Kings of the realm: A look back at the start of the Sacramento Kings and their place in Yuba-Sutter history

Apr. 10—Today, most area basketball fans know Yuba College as a dominant powerhouse in the junior college circuit thanks to longtime head coach Doug Cornelius.

"Coach Corn," as he is often referred to, notched a historic 500th win as coach of the Yuba College men's basketball team in December 2023, adding yet another milestone in his more than 20-year career leading the 49ers.

But the story behind Yuba College and the area's love affair with basketball goes even deeper than that. Some could say it was a royal affair, the likes of which could never be imagined in the small farming community of Yuba-Sutter in the mid-1980s.

"The Sacramento Kings cracked the seal yesterday on their first season in California," reporter Brad Hall wrote in the Sept. 28, 1985, edition of the Appeal-Democrat. "They did it with a couple of practice sessions at Yuba College — site of their preseason training camp — and with a media luncheon spiced with the most newsmen, cameras, tape recorders, and note pads seen in the Yuba-Sutter area since Rand McNally came out with its Places Rated Almanac."

After an exodus from Kansas City, the Kings franchise was reborn in Sacramento — an area at the time that itself was relatively rural and agriculture-oriented compared to the major cities that teams in the National Basketball Association (NBA) were accustomed to.

While today's NBA teams all have modern training centers, at that time in the league most teams held training camps at local colleges and universities. Having just arrived in Sacramento, an otherwise unlikely pre-season location emerged for the Kings: Yuba College.

Joe McCarron, the athletic director for the college at the time and a former head basketball coach, described how a school as small as Yuba College in an area as sparsely populated as Yuba-Sutter was able to land such a major professional sports franchise.

"We were getting information from The Sacramento Bee and other places that the Kings were about to move to California," McCarron told the Appeal in a recent interview. "I got a phone number somehow and called them (the Kings) and I got a hold of somebody — it might have been the GM (at the time) — and told them we were interested. They said they were probably coming to California, when it's all finalized, we'll give you a call."

McCarron said he told the organization that the college would love to host the Kings camp at Yuba, highlighting the "great gym" and locker rooms that were already in place. And to McCarron's and others' surprise, that's just what the Kings did, deciding to hold training camp in both 1985 and 1986 at Yuba College.

"They decided to come and to have camp at our place," McCarron said. "I don't know how many others contacted them. ... This was a different town back then, a lot smaller."

While the Kings were in the Yuba-Sutter area, they stayed at the Bonanza Inn along Clark Avenue in Yuba City. And as far as eating choices and nightlife, well, that was up to the players to figure out.

"As far as around town, I can't help you much there," McCarron said he told the players.

McCarron shared an experience he had with the team during those early days at camp.

"After a couple days at camp — Phil Johnson was the coach — one of the players had said something to the press that there was no place to eat in this town. And they were not happy. The next day before their workout, I happened to be walking with Phil and I could hear him talking to players, chewing them out: 'We're guests in this town. Everything is good.'" McCarron recalled Johnson saying. "Then I went in — I had already made friends with a couple of players — and I said, 'Look, this isn't a big town, but I'll take you out tonight and show you a couple of places.' One night I took them out to Pasquini's, took them there the first night, then later on I took them to the Levee House. So we had fun, I played golf with them. They were really nice guys, really good people."

While McCarron couldn't speak for the rest of those in the area, he did say his friends were very interested in having the Kings at Yuba College.

"It was fun having them in town," McCarron said. "I went to most of the training camp practices. They also played a preseason game in Chico."

McCarron said the college wasn't paid by the Kings for the use of the college's facilities and even a preseason game in the gym.

"We didn't ask. We were just happy to put them up," McCarron said.

Tim Keown, a New York Times bestselling author and former sports editor for the Appeal-Democrat, arrived at the newspaper in 1986 and just in time for the Kings' second year in Yuba-Sutter.

