If the Kings make a deep playoff run, a major event in Sacramento will have to move

Xavier Mascareñas/xmascarenas@sacbee.com

Sacramento Proud: Kings clinch first playoff berth since 2006, ending 16-year drought

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It may have been hard to fathom even just a few months ago, but there’s a chance Sacramento’s NBA team might need its arena in mid-May. For playoff basketball, of all things.

That could create a bit of a problem for several thousand people who, as of right now, plan to use Golden 1 Center for a very important celebration that doesn’t involve hoisting a trophy.

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If the Kings manage to advance as far as the NBA Western Conference Finals in this year’s playoffs, Sacramento State will have to change venues for its upcoming commencement ceremony, scheduled for May 19 through May 21.

Robert Nelsen, the university’s president, announced in January that this spring’s graduation ceremony would be held at Golden 1 Center. Sacramento State held commencement there last year, as well as in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic upended the event in 2020 and 2021.

But the university shared details this week on its contingency plan, in what Nelsen had referred to in January as the “unlikely event” that the Kings make the conference finals.

If the Kings win their first two series in the playoffs, Sacramento State’s graduation ceremonies will be moved to Hornet Stadium, the university’s football field.

That would be a big change, moving commencement activities outdoors where they would proceed “rain or shine,” Nelsen said in a Monday letter to students.


The final decision could come as late as within a week of the ceremonies, depending on how the playoffs pan out.

“The latest that the final decision will be made is at the conclusion of the NBA Western Conference Semifinals, which we estimate will be no later than May 14,” Nelsen wrote.

In other words, students and family won’t know for sure where Sacramento State’s commencement will be held until the Kings either are eliminated from the playoffs or win their matchup in the Western Conference Semifinals.

Commencement will be held May 19-21, whether at Golden 1 Center or Hornet Stadium. But a move would force the university to shift start times and combine some of its seven colleges’ graduation ceremonies.


While commencement at Golden 1 Center would last all day May 19 and May 20, commencement at Hornet Stadium would eliminate afternoon ceremonies and add one the evening of May 21, which is a Sunday.

This is due to heat concerns, according to Nelsen’s message to students.

Last year, UC Davis had to halt its undergraduate commencement ceremony midway through the first day, in June, due to extreme heat. That ceremony was also held on a football field. Temperatures in Davis reached the mid-90s by late morning.

The number of guest tickets per graduating student will not change by venue, according to Sacramento State. The football field can seat more people than Golden 1 Center.


The university will not split commencement between Golden 1 Center and Hornet Stadium.

“If Golden 1 Center is unavailable on any of the days that we have ceremonies scheduled, or on our setup day, we will be forced to shift all ceremonies to Hornet Stadium,” Nelsen wrote. “Setting up for Commencement takes a tremendous amount of time and effort, and we cannot do setups at two venues.”

Wait, the Kings made the NBA playoffs?

In case you’re not an NBA fan, here’s the rundown.

With their victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday, the Kings (46-30) officially secured a spot in this year’s playoffs, breaking a 16-year drought that marked the longest dry spell in NBA history.


Sacramento entered Thursday as the third seed in the NBA’s Western Conference.

If they go into the playoffs as the third seed, the Kings would play the conference’s sixth seed, with the homecourt advantage in a best-of-seven series (All playoff rounds are best-of-seven).

If the Kings win in the first round, they’d advance to the conference semifinal round, which will start sometime between April 29 and May 2, according to the NBA’s schedule.

And at that point, the result of the NBA Western Conference semifinals would determine the fate of Sacramento State’s 2023 spring commencement ceremony location.


So, how likely is all of this to happen?

ESPN projections as of Wednesday morning showed Sacramento with an 11.6% chance of advancing as far as the conference finals.

Basketball Reference had far more faith in the Kings. That website’s projections don’t show odds for making the conference finals, but gave the Kings a 12.4% chance of winning the Western Conference. That means, if the Kings were to be considered a toss-up in the semifinals, Basketball Reference estimates they have roughly a 25% chance of making the conference finals.

“While this accomplishment is a cause for celebration,” Nelsen wrote of the Kings breaking their playoff drought, “it also presents uncertainty about our plans to hold Commencement at Golden 1 Center … I understand that this uncertainty may be stressful, but I assure you that whether you cross the stage at Golden 1 Center or at Hornet Stadium, your Commencement ceremony will be a great celebration of your tremendous accomplishments.”