Tuesday, November 10, 2015

How to Be a New York Basketball Fan In Sacramento -- 2015-16 Edition

The Brooklyn Nets visit the Sacramento Kings this Friday night. The New York Knicks will visit on December 10.

Before You Go. Sacramento is 90 miles inland from San Francisco, so the city's notorious weird weather won't be a factor. The Sacramento Bee website is predicting mid-60s for Friday afternoon, and low 40s for the evening. You won't need a jacket before the game, but you'll definitely need one for after.

Sacramento is in the Pacific Time Zone, which is 3 hours behind us. Adjust your timepieces accordingly.

Tickets. Once a guaranteed sellout of 17,317 fans per game, every game, the Kings have fallen off significantly, Their per-game attendance last season was just 16,586, about 95 percent of capacity. So tickets shouldn't be all that hard to come by.

This reduced attendance, coupled with the fact that their current arena was built before Camden Yards in Baltimore, and thus before the skybox revolution, led to rumors that the Kings would move. A year ago, they were said to be on their way to becoming the new Seattle SuperSonics. The season before that, they seemed to be headed for Anaheim -- as if being the Number 3 team in the Los Angeles area would mean more fans than being the Number 1 team in Sacramento or the Number 2 team in Northern California.

However, the Kings got the City of Sacramento to contribute the lion's share of the cost of building a new arena. The Golden 1 Center, named for a credit union, will open next season, ending the Kings' 28-year tenure at the ARCO/Sleep Train Arena. So they'll be in Sacramento for the foreseeable future.

Tickets in the lower level, the 100 sections, are $164 between the baskets and $135 behind them. In the upper level, the 200 sections, they're $48 and $30. Next season, in a new arena, expect ticket prices to soar.

Getting There. It's 2,822 miles from Times Square to the Kings' arena. Unless you want to spend 41 hours, plus rest stops making it more like 48 hours, each way, on Interstate 80, or take an even longer-time trip on Amtrak, you're flying. And it's kind of an expensive flight. It'll be nearly $1,200, and you'll have to change planes each way, in Dallas or Phoenix.

If you board Greyhound at Port Authority by 5:00 PM on Tuesday, you'll get to Sacramento at 5:45 PM local time on Friday, which will be in time to get to the game. It's $526 round-trip, but, depending on when you leave, it can be reduced to $438 on advanced purchase. The Greyhound station is at 420 Richards Blvd. at 7th Street -- next to a mall and the new arena that's being built for the Kings.

To get there in time via Amtrak, you'd have to take the Lake Shore Limited out of Penn Station at 3:40 PM on Tuesday, get to Union Station in Chicago at 9:45 AM on Wednesday, switch to the California Zephyr at 2:00 PM, and arrive in Sacramento at 2:13 PM on Friday. Then you'd have to leave Sacramento at 11:09 in the morning on Saturday, and arrive back in New York at 6:23 PM on Tuesday. Round-trip fare is $454. The Amtrak station is at 4th & I Streets.

Once In the City. Founded in 1850, and the capital of the State of California since 1854 (Monterey had been the capital when California was ruled by Spain and Mexico), Sacramento is home to a little over 500,000 people, and growing. The metropolitan area is home to 2.6 million people, ranking it 21st out of the NBA's 30 markets, and larger than older NBA markets like Indianapolis, Portland, San Antonio, Milwaukee and Salt Lake City.
The State House

Sacramento still tries to retain a small-town feel, and to resist its connections to far-out places like San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Los Angeles and Hollywood. Or, as Nancy Reagan said when her husband was working there as Governor, "Sacramento is not in California."