"Yuba College, according to (Phil) Johnson, is the Kings' desert amid the oasis," Keown wrote in an article published in the Appeal on Oct. 1, 1986. "He calls it the perfect place for his team to simultaneously 'get away and be together.'"

Johnson told Keown, "I really like it here. I felt we had a good experience there last year. The people there treat us very good and the facilities are excellent."

In an interview with the Appeal, Keown said being from the Napa area, it was "unexpected" that the Kings would actually move to Sacramento.

"We think of Sacramento differently now than we did then," he said.

Equally unexpected for Keown was to have a professional team practicing at Yuba College. Because of the presence of the Kings, Keown saw it as an opportunity to make a name for himself in the world of sports journalism.

"I tried to get out there as much as I could. I saw it as an opportunity to get some clips on a big league team," Keown said. "For me, it was a big help. Jerry Reynolds was one of the coaches and he was so welcoming. It felt kind of folksy out there, it was kind of a heady time for the area."

For the Appeal-Democrat newspaper, Keown said it was clearly a big deal that the Kings were in town and it embedded a sense of pride between the team and the residents of the area.

"It gave people in the Yuba-Sutter area a link to the team because their training camp was there," Keown said. "It felt like their hometown team. I think that was a cool thing for the area to just have that linkage right off the bat."

John Cassidy, the former CEO of Sierra Central Credit Union, was in Yuba City during those early years for the Kings.

"My wife and I moved here in 1985 from Chico. Upon arriving it was, for me, a kind of bellwether moment, that hey, maybe there's more to Yuba-Sutter than meets the eye," Cassidy said of what was essentially a small farming community at the time. "You got an NBA franchise that started their Northern California tenure here. Staying at Bonanza and practicing at Yuba."

Cassidy, and others who played on and knew the team, said the arrival of the Kings changed the region forever.

"The Kings were the catalyst of changing the Sacramento region from a quiet ag community to what it is now," Cassidy said. "Fast forward to 40 years later with what Hard Rock is doing for Yuba-Sutter, you can really see the change."

The Kings, he said, "changed the face of the region. The Kings put the Sacramento region, including Yuba-Sutter, on the map. Everything has changed since the Kings came to town."

Cassidy said the arrival of the Kings allowed him to work as a sideline radio analyst for 11 years, as he also helped put on five charity NBA all-star summer games at both the old ARCO Arena (ARCO 1) and its replacement, ARCO 2. Cassidy said the first event ever played at the second ARCO Arena was one of his all-star games that benefited the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization.

"I put on the five all star games because of the excitement (in the area). The Kings were and are now everything to the region," Cassidy said. "The buzz, the joy, the inspiration that people got from the Kings. It was a small town story in a big city world. The Sacramento region has never been the same since."

Nearly 40 years later, that joy has not subsided.

"The passion, the excitement has never waned," Cassidy said. "The love affair with the Kings in the region has never waned, it's always been there."

Cassidy said the players at the time, including Villanova University legend Harold Pressley who was a first-round draft pick for the Kings in 1986, were great ambassadors for the region and fell in love with the community not only in Sacramento, but Yuba-Sutter as well.

How did the Kings end up in Sacramento?

On April 14, 1985, the Kings played their last game at Kemper Arena, located west of downtown Kansas City in an area known as the West Bottoms.

At the time, fans in Kansas City were fed up with the franchise, but not necessarily the players.

"Two excessive gestures from the fans is what LaSalle Thompson remembers most from the Kings' final game in Kansas City. While Kemper Arena wasn't full, Thompson, the Kings starting center, noticed that the 11,371 fans — which was one of the most-attended games that season — made sure to express their appreciation for the players," Nate Taylor wrote in a story published by The Atlantic in 2020. "In an unusual move, every Kings player was introduced before tipoff. The fans responded by giving the Kings a two-minute standing ovation, and Thompson and his teammates were surprised and moved by the applause. Whenever Thompson reflects on his 15-year career, including his first three in Kansas City, he corrects people when they mention the Kings didn't have loyal fans before they relocated to Sacramento."

