Stockton, California has been a minor league sports town for a long, long time.
The Stockton Ports have been the Class A-Advanced affiliate for the Oakland Athletics since 2005, but have been in the “farm system” for several MLB franchises dating back to their 1949 affiliation with the Chicago White Sox. They’ve actually been a part of various iterations of the California League as far back as the 1860’s.
Hockey came to the city more recently, when the Stockton Thunder were formed for the EHCL in 2005, and the Stockton Arena was constructed alongside a new ballpark on the downtown waterfront for the Ports. In 2015, the NHL’s Calgary Flames purchased the team and replaced the Thunder with the Stockton Heat, who now serve as the team’s AHL affiliate.
On Friday night a new sport was introduced to the city of Stockton — basketball.
By the time the G-League affiliate of the Sacramento Kings took the floor for the tip-off, the arena was packed and bumping. Over 5,000 fans were in the house, along with much of Sacramento’s front office and management.
Vivek Ranadivé, Vlade Divac, and Peja Stojakovic sat side-by-side in the best seats in the house. Countless other members of the Kings franchise were in attendance, along with the Mayor of Stockton, Michael Tubbs.
On the court, the Stockton Kings quickly fell behind the visiting Oklahoma City Blue, and finished the first half trailing 43 to 61. Two-way rookie Wenyen Gabriel got into foul trouble early, contributing to the deficit.
But the fans were not deterred by the scoreboard. The purple towels placed on every seat before the game spun in the air after every dunk, and chants of “2-0-9” rang out during several stoppages.
One gentleman a few rows behind the Oklahoma City bench was particularly enthusiastic, raising his Kings shirt and shouting at the top of his lungs while his friends slapped his naked belly to add to the already substantial din.
The Kings didn’t fare much better in the second half, and when the last buzzer sounded the final score was 89-124.
But the story of the night was off the court, not on it. The building was crowded until the very end and spirits among fans and management alike were high after the maiden voyage of the Stockton Kings.
In a post game interview, guard-forward Reggie Hearn spoke about the atmosphere in the arena:
“It was amazing. I’ve played in the G-League for — I think it’s my fifth or sixth year now, and this is one of the best environments I’ve seen. Stockton really came out to support us.”
Hearn finished the night 5-of-7 from the three point line, including the first ever made basket in Stockton Kings history.
The inaugural game for the Stockton Kings franchise was a huge success for the city and the franchise, if not in the boxscore. But there are many contests left in the 50-game season.
Stockton is traveling to Southern California for a 5 PM game against the South Bay Lakers on Saturday, which can be streamed live from their Facebook page.
Stockton’s next home game will also be against the South Bay Lakers, Monday night at 7 PM. Tickets are for sale on the G-League website or you can listen to Sacramento’s Deuce and Mo broadcast the game from home.
We here at Sactown Royalty will be keeping an eye on the Stockton Kings all season long, and paying especially close attention to Wenyen Gabriel and Troy Williams, who are on two-way contracts for Sacarmento, and can be called up or sent down at any time. Williams has already logged minutes in the NBA this season, and Gabriel is likely to do the same at some point this year.
One thing is for sure, Sacramento’s G-League affiliate is closer to home. And that’s a good thing.