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Of Kings, fad diets, leaky roofs & Greg LeMond

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POSTED July 12, 2010 1:32 a.m.
Someone asked me the other day why I wasn’t hip on fad diets pushed by various companies.

I answered them in two words: Jerry Reynolds

Reynolds was one of Sacramento’s head coaches during my stint as an Associated Press correspondent for 5.5 years covering the Kings starting when they first arrived from Kansas City. The wire services are seated at court side next to the home team between the local papers - it was the Sacramento Bee and Sacramento Union at the time - and the TV station that had broadcast rights to home games.

Besides filing a story in two takes at game’s end as well as a longer overnight version plus long and short box scores you were required to call the score in each quarter plus keep the New York desk updated on anything unusual that disrupted the game. This required a courtside land line phone.

One game as Reynolds was jumping up and down shouting at players he suddenly collapsed before a sell-out crowd of 17,317 (keep that number in mind) right in front of where myself and the United Press International stringer were seated. A number of people rushed to Reynolds including trainer Bill Jones.

I dutifully called the New York desk to let them know the game had stopped and that Reynolds had collapsed. Chris Baluka, a high-strung New Yorker (is that an oxymoron?), answered the phone, curtly told me to keep him informed, and hung up. He then sent an advisory to AP clients informing them of the delay in the Sacramento game and why. He called back three minutes later and wanted an update. I told him Reynolds was still on the floor in front of me with a doctor and trainer attending to him.

Five minutes later he called back, literally shouting loud enough that you could hear his voice 10 feet from where I was seated which included Jones who had just helped Reynolds up.

“Is he dead yet!” Baluka demanded. “I’ve got a half dozen papers riding my ---. The Boston Globe is holding their final edition for it!”

Jones and several players threw me some of the dirtiest looks I’d ever seen. Reynolds, by the way, was on the NutriSystem diet as a paid celebrity spokesman and simply wasn’t getting enough nourishment hence his collapse.

Now about the number 17,317 that references the capacity of the “new” Arco Arena. It was a running joke on the New York desk about Sacramento’s sell-outs that were legitimate for the first three years or in the original Arco Arena that held 10,333. The ownership under Greg Lukenbill had started to pay for unsold tickets as enthusiasm for the Kings started waning after four losing seasons. They could do so under NBA rules. The attendance is part of the long box. Each time you’d get to that point whoever was on the New York end would stop you and say something to the effect, “let me guess, 17,317.”

The Kings were playing the New York Knicks in the initial year the premium Arco Arena opened. Baluka and the desk were watching the game on TV. All of a sudden the roof started leaking near center court prompting the officials to stop the game. I called New York immediately but was told they saw what was happening and would keep track of it from the TV coverage.

After about 15 minutes Lukenbill himself was up on the catwalks pulling in one of the old Royals championship banners in an attempt to stretch it under the leak to catch the dripping water. This went on for about 10 minutes with Lukenbill and a maintenance worker leaning over the railing high above the court.

Then the phone rang. It was Baluka.

“We’ve got a great lead if it happens,” he said, “Sacramento Kings owner Greg Lukenbill fell to his death before a sold-out crowd of 17,317 at Arco Arena.”

 One of my favorite incidents involved my sister Mary who volunteered to help call in stats when the Kings played the Boston Celtics. Normally my stat assistance sat behind me. But this time due to the interest in the game from weeklies media relations coordinator Julie Fie was seating Mary directly behind the Celtics bench. The Celtics were coming off from warm-ups as I started to go back to my seat.

Then I noticed the one athlete that I might describe as a personal hero - Greg LeMond - and his wife Kathy who were going to do the corny bit of calling the Sacramento Kings’ court to order.

Just as LeMond got directly in front of the Celtics I said, “Look Mary, there’s Greg LeMond.”

Without missing a beat she responded, “Whose Greg LeMond?”

Not only did LeMond look our way but so did the Celtics - including Larry King, coach Red Auerbach, Danny Ainge, Larry Parish, and cycling enthusiast Bill Walton - who almost all said incredulously in unison, “you don’t know who Greg LeMond is?”

There were probably 10,333 people in the original Arco Arena that night who would have been thrilled if a Celtic player talked to them. My sister got at least six of them to do so without even trying.

LeMond, by the way, was the first American to win the Tour de France.

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