insider  Jerry Zgoda

A funny thing happened to the Sacramento Kings on their way to forever in Seattle.

They stayed put.

Saved in 2014 at the 11th hour from a sale of the franchise and relocation, the Kings opened the new $557 million Golden 1 Center downtown with a home opener against San Antonio on Thursday that also became a party celebrating a team that remains the only game in town.

Current NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and former Commissioner David Stern — the man credited with keeping the Kings in Sacramento — were there as were California Gov. Jerry Brown and former NBA star Kevin Johnson, the city’s outgoing mayor who was pivotal in negotiating deals that kept the team put.

So, too, were former Kings stars Chris Webber, Bobby Jackson, Brad Miller, Doug Christie as well as Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic, both of whom lead the Kings’ basketball operations team.

All six men played on winning Kings teams coached by Rick Adelman in the early 2000s that ran and won and defined a franchise that has had just eight winning seasons, 10 playoff teams and now three arenas during its 31 years in Sacramento.

Webber rang in the new day at center court by teaming with Kings mascot “Slamson” to clang an oversized cowbell, a team tradition since former Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson called the city an “old cow town” and fans brought them to the memorable 2002 Western Conference finals contested by the two teams.

“It was a big night for everybody,” Kings star Rudy Gay said after a 102-94 loss to San Antonio evened his team’s record at 1-1. “This is a new era of basketball in Sacramento, and it was good to be a part of it.”

Abandoned now is an arena formerly named ARCO, Power Balance Pavilion and Sleep Train. It rose from the middle of nowhere when it was built between downtown and the airport in 1988. In its place has risen what Stern calls “the building of the future,” a solar-powered, technology-advanced, internet-connected arena that its builders call the first indoor-outdoor arena of its kind because of five six-story hangar doors that open over a grand entrance.

The Kings’ arena no longer has the league’s most cramped visitors locker room.

“The visitors locker room is a huge upgrade, for sure,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.

Not usually impressed by much, Popovich praised the NBA’s first new arena since Brooklyn’s Barclays Center opened in 2012. It came to be after a Seattle group reached terms to buy the team and move it there, an agreement Sacramento civic leaders with NBA office support trumped.

The Maloof family ultimately sold the Kings in 2013 to a Sacramento-area ownership group led by software entrepreneur Vivek Ranadive. The city contributed $255 million, the team paid the rest.

Three years later, the new place opened to great fanfare.

“It’s great, it’s loud, it’s big, but it’s intimate at the same time,” Popovich said. “I’m happy for them. They’ve been waiting a long time for it. It’s great for the city.”

Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau looked around the arena from courtside after practice Friday and before Saturday’s game there and marveled.

And a Minnesotan is calling it his new home. The Kings hired Staples’ own Dave Joerger as their new head coach last spring.

“It’s an exciting night for our franchise,” Joerger said Thursday. “All the things the community has gone through, the fans fighting like crazy to keep this team here, as the new guy, I appreciate it. Sometimes young players don’t really feel the history. We have brought former players around so they’ll get that feel of the glory days and the passion that’s here and what this moment really stands for.”

 

Twitter: @JerryZgoda, E-mail: jzgoda@startribune.com, Blog: startribune.com/wolves