Thompson told Taylor that there were indeed "some true basketball fans in Kansas City."

As Taylor noted, most of the anger and frustration from fans was toward the organization and its leadership. Joe Axelson, the team's general manager at the time, was criticized by players for not doing enough to help the team succeed.

"Thompson said Axelson needed security for the game to prevent fans from starting a physical altercation," Taylor wrote. "Axelson elected not to sit in his usual seat behind the hoop near the Kings' bench. He watched the game from a suite instead, but he could still see the handmade posters criticizing him — with phrases such as 'Kill Axelson' and 'Nuke Sacramento' — that were displayed on the overhang in the west end zone."

To cap off what was already a tense situation, the Kings ended up losing that final game in Kansas City to the Los Angeles Lakers. Players, including small forward Eddie Johnson, believed mistakes made by the franchise along with other "obstacles" is what led to the exodus to Sacramento after 13 seasons in Kansas City, Taylor wrote.

The eventual move away from Kansas City had already started a couple of years prior. On June 8, 1983, a six-man ownership group that was led by Leon Karosen bought the team for $10.5 million, Taylor reported.

Prior to the 1984 season, word had already gotten out that the Kings were considering a move to Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee at the time had reported that the new ownership group of the Kings, which included investors Joseph Benvenuti and Gregg Lukenbill from Sacramento, had been granted a permit to restructure a warehouse in the California capital city into a temporary 10,000-seat arena for the 1985/86 season — what would eventually become the first ARCO Arena.

After a last-ditch effort by the city of Kansas City to keep the team, the Kings ultimately left.

Cassidy, who has had a deep relationship with the Kings and some of the players since they arrived in Sacramento, said the idea to bring a professional sports franchise to the city was the result of an effort to woo an MLB team to the region.

"This whole era started with the march on baseball. It occurred in 1983 with Gregg Lukenbill and (Greg) Van Dusen's effort to get a MLB franchise to Sacramento," Cassidy said, just days after the Oakland A's announced that they would move temporarily to Sutter Health Park in Sacramento. "They took fans to an Oakland A's game, they called it the march on baseball. The Sacramento Kings are the result of the march on baseball movement by the same group that bought the Kings."

A day after that last game with the Lakers in 1985, NBA owners unanimously approved the Kings' move to Sacramento.

The arrival

Gary Gerould, the radio voice of the Sacramento Kings since 1985, said he could still recall the energy of the city once the team finally arrived.

"I remember the tremendous amount of excitement. Finally, there was going to be a major league franchise in Sacramento," Gerould told the Appeal. "I think people were starved for quality sports entertainment. It was an exciting time."

Gerould said prior to the move from Kansas City, the team had a West Coast swing and held a workout at American River College in Sacramento.

"It was packed to the rafters," Gerould said. "There was a roaring standing ovation as the Kings did their activities. The team seemed to be in a state of disbelief. In the last days of Kansas City, there was a lot of apathy and no real support. They were just blown away. It was an extraordinary atmosphere."

In those early days, Gerould said he drove up on a daily basis to the Yuba-Sutter area to get more familiar with people in the Kings organization. He said unlike today's modern NBA, back then you only had a small group of people responsible for the franchise and its players.

"Back 39 or 40 years ago, the size of the organization paled in comparison to what we see now," Gerould said. "You had one coach, one assistant coach, one trainer, one manager, a few front office folks, probably not more than 20 people in the organization, which was typical of that time. Now you have, counting the head coach, 15 coaches part of the regular traveling party. You basically have a coach for every player."

One of the few coaches on the staff for the Kings was Reynolds, a longtime NBA coach, executive and broadcaster. He also is the author of "Reynolds Remembers: 20 Years with the Sacramento Kings," which came out in 2005 and offers insight into those early years with the team.

"I was a college division coach in Kansas City, and the Kings in those days didn't have practice facilities, so they practiced at my college," Reynolds told the Appeal. "That's how I got connected."

Reynolds said he moved with the Kings when they relocated to Sacramento.