The Sacramento River divides street addresses into east and west, and the railroad into north and south. The Sacramento Regional Travel District runs buses and a light-rail system. A single fare is $2.50, while a daily pass is $6.00. The sales tax in the State of California is 7.5 percent, in the County of Sacramento 8 percent, and in the City of Sacramento 8.5 percent.
Going In. The Sleep Train Arena -- built in 1988, currently named for a bedding store chain, and formerly the 2nd ARCO Arena and the Power Balance Pavilion -- has an address of One Sports Parkway. It's 5 miles north of downtown. Take the Number 11 bus to Truxel Road & Terracina Drive, and then a 15-minute walk west on Terracina, down "E Entrance."
No, that's not any kind of racetrack to the left.

The setup is a relic of the idea that ruled from the 1950s to the 1980s, that teams should have their homes in the suburbs, away from the crime of the inner city and with lots of parking stretching out. (The new arena, as I said, is going up downtown.) No guaranteed parking is available, so public transport, including that walk across the parking lot to and from the bus, may be your only option.

It was built for $40 million, which was cheap by the standards of the time, and there are few frills. Like the Meadowlands Arena and the Nassau Coliseum, it's 1 level of concourse for 2 levels of seating, and that just doesn't work. The court is laid out east-to-west.
The arena has hosted NCAA Tournament games, and is one of the leading West Coast sites for Ultimate Fighting. From 1997 until they folded in 2009, it was home to the WNBA's Sacramento Monarchs. (Why not "Queens" to go with "Kings"? Does "Monarchs" sound like they have more power? Or did they not use "Queens" because they were afraid of gay jokes?) There has been talk of reviving the Monarchs for the new arena in 2017.

The Nets' visit will be a Flashback Friday. To commemorate their last season at the arena, on every Friday that the Kings are at home, they will wearing their original (in Sacramento, anyway) powder-blue jerseys.

Food. With just 1 level of concourse, concessions are easy to reach, but if the game sells well, you might miss an entire quarter online. Better to get your food before the game.

Stands include K Street Deli at Section 101, Supreme Bean coffee and smoothies at 101, Cafe to Go health food at 104, Basket Bowls (rice bowls, chicken salad and lettuce wraps) at 107, Capital Cut Carvery sandwich stands at 107 and 109, The Original Garlic Fries! (a favorite from being served at Candlestick Park) at 109 and 119, Nacho Nook at 110, Top Cellar wines at 112, Smoque House BBQ at 113, Sweet Stop frozen yogurt at 113, Jimboy's Tacos (not "Jimbo's") at 116, the Pop Corn Stop at 117, California Craft House including local beers at 118, Sweet Shop (different from "Sweet Stop," including real ice cream and waffle cones) at 121, and Gourmet Pretzel (there is no such thing as a "gourmet pretzel") at 123.

Team History Displays. The Kings have a complicated history. They are the oldest franchise in the NBA, yet they have gone longer without winning a title than any other team, and their last title was 3 cities ago.

They began in 1923 -- at which point there were only 16 current MLB franchises, 3 from the NFL, and 2 from the NHL -- as the Rochester Pros. At some point, they became the Rochester Royals, winning the championship of the Midwest-based National Basketball League in 1945. In 1948, they moved to the fledgling NBA (known for 1 more season as the Basketball Association of America), and in 1951 won the NBA Championship. That's 64 years, and they haven't even been back to the Finals since. (It's also, unless you count the 1955 NBA Champion Syracuse Nationals, the last time a team from Western New York won a World Championship.)

But, as with Syracuse and Fort Wayne, Rochester was not big enough to support a truly major league team (though their Red Wings baseball team and Americans hockey team are minor-league legends), so in 1957 they moved, becoming the Cincinnati Royals. The closest they got to a title was the 1963 and 1964 Eastern Division Finals.

In 1972, they moved to become the Kansas City-Omaha Kings. (They couldn't remain the Royals because Kansas City already had a baseball team with that name, and they didn't want to double-up like the NFL's Chicago Cardinals did upon moving to St. Louis.) After 3 years dividing between K.C. and their status as the only major league team the State of Nebraska has ever known, they played all home games in Kansas City from 1975 to 1985, but didn't like their arena deal, and moved to Sacramento in 1985. Until the Golden 1 Center deal was cut, their threats to move to Anaheim and Seattle were very real.

