In the history of sports, many franchises have changed cities; so many in fact that you may not know some of the more famous ones. In 1903, the original American League Baltimore Orioles headed for New York, where they were called the New York Highlanders until 1913, when they changed their name to the Yankees. 1946, The NBA’s Detroit Gems moved to Minneapolis where they were known as the Lakers, until 1960 when they hit the road for Los Angeles. The National Hockey League saw the Kansas City Scouts morph into the Colorado Rockies, only to become the New Jersey Devils six years later. Even the NFL has seen the change/change-back routine pulled by the Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders.
But nobody matches the nomadic nature of the Sacramento Kings.
For those of you who don’t know, here’s the roaming history of this franchise.
- 1945-1957: Rochester Royals
- 1957-1972: Cincinnati Royals
- 1972-1985: Kansas City-Omaha Kings
- 1985-2013?: Sacramento Kings
You have to understand that the Sacramento Kings can trace a direct lineage back to being one off the original professional basketball franchises in the U.S. The franchise now known as the Sacramento Kings began it’s existence as the Rochester Royals in the now-defunct National Basketball League. The team immediately found success upon their arrival in the league as in their first year, they captured the NBL title. They followed this with two more NBL Final appearances. This was followed by their transfer to the Basketball Association of America (BAA). A year later, the Royals would move into the newly-formed National Basketball Association (NBA).
In the early NBA, the Royals were a strogn contender, often being seen as rivals to the NBA’s firtst dynasty, the Minneapolis Lakers. Despite that success; the franchise won its sole NBA title in 1951, the team could not equate success on the court with financial success causing team founder Lester Harrison to move the team to Cincinnati in 1957.
In the “Queen City,” the Royals rode two of the league early stars, Maurice Stokes and Jack Twyman, to a regal position in the NBA standings. Sadly, Stoke suffered a head injury that effectively ended his career, and Twyman could not carry the team on his own.
Enter Oscar Robertson, one of the greatest players ever to set foot on a basketball court.
In 1960, the Royals acquired Robertson in the Draft. The “Big O” instantly made the Royals again contenders for the league’s throne. Along with Twyman, Bob Boozer, and Jerry Lucas, the Royals were a force to be reckoned with in the NBA of the 1960’s. Even amongst that all-star cast, Robertson stood out, averaging a triple-double in the 1961-1962 season and was named NBA MVP in 1964. The Royals only problem was that an even bigger dynasty ruled the NBA of the 1960’s, the Boston Celtics. When Oscar robertson left in 1970, the Royals could no longer draw fans, and headed for Kansas City in 1972.
Once in Kansas City, the team changed its name from “Royals” to “Kings” to avoid stepping on teh marketing of the city new baseball team; the Kansas City Royals having been formed as an expansion team in 1969. The basketball market was so dicey in Kansas City the team agreed to give up its name, even though it had used the name for a quarter-century before the baseball team was established. The Kings also split their home games between Kansas City and Omaha, Nebraska, until 1975, and team was officially known as the “Kansas City-Omaha Kings.” The Kings later played several home games in St. Louis during the early 1980’s.
The Kings finally started digging out from under when head coach Cotton Fitzsimmons assembled a division-winning team in 1979, led by Rookie of the Year Phil Ford, Otis Birdsong, Scott Wedman, and Sam Lacey, a soft-handed center with a distinctive 25-foot bank shot.
But the good luck was short-lived. Wedman and Birdsong left for big contracts with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the roof at Kemper Arena collapsed during a storm, forcing the team to play most of the 1980 season at the much smaller Municipal Auditorium General Manager Joe Axelson got fired in a weird scandal involving re-using marked postage stamps. All this led to the Kings being sold to a Sacramento-based group for the bargain price of $11 million.
The Kings moved to Sacramento in 1985. Their first season in California’s capital city Sacramento saw the Kings make the playoffs, only to bow out in the first round. However, the Kings saw little success after that; they did not make another playoff appearance until 1996. A lot of this was due to more misfortune, such as the suicide of Ricky Berry during the 1989 off-season, the disastrous selection of “Never Nervous” Pervis Ellison (later to be named “Rarely In Service”) with the first overall pick in the 1989 Draft, and the essentially career-ending car crash suffered by point guard Bobby Hurley in 1993.
Despite all that, the early 1990’s saw the Kings draw strong fan support, largely because while they won over 60% of their home games, the Kings were putrid on the. At one point, they sported a record of 1–40 away from Sacramento.
The escape from mediocrity for the Kings with the drafting of Jason Williams in the 1998 NBA Draft, the signing of Vlade Divac, and the trade for Chris Webber prior to the lockout-shortened 1998–99 season. These acquisitions added to the 1996 arrival of Peja Stojakovic. This made the Kings perennial playoff contenders until 2005.
The 2005–06 season started badly. Webber was gone,, and newcomers Bonzi Wells and Sharif Abdur-Rahim made contributions early, but both ended up injured and missing a big chunk of games. As the Kings’ season continued, the owners decided to make a move, trading the stable Peja Stojakavic for the volatile Ron Artest. While the Kings did manage to go 20–9 after All-Star weekend, they still only finished the season 44–38, which made them the 8th seed in the Western Conference. They drew the San Antonio Spurs in the first round, who sentt the Kings packing four games to two.
Things only got worse from there. Head coach Rick Adelman was replaced with Eric Mussleman, who promptly got arrested for DUI charges early in the season, Ron Aretst bought an animal neglect and domestic assault charge. The Kings a losing record at home for the first time since 1993–94, they missed the play-offs, and Musselman was fired.
Since then, highlights have been hard to come by, Tyreke Evans became Sacramento-era player to receive the NBA Rookie of the Year Award. Evans also became the 4th player in NBA history, joining Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James, to average 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game for the whole season as a rookie.
Then, the relocation talk started. Spinning a yarn based on the lack of progress towards an arena and dwindling profits and fan support, the owners sought an immediate relocation of the franchise to Anaheim. The move seemed a certain towards the end of the year, as NBA commissioner David Stern admitted that the Kings and officials in Anaheim, California had discussions about relocation. It was later found that the Kings’ ownership went as far as to file for a trademark of the name “Anaheim Royals.”
But then former NBA guard and current Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson announced during a presentation to the NBA that billionaire Ron Burkle wanted to buy the Kings and keep them in Sacramento. Johnson also pledged approximately $10 million in support from local businesses. This, along with an outcry from Sacramento fans swayed Stern and the relocation committee to convince the Kings’ owners to withdraw their relocation plans.
The Kings remained in Sacramento for the 2011-12 season, but several other things started happening. In a foreshadowing bit of irony, in a similar to a situation with the Seattle SuperSonics, the Kings’ onwers were again saying publicly that the franchise would relocate for the 2013–14 season unless the city of Sacramento ponied up on a solution concerning a new arena. Up to this point, the city of Sacramento was laying plans for an arena and had been awaiting an analysis of funding options for the arena.
You know what they say about the best-laid plans…
Today, there are sources saying the Kings are as good as sold to a Seattle-based group. There are also other sources saying the Kings are now being sold to a Sacramento group who will keep the franchise in California’s capital city.
So, the question remains…Are the Sacramento Kings on the verge of becoming the Harlem Globetrotters of the NBA? After all, the Kings are the most-relocated franchise in the history of American professional sports. I say why move them again? I say let’s just give them a couple of U-Haul trucks and let them hop around the league like dribbling nomads.
It’s not like this team hasn’t filled out those change-of-address cards 4 times already.