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Sacramento’s New NBA Arena Raises the Bar For The Rest, by Chuck Strom

Last Sunday I visited the new arena for the Sacramento Kings, the Golden One Center, and what I found made every other NBA venue look like a D League gym. On the outside, the building resembled with its aluminum skin an alien spaceship that happened to land downtown—the roof has enough solar panels to render it virtually energy-independent. Upon entering, the first item I noticed was the video scoreboard. It was precisely the monstrously elongated digital marvel that Jerry Jones would have installed in his arena if he owned an NBA team. Like its counterpart in Dallas, the scoreboard dominated the space to such a degree that it was hard to take my eyes off of it even during the game. The facility cost just over half a billion dollars, with the cost split roughly evenly between the city and the Kings franchise. It remains to be said whether it will be a good investment for Sacramento—I generally disapprove of sports franchises holding their host cities for ransom—but it will eliminate permanently any impulse a visitor might have had to confuse the city with Fresno or Modesto, which may have been the intention all along.

Gigantic scoreboard aside, the Golden One Center was a wonderful place to see an NBA game. The walkways on both the primary and upper levels were wide enough to allow me to pass through without much crowd jostling, even with the usual lines for concessions. Refreshment options were varied though expensive even by NBA standards, so I went without with the exception of a $5 bottle of water. One of the building’s best features was the Sierra Nevada Draught House on the upper level, which allowed fans to sample its brews while watching the game from the railing of its large terrace behind the basket on the visitor end of the court. I spent much of the game there, preferring the space to the seat above the rafters that my budget had allowed. I was appropriately grateful for the thoughtfulness of the building’s designers; compassion for the denizens of the NBA’s upper decks is more the exception than the rule.

It was also a pretty good day for action on the court. The Kings, having lately traded their dominant center Boogie Cousins, played hard against the visiting Utah Jazz, dominating the game for three quarters before allowing the Jazz and their scoring star Gordon Hayward to close the gap late and force overtime. The score stayed close during the OT period, but it looked like the Kings might prevail when their free-throw-challenged center Willie Cauley-Stein hit two (after missing his previous four) to put the Kings ahead by a point with seconds left. The Jazz, however, got the winning basket on a tip-in at the buzzer that was originally denied then allowed after review. Disappointing, perhaps, for the home fans, but the afternoon gave an indication of what they could anticipate when their team, at some point hopefully in the not too distant future, proves capable of playing up to the standard of their new home.

Chuck Strom

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