The Kings hang a banner for the Rochester Royals' NBA title of 1951, and also for their Division titles from 1979 (Kansas City), 2002 and 2003. The Kings reached the Western Conference Finals in Kansas City in 1981 and in Sacramento in 2002 -- in the latter, combining an epic choke against the Los Angeles Lakers with an equally epic screwing-over by the referees. (Ironically, it was Mitch Richmond, arguably the greatest player in Sacramento Kings history, who dribbled out the clock for the Lakers.) For this reason, the Lakers, not the much-closer Golden State Warriors, will remain the Kings' arch-rivals.
Most of the Northern California sports teams don't honor retired numbers from their previous cities. The San Francisco Giants do it for New York, but neither the Oakland Athletics nor the Warriors do it for Philadelphia (Wilt Chamberlain, who moved with them to the West Coast, is an exception), and the Raiders don't retire numbers at all, for Oakland or Los Angeles.

The Kings do. It makes sense that the NBA's oldest franchise would have so many retired numbers; in their case, 11. Number 11, guard Bob Davies, and Number 12, forward Maurice Stokes, played for them as the Rochester Royals. Number 14, guard Oscar Robertson, and Number 27, forward Jack Twyman, are honored for their time with the Cincinnati Royals.(Number 16, forward Jerry Lucas, has not been so honored, despite having been named to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

From the Kansas City Kings period, they honor Number 1, guard Nate "Tiny" Archibald, and Number 44, center Sam Lacey. And despite having had only one close call in their 30 years in Sacramento (2002), they have honored 4 players from this period: Number 2, guard Mitch Richmond; Number 4, forward Chris Webber; Number 16, forward Predrag "Peja" Stojaković; and Number 21, center Vlade Divac. The 2 Serbs are now both working in the team's front office.

And the Kings have recognized a long sellout streak that began with their arrival in 1985 and extended into their current Playoff drought (they haven't made it since 2006) by retiring Number 6 for the fans, "The Sixth Man."

The banners show the style of uniforms the players were wearing at the time, and the numbers go in chronological order, from right to left: Stojakovic, Divac, Sixth Man, Richmond, Lacey, Archibald, Roertson, Twyman, Stokes, Davies.

In the Basketball Hall of Fame, Rochester is represented by Davies, Stokes, Arnie Risen, Bobby Wanzer, and coach Al Cervi; Cincinnati by Robertson, Twyman and Lucas; Kansas City by Archibald; and Sacramento by Richmond.

Davies was named to the NBA's 25th Anniversary Team in 1971. Robertson was named to the NBA's 35th Anniversary Team in 1980. Robertson, Lucas and Archibald were named to the NBA's 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players.

The Monarchs won the WNBA title in 2005 and reached the Finals again in 2006. They have banners honoring general manager Jerry Reynolds, who previously worked in the Kings' front office, was their interim head coach in 1987 and official head coach from 1988 to 1990; and Number 6, Ruthie Bolton. Despite the team having been folded, their banners are still in the rafters. Bolton was not named to the WNBA's 15th Anniversary 15 Greatest Players in 2012, but Yolanda Griffith and Ticha Penicheiro were.
It seems odd to leave up retired number banners 
for a team that no longer exists. 
Who's going to wear the numbers,
 now that there's no team to issue them?

Stuff. The arena has souvenir stands at Sections 108, 114, 120 and 124.

Having had such a disjointed history, there are no official NBA videos about the Kings, but there are some good books about them. Zach Wyner wrote the Kings' edition of the NBA's On the Hardwood series. In 2005, Jerry Reynolds wrote a book about his 20 years of experiences with the Kings called Reynolds Remembers: Tales from the Sacramento Kings. And Jason Coldiron wrote of the now-successful struggle to save what is, for the moment, the only major league sports team in the area: Saving Sacramento: A Story of Fans, Sports & Politics.

