The Cincinnati Royals were a professional basketball team in the National Basketball Association. The team was originally founded by Lester Harrison in Rochester, New York, and moved to Cincinnati, Ohio years later. Upon moving to Kansas City, Missouri, the team became the Kansas City Kings in order to avoid confusion with the Kansas City Royals baseball team. In 1985, the team moved to Sacramento, California and became the Sacramento Kings.
In the early 1920s, the team was a semi-pro group sponsored by a local Seagram's distillery. The team was known as the Rochester Seagrams for over two decades. Between 1920 and 1940 many strictly pro operations folded, but the sponsored Seagrams stayed afloat as others fell by the wayside during the Great Depression. Under the watch of Hall Of Famer Les Harrison, the team grew in talent, hosted increasingly better competition, and became a greater local treasure as years went by.
At the conclusion of World War II, the National Basketball League was returning to success after waiting out the War Years. It was looking to add successful operations to its circuit, and Rochester was a natural candidate. The team had changed its name to the Rochester Pros, and moved to the 4500-seat Edgerton Sports Arena in 1942. Invited to join the NBL for the 1945–46 season, Les Harrison and brother Jack parted ways with sponsor Seagram's, who doubted the team would profit from the jump. The team then held a rename-the-team contest in Rochester's largest newspaper. The winner was 15-year-old Richard Paeth for his entry, the "Royals."
Success for the Royals was almost immediate. Founded in 1945 by owner/coach/general manager Les Harrison (Hall of Famer) and his brother and co-owner/business manager Jack Harrison, the team won the NBL championship in 1945–46, its very first year in the circuit. The team was led by Bob Davies, Al Cervi, George Glamack, and Otto Graham, a future NFL Hall of Famer, who, in his only season in professional basketball, won a league championship before moving on to football and leading the Cleveland Browns to ten straight championship games, winning seven. Additionally, the Royals had doubled the original investment of the Harrisons in just one season. Playing numerous exhibitions in addition to the NBL schedule, the team was arguably at its Rochester peak in 1946.
The following season, NBL Governors voted that the regular season "Pennant Winner" would be declared as the official NBL Champion, and the post-season would consist of a separate, non-championship tournament. The Royals finished 31–13 (.705), capturing their second NBL Championship in as many years, and lost in the post-season tournament finals to George Mikan and the Chicago American Gears.
The following season the NBL scrapped their one-year "pennant" experiment, and from that point forward the post-season playoffs determined the NBL Champion. The Royals again finished with the league's best overall record at 44–16, and lost to George Mikan's new team, the Minneapolis Lakers, 3 games to 1 in the NBL Finals.
The countless exhibitions, plus the season schedules, wore the team down by 1948, with injuries figuring in the 1947 and 1948 NBL Finals. The team added Bobby Wanzer, a Seton Hall University recruit made by Davies, to replace Cervi, among other roster moves. The team's strong reputation also soon made it part of the NBL – BAA merger.
In 1948, the Royals moved to the Basketball Association of America along with the Fort Wayne Pistons, Minneapolis Lakers, and Indianapolis (Kautskys) Jets. A year later, the BAA absorbed into it the remaining NBL teams to become the National Basketball Association.
The move to the BAA took away Rochester's profitable exhibition schedule, and placed it in the same Western Division that Minneapolis was in. Of the two best teams in pro basketball, only one of them could play in the league finals, 1949–1954. Minneapolis, with Mikan, was almost always a little better at playoff time than the Royals. With their smallish arena and now-limited schedule, the Royals became less profitable even as Harrison maintained a remarkably high standard for the team, which finished no lower than second in its division, 1945–1954. He spent much of the 1950s looking for a buyer for his team as debts mounted.
The Royals won the NBA title in 1951 by defeating the New York Knicks 4 games to 3. It is the only NBA championship in the franchise's history. However, the title did not translate into profit for the Royals. The roster turned over in 1955, except for Wanzer; the team moved to the larger Rochester Memorial. Now a losing team filled with rookies, the Royals still did not turn a profit. Meanwhile the NBA was putting pressure on Harrison to sell or relocate his team to a larger city. With this in mind, the 1956–57 season was the Royals' last in Rochester.
