It was reported Wednesday by Yahoo Sports (and additionally by Hoops Habit) that a deal to sell the Sacramento Kings to a group headed by hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is nearing completion.
According to the reports, the new ownership group would attempt to move the Kings to Seattle in time for the 2013-14 season and that the team would take over the old Seattle SuperSonics name and logo.
This would, of course, be great news for the basketball fans of Seattle who were disenfranchised five years ago when Clay Bennett (coincidentally the chairman of the NBA’s relocation committee) moved the Sonics to Oklahoma City.
But what would become of the history of the Kings?
Only three franchises—the New York Knicks, Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors—have been around longer than the Kings franchise. The Warriors were originally in Philadelphia and moved to San Francisco in 1962. They moved to Oakland, Calif., and changed their name to Golden State for the 1971-72 season.
The Kings franchise joined the then-Basketball Association of America as the Rochester Royals, along with two other franchises that still exist, the Minneapolis Lakers (now in Los Angeles) and the Fort Wayne Pistons (now in Detroit).
The Rochester Royals remained in the NBA through the 1955-56 season, when they moved from Rochester, N.Y., to Cincinnati. After 15 seasons in Cincinnati, the franchise was moved again to Kansas City. However, with baseball’s Kansas City Royals already in place, the franchise changed its nickname to the Kings and, because it was playing home games at both Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City and at the Omaha Civic Auditorium in Nebraska, the team was christened the Kansas City-Omaha Kings.
When Kemper Arena opened in 1975, the team abandoned Omaha and played exclusively in Kansas City, with the exception of a few games in St. Louis during the 1980s.
However, attendance dwindled in the mid-1980s and the franchise again packed up and headed west, this time to Sacramento, Calif., where they have played since 1985-86.
Fourteen players who have toiled for the Royals-Kings franchises are currently enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame. They include original Royals Bob Davies, Arnie Risen and Bobby Wanzer; Maurice Stokes and Jack Twyman, who played for the Royals in both Rochester and Cincinnati; former Cincinnati Royals Clyde Lovellette, Oscar Robertson, Jerry Lucas and player-coach Bob Cousy; Tiny Archibald, who went through three iterations of the franchise as a Cincinnati Royal, Kansas City-Omaha King and Kansas City King; and Ralph Sampson, who briefly played for the Sacramento Kings in 1989-90 and 1990-91.
The early years in Rochester were successful as the Royals battled the Lakers for supremacy in the Western Division. The glory years were capped in 1950-51, when the Royals won the franchise’s only NBA title, beating the New York Knicks in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, 79-75, at Rochester’s Edgerton Park Sports Arena.
But after posting six consecutive winning seasons through 1953-54, the core of the team aged and the Royals fell on hard times. Their record plummeted to 29-43 in 1954-55 and they missed the playoffs for the first time in franchise history after a 31-41 last-place finish in 1955-56.
Financially handcuffed by the small market in Rochester, the franchise sought greener pastures in a larger city, Cincinnati.
The Royals were awful in their first few years in southern Ohio. After making the playoffs with a 33-39 record in their first season, the Royals turned in back-to-back 19-victory campaigns in 1958-59 and 1959-60.
The franchise caught perhaps its biggest break other than its lone championship, however, in 1960. The Royals drafted Robertson out of the University of Cincinnati with the first overall pick in the 1960 draft.
Robertson went on to become the greatest player in the history of the franchise. But the Royals had the misfortune of having their best teams at the same time that the Boston Celtics were ruling the NBA.
Despite having future Hall of Famers Robertson, Lucas and Twyman, Cincinnati was never quite able to crack the Celtics’ stranglehold on the Eastern Division, twice falling to Boston in the Eastern Division Finals.
The franchise’s last years in Cincinnati were marked by the hiring of former Celtic great Cousy as coach and missing the postseason in each of the team’s last five seasons in Cincinnati.
An aging Robertson was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks after the 1969-70 season, where he earned his only NBA title with the Bucks in 1970-71.
The declining Royals eventually made the move to Kansas City in 1972. By that point, the team was again led by a point guard, this time Archibald. Archibald had a breakout season in the first year after the move, 1972-73, finishing third in the MVP voting after leading the NBA in both scoring at 34.0 points a game and assists with 11.4 per game.
The team had some decent years under coach Cotton Fitzsimmons in the late 1970s and early 1980s, including a shocking trip to the Western Conference Finals in 1981 after finishing just 40-42 during the regular season. The Kings fell in the conference finals to the Houston Rockets, who had also finished 40-42 that year.
The Kings struggled after moving to Sacramento, making the playoffs just twice (1986 and 1996) in their first 13 seasons in California.
The arrival of coach Rick Adelman in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season marked the beginning of the glory years in Sacramento. The Kings finished 27-23 and made the playoffs. They improved to 44 wins in 1999-2000, 55 in 2000-01 and a franchise-record 61 in 2001-02. Adelman became the franchise’s all-time winningest coach, compiling a record of 395-229 in eight seasons at the helm.
That year, led by stars Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic and Mike Bibby, the Kings reached the Western Conference Finals against the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. The Kings lost in seven games, including a very controversial Game 6 loss in Los Angeles that many Kings fans claim was rigged.
The Kings haven’t made the playoffs since 2006, the last year they finished above .500. That was also Adelman’s last year as coach. Since then, a parade of coaches including Eric Musselman, original Sacramento Kings star Reggie Theus, Kenny Natt, Paul Westphal and Keith Smart have guided Sacramento to a paltry 172-339 record since 2006-07.
Robertson is the franchise leader in points (22,009) and assists (7,731). Twyman (15,840), Mitch Richmond (12,070) and Archibald (10,894) all topped the 10,000-point mark while wearing the franchise’s various uniforms.
With a nod to advanced statistics, Robertson’s 25.0 player efficiency rating is the best in franchise history.
Sam Lacey is the franchise’s all-time leader in games (888), rebounds (9,353), steals (950) and blocked shots (1,098). Stojakovic made more 3-pointers than anyone in the history of the club with 1,070 and is the franchise’s best free-throw shooter at 89.3 percent.
Lucas averaged a whopping 19.1 rebounds per game as a member of the Royals.
If the team does wind up moving to Seattle and taking on the history of the SuperSonics that was left behind when Bennett moved the franchise to Oklahoma City, what becomes of the 65-year history of the Royals-Kings franchise?
Does it end up being consigned to the dustbin of history? Does it get placed in suspended animation the way Seattle’s history has been, waiting for another franchise to move to Sacramento and take it over?
Seattle deserves to get a team back, particularly given the circumstances under which its was taken away.
But it would be a shame if the price of righting that wrong is to cast aside the history of one of the longest-running franchises in the NBA.
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