During the Game. A November 13, 2014 article on DailyRotoHelp ranked the NBA teams' fan bases, and listed the Kings at 11th. The author said, "I still can't believe how many people come out and support the Kings. They somehow have a loyal fan base come out to games who are fully aware this team isn't even coming close to contending in the next 5 years. They are there day and night without complaint." Well, the big reason is that the Kings are all they've got: No pro football, lost their WNBA team, nearest pro hockey team is in Stockton, Triple-A in baseball, 3rd division in soccer.

While Sacramento, like most large California cities, has developed a problem with gang violence, the Sleep Train Arena is an island in a sea of parking, and Kings fans will not treat Knicks or Nets fans with the same kind of contempt that they have for Laker fans. You (and, if you drove in, your car) will be safe.

Naturally, given their royal name, the King's mascot is a "king of the jungle," a lion named Slamson. (A play on "Samson" and "slam dunk.") Not only do the Kings hold auditions for singing the National Anthem instead of having a regular singer, but, with a purchase of 75 tickets and "performance approval," a group may sing it together. Their theme song is "Kings of the Court." But the biggest fan chant is, "SAC-ra-MEN-to! (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap)." At least they're cheering for their city, as much as for their team.
Slamson the Lion

After the Game. Win or lose, Kings fans will not bother you. Your safety will not be an issue. But if you came by public transportation, your best bet for a postgame meal will be to take the bus back downtown. If you drove, there are nearby options, although none that is a place where New York sports fans are known to gather.

At Truxel Road and Arena Commons Driveway, there's a Mexican restaurant named Taqueria Rincon Alteno, Chinese restaurants named C.F. Cheng's and Liang's Joy Luck Garden, a Kobe Japanese Sushi & Grill, an Original Mel's, a Pork Belly Grub Shack, and a Tapioca Express.

Pete's Restaurant & Brewhouse is supposedly a bar for fans of the football Giants. 2001 J Street, downtown. The Limelight Cardroom, also downtown, is supposedly a home for Jet fans. 1014 Alhambra Blvd. at J Street.

Sidelights. Aside from the Kings -- and a State government that might make California 1 of the 10 strongest nations in the world all by itself -- Sacramento is a minor-league town.

When the Kings arrived in 1985, a temporary arena was built, seating only 10,333, the smallest in the NBA at the time. Like its successor originally was, it was named the ARCO Arena, but was nicknamed the Madhouse on Market.
It was only meant to be a stopgap facility, never a special place. But it still stands, may end up outliving its successor, and, as the 1st major league sports building in the metro area, it is a special place. It now houses the California Department of Consumer Affairs. 1625 N. Market Blvd. at Sports Drive, about 7 miles north of downtown. Bus 88.

The Sacramento River Cats, now a Giants farm team, play at Raley Field, named for a locally-headquartered supermarket chain. It opened in 2000 with 10,624 seats. Counting lawn seating, they can have over 14,000 fans in the place, which is big for the minors, even Triple-A.
They led the minor leagues in attendance in each of their 1st 8 seasons in Raley, got rated as the most valuable minor-league franchise by Forbes magazine in 2012, and have won 4 Pennants since moving in: 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008.
But if Sacramento ever wants to lure an established MLB team, or get an expansion team, there is room to add outfield seating, but they'd also have to add a 2nd deck to the main grandstand to get the number of seats above 35,000. This seems unlikely. 400 Ballpark Drive at 5th Street, West Sacramento, just over Tower Bridge and the Sacramento River from downtown.
The old PCL team, the Sacramento Solons, was not particularly successful. They played from 1909 to 1976, and won Pennants only in 1938 and 1939. From 1910 to 1960, they played at Edmonds Field. It was located at the southeast corner of Broadway and Riverside Blvd. Demolished in 1964, a Target store currently occupies its footprint, and there is a plaque in the parking lot where home plate once sat. Bus 51.
According to an April 23, 2014 article in The New York Times, the San Francisco Giants (86 miles away) are way ahead of the Oakland Athletics (87 miles away) when it comes to baseball popularity in Sacramento, averaging 55 percent of local fandom to around 12 percent for the A's. Considering that the Coliseum is on the same side of the Bay (but actually further away, now that the Giants have moved from Candlestick Park to downtown), and that the A's had so much more success prior to the Giants' current run of glory that began in 2010, the A's should have a much higher percentage than they do.