"In those days, there would only be one assistant coach," Reynolds said. "This was the first time they had hired a second assistant. My family and I moved out here to Sacramento."

Reynolds, similar to how others remembered those early days, expressed the joy the city had for the team.

"It was really an exciting time. There seemed to be a lot of interest in the team since it was the first professional major league team in Sacramento," Reynolds said. "I know in summer league we had some games and practices before camp and there were huge crowds. American River College was packed."

Reynolds said he moved to the capital region in July, "a month or so before summer league" games began. Later, he was at Yuba College for the Kings' first camp in California.

"Probably today, the players' reactions wouldn't be the same as it was then," Reynolds said. "I remember we stayed at the Bonanza Inn in Yuba City and Joe McCarron was the athletic director and he was a very nice man. The facilities were fine and the players liked it just fine. The teams didn't have their own practice facilities at the time. I always remember because we had a preseason game in Yuba, at the college. People probably have a tough time believing that, but we did."

While Reynolds said he and the coaching staff were initially concerned with what the conditions at Yuba College might be, he said they were more than adequate for that time period.

"They made us feel pretty welcome," Reynolds said. "We practiced twice a day for a couple weeks before preseason games. It was a good place. I don't recall any players complaining and we had a lot of veteran guys. It worked just fine."

Reynolds said that thinking of his time with the team at Yuba College, it was a very unlikely, but pleasant landing spot for training camp.

"Looking back it was unique, the fact that we were at a little junior college," Reynolds said. "Today, if someone said an NBA team did that, they'd say you're lying. It was a different time and you were just happy to have a good place to practice and people were helpful. The people embraced us. All in all it was a good experience, for me especially, and a thrilling time to be part of it. I got a warm spot in my heart for Yuba College."

During one exhibition game at Yuba College, Cassidy shared this anecdote.

"I remember watching Cedric 'Cornbread' Maxwell at Yuba College. He had just been traded to the Clippers," Cassidy said. "He cut a hole for his big toe — it was a bruised or broken toe that was still healing — in his shoe for an exhibition game and kept it that way for the whole season."

The next big event for the franchise was its first regular season game in Sacramento, at the old ARCO Arena. With a capacity of just over 10,000, this otherwise makeshift home court ended up becoming an advantage for the team because of the intimate nature that was inherent in its set up.

As the team stepped off the bus on Oct. 25, 1985, to face off against the Los Angeles Clippers, they were greeted just as their name suggested, as royalty.

"It was awesome. We had the commissioner there. All the owners were in tuxedos," Reynolds said. "Gregg Lukenbill had a tuxedo with tennis shoes. It was sold out. The place was absolutely packed and going nuts before the teams even took the court to warm up. It was almost like a college championship game. It was a very unique experience. Growing up in Indiana it reminded me of Indiana high school basketball. That little building, the noise and the atmosphere there ... the crowd was right on top of the action."

Gerould also shared his experiences that October night at ARCO.

"I remember they were piping music into the parking area. They all had regal king-like theme music, like it was royalty," Gerould said. "Because it was opening night, there were a lot of people, including myself, wearing a tuxedo. It was kind of amazing from that standpoint alone. It was basically a warehouse (ARCO) that was put up in less than nine months. Locker rooms were the size of postage stamps. Trainers had to tape ankles in the hallway. The excitement and the fanaticism of the fans from the get go was just off the charts.

"That was the lasting impression of those early years. I believe the Kings sold out more than 400 consecutive games. That streak still stands among the top 10 in NBA history. That was extraordinary and spoke to the fact of how hungry people were for top-line entertainment. I don't think any of us, looking back, had any inkling what kind of shelf life the Kings would have in Northern California. You look at the revitalization of the downtown area, it really speaks well to their staying power. It's been a tremendous ride. I feel so blessed for having a small part of it in all these years."

Franklin Edwards

A guard who played with the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Clippers before arriving in Sacramento with the Kings, Franklin Edwards said he remembers playing the first exhibition game that the Kings held at Yuba College. In 1985, he was with the Clippers at the time.

