while the Red Wings and Pistons will both call Detroit's Little Caesars Arena home beginning next season. Finally, the Vegas Golden Knights will be an expansion NHL franchise, so Club 122 will become Club 123. It will be another busy year for those of us who enjoy sports travel, and I plan to attend a game in each of those venues, so check back as schedules are released.

Next Up

A brief trip to Syracuse is planned at the end of January to see the Orange take on Florida State. After that, I’ll spend Super Bowl weekend in Wisconsin, checking out the AHL and a couple of college hoops games before settling down to watch the big game, which might yet feature the Packers. Recaps will be posted here, so check back to see what happened.

Best,

Sean

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