Shut out the lights, Arco Arena
Late in the fourth quarter, a familiar image of Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken parodying Blue Oyster Cult on Saturday Night Live was broadcast on the jumbo-screen above center court. “I’ve got a fever and the only prescription … is more cowbell,” Walken barked. And so, Kings fans, as they have for 28 years, made near-deafening noise in the former Arco, now Sleep Train, Arena for the last time.
This particular night, Saturday, April 9, was the final game before the arena presumably becomes a vacant ghost dome. Built in 1988 and named Arco Arena II, it only cost $40 million. Compare that to the $507 million price tag on Golden 1 Center downtown, and $40 million is likely just the cost of the chairs. Arco looks like a cement barn in a field, one where actual cows once roamed Natomas in the ’80s. When Lakers head coach Phil Jackson called Sacramento a “cow town,” Kings fans leaned into the diss by filling the arena with cowbells. It’s a tradition that will not die. Cowbells still pass through security in obscene sizes to create a clanging, clunky symphony of 17,000 known as “Arco Thunder.”
In good times and bad, Arco Arena symbolized home-court advantage. Whether it’s Kobe Bryant, Bill Walton, Shaquille O’Neal or Lebron James, they all say the same thing: Arco (or whatever one calls it) remains the loudest court in the NBA. When Mike Bibby hit “the shot” that won Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals in 2002, Arco likely set the loudest arena record. In 2013, the Kings invited Guinness to make that record official. In the inaugural season, Larry Bird felt the thunder when he missed two clutch free throws that sealed a Kings win against the Celtic dynasty of the 1980s. So with seven seconds left on Saturday and Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook at the free throw line to potentially tie the game—to spoil the final game at Arco—Kings announcer Scott Moak hit his cue.
“Let’s give him a taste of that Arco Thunder.”
Westbrook made all three, but a foul at the other end that sent Rudy Gay to the line with one second remaining sealed a Kings victory. A finale apropos of the franchise’s haphazard season. Asked if meant a lot to him to be the last player to score in the arena, Gay kept it about the team’s accomplishment.
“Naw, it’s all about the win,” he said. “They could have beat us and shut the lights off and it wouldn’t have been as sweet.”
Throughout the night, 30 former Kings players were the guests of honor, sporting baby blue jerseys in homage to the first season. Brad Miller embraced the celebration by coming out of retirement in the form of an arena hypeman. What he referred to as his “bow-hunting arm” was getting good use lobbing T-shirts and mini-basketballs into the crowd. Much like visiting players talk of Arco a certain way, former Kings have their own language of respect, admiration and an intangible element that gave them some of their best seasons in the league.
“That court out there—that 94 feet—that was magical,” Miller said.