"That's the only time I ever practiced at a community college for training camp," Edwards told the Appeal. "Most of the time they had to use a college campus because there weren't training facilities, but never a junior college."

While the idea of practicing at a small community college was an odd concept for most players, he said because everything was so new for the Kings franchise, they had to make decisions in a short amount of time.

"To the Kings' defense, everything was new out here. They moved that team pretty quick, everything was new, and to my understanding, they were rushing everything," Edwards said. "The thing I remember the most, that sticks out, is just everywhere you went, was the excitement. Everyone was excited here. We were the visitors and they were excited to see us. I remember going into practice and we were taken back by the huge crowds wherever we went. The region was on fire for the Kings. It's not the same as it is, because people are used to this. But it was a pipe dream to have a pro team here, just imagine the appetite of the first and they treated it that way."

Having grown up in New York City, Edwards said coming to the Yuba-Sutter area did present a bit of a culture shock, but not in a bad way.

"We always had a great time up there (Yuba-Sutter) because most of us grew up in the city. So it was like small-town living," Edwards said. "The people were great. You would think we would be bothered or harassed, but people were great, they were very welcoming. I was actually one of the guys that was upset when they moved training camp. They really did treat us great. I thought it was a nice contrast. During the season, every city is a big city, so you never get time to see small-town America. What I loved about training camp was that not only did you get to see it, but live it. Having grown up in Harlem, it was fantastic."

Edwards said he and fellow Clipper and King's teammate Derrick Smith could have been the best trivia question in history, but another piece of history stood in the way.

"We played the very first game at ARCO, but played for the Clippers," Edwards said. "We started in the backcourt. The next year, we got traded to the Kings. Reggie Theus was going to let me start, but we vetoed it because he had a game streak going on. We didn't want to interfere with that."

After being traded to the Kings in 1986, Edwards said there was one minor detail that needed to be worked out for the players and their accommodations in Yuba City.

"We stayed at the Bonanza Inn in 1986, my first year," Edwards said. "I believe we were all checking in at the same time. They wouldn't let us in. They said the bill wasn't paid. Bill Jones, who was the trainer, ended up using his credit card to pay the bill. There were seven of us NBA guys standing there and they wouldn't check us in."

During those early years, not only was Yuba-Sutter not what it is now, but Sacramento as a whole was a completely different experience for players — the surrounding areas were largely undeveloped and agriculture dominated the region.

"When we first came to Sacramento, with the Clippers, you had the airport and the only thing in between the airport and ARCO was farmland until you got downtown," Edwards said.

Harold Pressley

Selected by the Sacramento Kings in the first round of the 1986 NBA Draft, Pressley was previously a member of the 1985 championship team at Villanova. While at the Big East school, Pressley became the first player in the conference's history to record a triple double with 19 points, 15 rebounds and 10 blocked shots against Providence. In 1986, he was the 17th overall pick for the Kings.

"I actually first laughed when I got drafted, and when they announced I got a call from the Kings and the office, I turned to my teammates and said, 'Sacramento has a team?' Because they were there for one year and I just didn't know it," Pressley said.

Quickly, though, Pressley recognized what a special place Sacramento and the region were.

"It was absolutely wonderful to get off the plane the first time and to land in Sacramento. I knew before I got back on the plane two or three days later I'd say I'd live here until I retire," Pressley said. "Coming from Mystic, Connecticut, I was used to a smaller town but I wanted a life. Mystic doesn't have a whole lot to do, but I wanted more than that. But the biggest thing was the people. The people were so kind. You could feel that the people loved the Kings so dearly. They were really so kind to me during that time."

During those early years, Pressley recalled the people who made an impact on his life and just how rural the region was in the mid-1980s.

