Kings open Golden 1 Center, eye potential All-Star bid in 2020

Sacramento's regular-season debut of its new arena sparks chatter of city hosting the NBA's marquee midseason event

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — David Stern came back to his not-so-old neighborhood Thursday. Literally his neighborhood — Golden 1 Center is located at 500 David J. Stern Walk — in a deep bow that none of this happens without the former commissioner. Not the team, not the arena and not the plans for a downtown rejuvenation with the shiny new building as the spark.

Adam Silver, the current commissioner, was in attendance, too, as the Sacramento Kings played the San Antonio Spurs in the first regular-season game at Golden 1 Center. So, too, was mayor Kevin Johnson. And Gov. Jerry Brown. And Chris Webber and Hall of Famer Mitch Richmond, the two greatest players of the Sacramento era. And there was Chris Infantino, a worker who first helped build the place and then was chosen to sing the national anthem on opening night. And the fans. Of course the fans. This was their victory lap as well.

Thursday night in the California capital was that big. The Kings celebrated the past when the fieldhouse eight miles north, best known as Arco Arena (and last known as Sleep Train Arena), was an ear-splitting example of passion, down to the cow bells. They rejoiced in the present of the new home with the new-car smell that has already become a source of pride for the region in ways that have nothing to do with professional basketball.

It was a huge moment for the future as well. Silver not only toured the building, he got the pitch from team executives who made it clear the Kings want the 2020 All-Star game and would be filing an official application.

The sales job came with the most important of details: It’s not just a want, it’s a can.

The unresolvable problem of a lack of hotel rooms — the issue that has long stood in the way of Sacramento and a few other cities getting All-Star weekend — has been resolved, the Kings believe. Not only that, they think it has been resolved in a way that makes the proposed solution a selling point and not an idea everyone has to worry would hold together.

They want to dock a cruise ship on the Sacramento River, a few miles from Golden 1. Talk about going for unique. While it has not been determined who would stay there, whether players and coaches or league officials or corporate executives, the Kings have included it as a key part of their proposal. Between the floating residence, a hotel being built adjacent to Golden 1 and other options, the team thinks it has the rooms.

Other outside-the-box options have been considered, including hotels in Wine Country with the understanding that some visitors might enjoy that even if it means driving 60-plus miles each way to events in Sacramento. The league likes the idea of being in California in February, and this gets it done. (The event is scheduled for Los Angeles in 2018 and San Francisco is a lock when the Warriors get their new arena and decide to bid.)

Thursday night was a joy ride, even with the 102-94 loss to the Spurs before a capacity crowd of 17,608. The Kings had played two exhibition games as a soft opening, but this was designed to feel like the actual unveiling, with the dignitaries and the tributes on the video board and fans amped far beyond when Maccabi Haifa of Israel and the LA Clippers came through in recent weeks. And the front office got to show off the new digs to the commissioner and tell him why the focus of the league should be here in four Februarys.

“Our focus is basketball obviously, but I know how big this is for the city,” said Matt Barnes, a Sacramento native and Kings forward. “They came out and supported us tonight and we really appreciate that. I think we put a great effort. We’re not looking moral victories here. We think we’re a better team than that. But we played well tonight and if we play with that kind of intensity throughout the season we’re going to have a good season.”

Stern and Johnson in attendance was fitting because their work kept the team here. Stern did so as the commissioner who could have opened the door for the Kings to leave long before Seattle came close to getting them in 2013. Johnson did so as the mayor who drove the longshot bid locally as NBA brass signaled in the plays from New York. Stern believed early in KJ not as a former All-Star point guard but as the city official who could finally push an arena deal over the finish line where previous administrations had failed. Johnson rewarded his confidence.

Thursday made the cycle complete, the past meeting the present and maybe, depending what the league does with 2020, the future. It was everything coming together at 500 David J. Stern Walk. It was that big.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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