By LANCE ARMSTRONG, Valley Community Newspapers writer
Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a two-part series regarding Sacramento Kings owners who reside within the coverage area of Valley Community Newspapers.
It has been more than 60 years since Arden area resident Joe Benvenuti moved to Sacramento. And one of his most notable accomplishments as a local resident was playing a major role in the relocation of the National Basketball Association’s Kansas City Kings to California’s capital city.
Joe, 90, who has been an owner of the Kings since 1983, when the team was still located in Kansas City, sat down with Valley Community Newspapers last week to discuss his life and connection with Sacramento’s only major league sports team.
After spending the first nine years of his life living in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, Joe, who was one of the five children of Angelo and Mary Benvenuti, moved with his family to New Jersey.
It was during his time in New Jersey that Joe became a fan of the classic New York Yankees teams of the 1930s and 1940s.
And like many Yankees fans during this time, Joe Benvenuti was a big fan of the Yankees great, Joe DiMaggio.
Joe Benvenuti said that he enjoyed his formative years and was raised well by his parents.
“I had a very good upbringing,” Joe said. “My father was a missionary and besides that he pastored about four churches in his lifetime. We were all Christians.”
At the age of 29, Joe moved to Sacramento, where he encountered a building project that led to his longtime career in real estate development.
After learning various details about the building project, which featured $6,700, two-bedroom, one-bathroom houses near his first Sacramento home, Joe was inspired to emulate what he had seen.
“Right away, I bought the five acres at the corner of El Camino and Morse (avenues),” Joe said. “I put a 68-unit apartment right on the corner and around the back, I built these homes. And that’s what got me going. I started building homes. I built a lot of homes.”
Another one of Joe’s early housing developments occurred after he purchased 10 acres on Edison Avenue and Kerria and Tamalpais ways.
“I built 45 homes there and they went like that,” Joe recalled.
Joe eventually purchased seven lots on Railroad Avenue for 25 cents per foot and placed warehouses on the lots.
“I started (with warehouses) there and I never stopped,” Joe said. “I never went back to homes. I built a lot of warehouses. I own I don’t know how many down in Natomas.”
Although Joe abandoned his formal education after the eighth grade, he said that it was his personal motivation and risk-taking that allowed him to succeed in life.
“It depends on yourself,” Joe said. “I was always very aggressive. I took chances all the time. You know, ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained,’ and that’s what I believed in. And that’s what I did. I’ve got a lot of warehouses. I’ve built some apartment houses, I built a couple of small shopping centers. I still have (a shopping center near the corner of Douglas and Sunrise) in Roseville. And I saw that Sunrise stopped right there, and I extended (the street) all the way to what is now the auto mart. I still own the buildings on Arden Way, where the paint shop is, just west of Fulton (Avenue).”
Joe’s drive in life led him to be in a financial position that allowed him to assist in the project to help make it possible for the old Kansas City Kings to become the Sacramento Kings.
Recalling the moment that he was asked to become involved in the local efforts to acquire an NBA team, Joe said that he was approached by Sacramento business owner and a future Kings owner Gregg Lukenbill in the early 1980s.
“Gregg Lukenbill – I’d read about him, (how he) and his father were building homes, but I’d never met (Gregg),” Joe said. “He called (local real estate developer) Buzz Oates, he called everybody, all the contractors. He wanted to get some team over here. Sacramento had nothing; no baseball, no football, no basketball.”
Joe said Lukenbill also approached him and convinced him to become involved in the efforts to bring an NBA team to Sacramento.
In 1983, Joe and Gregg traveled to Kansas City to negotiate a deal to purchase the Kings.
In recalling this historic event, Joe said, “(Gregg) and I got on a (Kansas City-bound) plane one day and we spent three days there with lawyers and bought (the Kings). Paid $10.5 million for them. I paid it. Gregg had no money; he just had a lot of guts. And that’s how we got the Kings.”
Two years later, the Kings were relocated to Sacramento, as they played their first regular season game in a temporary arena just east of Power Balance Pavilion on Oct. 25, 1985.
During a discussion regarding the temporary arena, Joe said, “That small (arena) sticks in my mind, because that’s where it all began. And all these big players came from L.A. and Washington and New York to play. (Games at the arena) were always exciting. There were only 10,000 seats, but (the arena) was always jam-packed. And people were selling their tickets for more money, because you couldn’t get any more than 10,000 (tickets).”
The second arena – today’s Power Balance Pavilion – was opened for the 1988-89 season and until earlier this year was known as Arco Arena, which was also the name that was given to the temporary arena.
Of the original owners of the Kings – Joe, Bob Cook, Gregg, Gregg’s father, Frank Lukenbill, Steve Cippa and Frank McCormack – only Joe and Cook (who was featured in the first part of this series, which was published in July) remain in the ownership of the Kings.
Joe, who believes – despite the league’s current lockout – that NBA teams will play a full 2011-12 season, because team owners would not want to lose money from a cancelled season, said that he is looking forward to following Kings games by this coming fall.
And in reviewing the Kings’ quarter century in Sacramento, Joe said that the team has brought him much joy in his life.
“Win or lose, I’m glad to have them,” Joe said. “After all, I bought them. We had a lot of good times and we still do.”