"I went to a sporting goods store, and a guy walked me around and kept me safe. He saw I was in Sacramento alone, so he would make me steak and pasta before the games. His name is Shawn Rogers, who is now the security guard for the Kings," Pressley said. "He was a former police officer. Obviously it was much smaller in population and I believe the first time I went to Roseville there wasn't really anything out there. I knew a girl that rode her horse to school because there weren't that many roads."

Pressley said he's seen Sacramento grow up over the years, noting that early on, there wasn't much happening in the downtown area. Now, he said, "it's the hottest place."

Along with his love for the city of Sacramento, Pressley also has love for the region itself, of which Yuba-Sutter is a part of.

"Yuba College, again, wonderful people, the whole region," Pressley said.

As a rookie, Pressley said there weren't a whole lot of options for young men to properly spend their free time during training camp.

"I remember spending a lot of time at the bowling alley in Yuba City between practices," Pressley said. "At that point we had video arcade games and it was one of the few places that had them, so I spent a lot of time there. All the rookies would run over there and spend our time there. There really wasn't much else to do, but it was training camp, so you needed to keep your energy."

As for the gym at Yuba College, Pressley said much hasn't changed over the years.

"They cleaned it up a little bit, but it pretty much looks like it did then," Pressley said. "All we needed was just a little small place to get our training camp from start to finish. It was always cool, they had the temperature at the right place to not allow us to get overheated or dehydrated. I remember the trainer was just awesome."

Much like Edwards, Pressley also recalled his first experience at Bonanza Inn.

"I think I was just hanging around because everyone was walking out," Pressley said. "I thought it was a joke. One of the rookie things. I believe I ended up walking inside, but they didn't pay the bill from the previous year, but I believe Jonesy (the Kings trainer) paid with his credit card."

After training camp, Pressley said playing at the first ARCO Arena was a special experience.

"ARCO 1 was like a college crowd. Absolutely nuts and crazy and I loved it," Pressley said. "I believe I was the player of the week in '88 and a lot of it had to do with the crowd. The energy was just electric. The fans were right on top of you, so it really hurt the opposing team."

While ARCO 2 also was a great place to play, Pressley said it "wasn't as intimate as one, but it was rocking just the same."

Over the years, Pressley continued to give back to the region, and specifically Yuba-Sutter.

"I spent a lot of time in the Yuba City area and I was the spokesperson for Sierra Central. I attended pretty much every fundraiser up there," Pressley said. "I said the same thing, the people in Yuba City are so wonderful. They come together to get things done. With the casino being down the street, the area is really up and coming."

Reggie Theus

One of the more decorated and well-known players of the era was Theus. Before playing for the Kings, the two-time NBA All-Star suited up for legendary UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian in college and then for the Chicago Bulls after he was drafted ninth in the 1978 NBA Draft.

Unlike Pressley and Edwards, Theus had been with the Kings in Kansas City the year before their move to Sacramento. Similar to the dedicated fans of the Kansas City Kings, Theus thought team management was doing a poor job in building a winning NBA squad.

"We went through a period where we needed 6-foot-9-inch guys and we kept drafting 6-foot-7-inch guys," Theus said in an interview with the Appeal.

While there were some who actually did love the Kings, Theus admitted that most sports fans in Kansas City gravitated toward other professional sports.

"Unfortunately, Kansas City showed that it is mostly a baseball and football town. At that time, Kemper Arena was still fun, but the city at that time really didn't have a great pulse when it came to basketball and I think that was kinda shown by losing the team," Theus said. "They regretted it, of course, after it was gone."

Not everything was sour, however, in the former home of the Kings.

"I had a lot of great friends in Kansas City and the food was wonderful. Gates BBQ, for me it was really special because the Gates family were UNLV alumni," Theus said. "So it was a special place for me. The team that we had in Kansas City was a very unique team. Cotton Fitzsimmons was the coach, just a great coach. What I loved about the Sacramento team is just the very genuine friendships that guys had on the team and I think that was fostered a lot by Cotton and how he handled the team."

For Theus, who was born and raised in Inglewood and spent significant time in Las Vegas and Chicago, coming to Sacramento was a complete change of pace.

