April 08, 2016

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) This time it truly will be goodbye for the Sacramento Kings and their longtime arena.

After two previous possible farewells when the Kings were contemplating a move out of Sacramento, the team will play its final home game at the arena it has called home since 1988 on Saturday night against Oklahoma City.

Making this one far less emotional than the ones at the end of the 2011 and 2013 seasons is the fact that Kings are only moving to a fancy new downtown arena instead of out of California's capital city entirely.

But there will still likely be some tears and high emotions when the doors shut for the final time. The NBA's smallest arena was also once its loudest when sellout crowds came out nightly to cheer one of the league's most entertaining teams in the early 2000s.

''When you think old school, you think about the Boston Garden, Chicago Stadium, the Forum, arenas like that,'' said former Kings guard and current CSN California analyst Doug Christie. ''It had its own character and charm. Obviously the new arena is absolutely awesome. But that was one special place.''

The building formerly known as Arco Arena produced sellout streaks of 497 and 354 straight games and provided one of the most notorious home-court advantages in the league. Fans clanked cowbells so loud that opposing coaches and players pleaded to have the noisemakers banned.

The venue has changed names to Power Balance Pavilion and the current Sleep Train Arena, but the constant was the proximity of the fans to the court, creating an intimidating environment.

''The one thing that was different was it was not as big as the normal NBA arenas,'' former Kings guard Bobby Jackson said. ''The fans were more hands on. You were able to converse and talk with them because they were close to the court. Then you had the cowbells, which were very distracting to the visitors and played a huge part in our success.''

In a five-year span starting in 1999-2000, the Kings had the best home record in the league at 168-37. With unselfish teams led by Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic, Sacramento was one of the best shows in the NBA.

The Kings made eight straight playoff trips starting in 1998-99, losing an overtime game at home in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals to the Lakers in 2002.

''That series against the Lakers it was so loud that you could barely hear anything on the court,'' Christie said. ''One time I looked at the referee and said, `Is this awesome?' And he said it was incredible.''

But outside of that long run of success under coach Rick Adelman, there was mostly failure. The Kings made just one other playoff trip at the arena and are wrapping up their 10th straight season without making the postseason.

Now the hope for the franchise is that the opening next season of the new downtown arena will help end the decade-long struggles.

''The memories created there will last forever,'' said Divac, now the team's general manager. ''But as the door closes here a beautiful one opens at Golden 1 Center - one of the best arenas in the world.''

The arena was far from universally loved, with its most vocal critic being former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who called Sacramento a ''cow town'' and said Kings fans were ''semi-civilized'' and ''maybe redneck in some form or fashion'' during one of the three playoff series the teams played from 2000-02.

But one of the main antagonists in those series has fonder memories of the arena.

''This has always been a special place, not just for me, but for the city itself,'' Lakers star Kobe Bryant said after his final game there in January. ''It's sad to see this place go. There is so much history here.''

But it is time to leave. After the team was close to relocating in recent years, new owner Vivek Ranadive and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson managed to get an arena built that would keep the Kings in Sacramento for years to come.

While those who spent many years at the old arena will miss it, they also welcome the change.

''What I love about this arena is it was built for basketball,'' said Kings announcer Jerry Reynolds, a former coach and player personnel director for the team. ''It has great sight lines and is a great place for fans to watch the game. But it's time has come. It's time to move on.''

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AP freelancer Jeff Wedel in Sacramento contributed to this report.

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