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Relocated NBA Teams: The Cincinnati Royals

The Cincinnati Royals were a basketball team that played in the NBA from 1957 to 1972. The team was based at the Cincinnati Gardens. The Royals later became today’s Sacramento Kings following their relocation to the California city in 1985 via a 13 year stint in Kansas City. The franchise had been in existence as the Rochester Royals since 1945 when it was formed by Jack and Lester Harrison as an expansion franchise for the NBL. It became the Cincinnati Royals in 1957 when the struggling team left Rochester for the larger city of Cincinnati. The “Royals” nickname was retained since it still fit Cincinnati’s “Queen City” moniker.

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The Royals’ years in Cincinnati were lean in terms of trophies. Despite making it to the playoffs in seven out of their fourteen seasons, the Royals did not win a single major honor. They only reached the conference finals twice, losing on both occasions. They had losing records in eight seasons with the worst of these being the 1958/59 and 1959/60 seasons when they only won 19 games. The 1962/63 and 1963/64 represented the Royals best effort, making consecutive appearances to the Eastern Finals. After posting a 42-38 record in regular season, the Royals beat the Syracuse nationals in the playoffs by 3 games to 2. They met the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Finals to whom they lost in seven games. In 1963/64, led by Jerry Lukas and Oscar Robertson, the Royals had their best season, posting a 55-25 record. They would dismiss the Philadelphia 76ers in five games to book a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals. In a rematch of the previous season’s Eastern Finals, the Royals bowed out at the hands of the Boston Celtics, losing in five games. It was all downhill from there as three straight playoff appearances were followed by five straight misses.

The story of Royals’ stars Jack Twyman and Maurice Stokes epitomizes the principles of kindness and dedication perfectly. On March 12th, 1958 during the final game of the 1957/58 regular season, Maurice Stokes suffered a severe head injury when he fell and hit his head on the floor. Despite falling unconscious, Stokes would recover to play in the first game of the playoffs three days later. However on the flight home following the game, he fell ill and later went into a coma in hospital. After several weeks, he was diagnosed with encephalopathy, meaning he would remain a quadriplegic with no ability to speak. Abandoned by the team’s new owners, Stokes savior would be fellow forward Jack Twyman who legally adopted him and took care of him till Stokes died in 1970. Twyman covered Stokes’ treatment fees by organizing golf tournaments and benefit games. He also showed great dedication to the Royals, sticking with the team through tough years until his retirement in 1966.

Why were the Cincinnati Royals Relocated?

With the team’s performances waning towards the late 1960s and early 1970s, attendance at the Cincinnati Gardens also went south. Before the 1971/72 season, the team was sold to a group of businessmen from Kansas City for $5 million. During the 1971/72 season, the arena averaged just 3557 fans per game. Speaking in March of 1972, the team’s general manager Joe Axelson said that by December 1971, the team ownership was convinced that the team would not make it in Cincinnati. He asserted that Cincinnati was not a good basketball city and mused that the city would “not even fill small buildings with students getting in free.” The Royals’ new owners looked to move the team to a city with a larger market and a favorable offer was received from Kansas City. The city would charge the team 500 dollars per game at the 10,500-seat Municipal Auditorium, with an outlook to building a new stadium within the first few years. News of the team’s impeding relocation was generally received with disappointment in Cincinnati, but ultimately the struggling team would not be missed much. The team moved to Kansas City under an arrangement that would also see the cities of St. Louis and Omaha split at least 15 of the 41 home games. The franchise was renamed Kansas City-Omaha Kings. This arrangement would only last three seasons however and in 1975, the team became just Kansas City Kings. In 1985, the team moved to Sacramento where it remains to date and was renamed Sacramento Kings.

Cincinnati Royals Most Notable Players

Tiny Archibald G 1970-1972

Jerry Lucas F 1963/64-1968/69

Maurice Stokes F 1957/58

Jack Twyman F 1957/58-1965/66

Oscar Robertson G 1960/61-1969/70

Wayne Embry C 1958-1966

Tom Hawkins SF 1962-1966

Bud Olsen C/PF 1962-1966

Adrian Smith PG 1961-1970

Connie Diekering C 1965-1971

Tom Van Arsdale SG 1967-1972

Flynn Robinson PG 1966-1968, 1970/71

Norm Van Lier PG 1969-1972

Johnny Green SF 1969-1972

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