"It was exciting when the team was getting ready to move. I go back to this conversation that makes me laugh, because I didn't mean it to be a dig at Sacramento," Theus recalled during that transition in 1985. "Everyone's like, 'you're so lucky to move to California.' And I didn't mean it to be a dig, just a perspective, and I said, 'Sacramento is not in California.' What I was trying to say is that it's not Southern California, it's not Los Angeles. I remember the mayor at the time didn't think it was so funny. Me being from California I can get away with that joke."

Eventually, Sacramento would hold a special place in his heart — later becoming coach of the Kings in the mid-2000s.

"I was so happy when they kept the team," Theus said in reference to failed relocation attempts from about 10 years ago. "You guys act like you forgot what the city was like before you got here. It was a completely different vibe. The Kings have just brought another life and helped the city grow. It was so exciting. The Golden 1 Center has made the Sacramento downtown area even more vibrant."

Echoing his teammate Pressley, Theus said he'll never forget those early days at the first ARCO Arena.

"I just remember how fun and excited the fans were and how we were creating a culture that was like a college atmosphere and teaching the fans NBA basketball and telling them what's going on. I remember saying you don't clap when the other team scores," Theus said. "The one thing I will always say in terms of the love affair that was created, it never changed. Even when the team wasn't great, Sacramento fans have always been some of the best in all basketball."

As most NBA fans and players know, the Kings have always had the upper hand at home games because of the faithful crowds.

"Sacramento has always had an advantage because their sixth man is always present," Theus said in reference to the hometown fans. "That arena was sold out every game and it has never stopped. I'm very happy for the franchise now. The owners and management have done a great job."

That dedication was evident on opening night in 1985. Theus, who said he made the first basket in Sacramento Kings history — a layup — compared that first game to a small town growing up. Along with the tuxedos, he also remembers spotlights shining bright, signaling to the region and world that the Kings had arrived in Sacramento.

And although they didn't win any championships during that time, that didn't stop the team from competing with the best.

"The funny thing is, we were not a championship team, but we were competitive and we could score with anybody," Theus said.

Beyond basketball, Theus suggested that because of Sacramento's small-town feel, the players bonded in a way that they may not have otherwise done in other big cities with NBA franchises.

"One of the things that's interesting about our teams is that there's several of us that have remained close friends through our adult lives. We have a group of guys that have really maintained great relationships over the years," Theus said. "I think that was part of the charm Sacramento was able to give to us. It is like a hometown space — people were warm. You really felt like you were part of the community. To me that was always the best part. It fostered that community mindset. ... One of the best things about my career is I've had a lot of spots where the city still treats me like home and that's really Sacramento and Chicago."

The camaraderie that Theus emphasized also was fostered at Yuba College and the team's time spent in the Yuba-Sutter area.

"It was rural. It was training camp. It's all an experience. The experience of being in the Sacramento area in general, where no one thought in their wildest dreams that a professional team would be there," Theus said. "In Yuba City they rolled out the red carpet. It was only 3-feet long, but it was still a red carpet. It's a charming Northern California city, and the foothills. The people were low key, but excited. It was a lot of fun for us as players. It was a new environment for us, going into a new city with new owners."

Theus said the team would occasionally practice in the Yuba College gym after volleyball games, sharing the facilities with whatever was happening at the time. At night, players would mostly stay inside, continuing to develop that bond that would last a lifetime.

"I remember the enormous card games we would have at night. It made us closer, it was the only thing going on," Theus said. "There was no nightlife, there was nowhere else to go. We developed relationships from that time that lasted throughout our careers and today."

Looking back, he remarked on how much the city and region have changed.

"The bus rides back and forth to Yuba City and Sacramento, it's amazing to see how much the area has grown since then," Theus said. "... It was just a lot of fun. Going to Kansas City was a little slower pace, but still a relatively big city with pro teams. Going to Sacramento where it's more rural and more agricultural, it was nice how they created the family mentality and just being around genuinely nice people."