Charles C. Hughes Stadium, named for a school superintendent, opened in 1928, and seats 20,311. It hosts Sacramento City College football and high school football, hosted the Camellia Bowl from 1961 to 1980, and hosted a revival of the Sacramento Solons from 1974 to 1976, despite having a left field fence that was way too short. In 2014, it briefly hosted Sacramento Republic FC, a team in the United Soccer League, the 3rd tier of American soccer.
Hornet Stadium, built in 1969, seats 21,195, and has hosted California State University at Sacramento (a.k.a. "Sacramento State") football since it opened. It also hosted the Sacramento Surge of the short-lived World League of American Football in 1992, and the Sacramento Gold Miners in 1993 and 1994, in the Canadian Football League's desultory excursion into the U.S. market.
Stadium Drive and College Town Drive, although its mailing address is 6000 J Street. Gold Line light rail to University/65th Street Station.

According to a September 5, 2014 article in The Atlantic, the San Francisco 49ers are easily the most popular NFL team in the Sacramento area, even though the Oakland Coliseum is a little closer to Sacramento than Candlestick Park was (87 miles to 91 -- Levi's Stadium is 114 miles away). The closest NHL team is the San Jose Sharks (120 miles).

The aforementioned Sacramento Republic FC play at Bonney Field. Built in 2014 and seating 11,442, it's just fine for lower-division soccer, but "The Quails" will need a larger stadium if they're to get promoted to Major League Soccer.
1600 Exposition Blvd., about 4 miles northeast of downtown, next to Raging Waters theme park. Bus 68. Presuming that this is the closest Sacramento will ever get to MLS, as now seems likely, the closest current MLS team is the San Jose Earthquakes (117 miles).

Major college football and basketball isn't all that close, either: If you live in or around Sacramento, and you don't want to go to games at Sac State, you're out of luck: Cal-Davis is 15 miles west, but it's FCS (formerly known as Division I-AA); and the University of the Pacific is 47 miles to the south, so you might as well go the distance to the Bay Area, all the way to Cal (79 miles) or Stanford (126 miles).

With its relatively low metropolitan population, Sacramento would rank 28th among MLB markets (ahead of only Kansas City, Cincinnati and Milwaukee), 25th in the NFL, and 22nd in the NHL.

The best-known museum in Sacramento is the California State Capitol Museum, under the dome at 1315 10th Street. The Crocker Art Museum is at 2nd & O Streets. The only Presidentially-related site in the city is the Governor's Mansion, where Ronald Reagan lived during his 1967-1974 Governorship. It's a State Historic Park, at 1526 H Street downtown. The tallest building in town is the Wells Fargo Center (same name as the Philadelphia arena currently has), 429 feet high, at Capitol Mall & 4th Street.

Elvis Presley never performed in Sacramento. Neither did the Beatles. The best-known TV shows set in Sacramento have been the late 1970s, early 1980s ABC comedy-drama Eight Is Enough, and the recent CBS crime drama The Mentalist. There haven't been many movies set or filmed there. Those that were include Clint Eastwood's 1989 Pink Cadillac, The Al Pacino & Michelle Pfeiffer movie Frankie & Johnny, John Travolta's Phenomenon, Kurt Russell's Breakdown, and Almost Famous, the film that made Cameron Crowe and Kate Hudson more than that.


Sacramento is a bigger city than you think it is, but not as big a city as it would like to be. If you're an NBA fan and have to cross all 30 teams off your list, this should be a good guide for you.

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