The Royals' twelve-year stay in Rochester featured the services of nine future members of the Basketball Hall of Fame, one member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and a Hollywood Walk of Famer: Al Cervi, Bob Davies, Alex Hannum, Les Harrison, Red Holzman, Arnie Risen, Maurice Stokes, Jack Twyman, Bobby Wanzer, Otto Graham, and Chuck Connors.
In April 1957, the Royals were moved to Cincinnati by the Harrison brothers. This move followed a well-received regular season game played at Cincinnati Gardens on February 1, 1957. The change of venue had been said to have been suggested by Jack Twyman and Dave Piontek, who were two of several roster players on the new Royals from that region. Cincinnati, which had a strong college basketball fan base and no NFL franchise to compete with, was deemed the best choice for the Harrisons. The Royals name continued to fit in Cincinnati, often known as the "Queen City".
During the team's first NBA draft in Cincinnati, the team acquired Clyde Lovellette and guard George King. They teamed with the 1–2 punch of Maurice Stokes and Twyman to produce a budding contender in the team's very first season in the Queen City. Injury to Marshall and the loss of star guard Si Green to military service dropped the team into a tie for second place in the NBA Western Division during the 1957–58 season's second half.
In the season's finale, All-Pro star Maurice Stokes struck his head when he fell after pursuing a rebound. He shook off the effects of the fall, even as he had briefly been unconscious. After Game One in the playoffs three days later, Stokes' head injury was greatly aggravated by airplane cabin pressure during the flight back to Cincinnati for Game Two. He suffered a seizure and was permanently hospitalized, a tragedy that greatly shook the team. Stokes, a tremendous talent who could play center, forward and guard, was 2nd in the NBA in rebounds and 3rd in assists, a double-feat only Wilt Chamberlain has matched for a full season. Without Stokes, the team nearly folded.
Fellow All-Star Twyman rose to All-Pro level the next two seasons for Cincinnati, even as the team posted two 19-win seasons. The 1958–59 Cincinnati team featured five rookies, with Lovellette, King and other key players having left the team in the wake of Stokes' tragic injury. The Harrisons, under pressure to sell to a local group, sold to a local ownership headed by Thomas Woods. The fact that Stokes was simply dumped by the team and the new ownership infuriated many.
Jack Twyman came to aid of his teammate and even legally adopted Stokes. Raising funds for Stokes' medical treatment, Twyman helped him until his death in April 1970. The 1973 feature film Maurie, which co-starred actors Bernie Casey and Bo Svenson, dramatized their story.
Shooting often for the beleaguered team, Twyman was the second NBA player to average 30 points per game for an NBA season. Twyman and Stokes were later named Hall of Famers.
In 1960, the team was able to land local superstar Oscar Robertson. Robertson led a team that included Twyman, Wayne Embry, Bob Boozer, Bucky Bockhorn, Tom Hawkins and Adrian Smith over the next three seasons. The Royals reversed their fortunes with Robertson and rose to title contender. An ownership dispute in early 1963 scuttled the team's playoff chances when new owner Louis Jacobs booked a circus for Cincinnati Gardens for the week of the playoff series versus the champion Boston Celtics. The Royals home games were at Xavier University's home Schmidt Field House.
In late 1963, another local superstar, Jerry Lucas, joined the team. The Royals rose to second-best record in the NBA. From 1963 to 1966, the Royals contended strongly against Boston and the Philadelphia 76ers, but won no titles. The team's star players throughout the 1960s were Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas. Robertson met with individual success, averaging a triple-double in 1961–62 and winning the Most Valuable Player award in 1964. Robertson was a league-leading scorer and passer each season. Lucas was Rookie Of the Year in 1964, led the league in shooting, and later averaged 20 rebounds per game over three seasons. Both were All-NBA First Team selections multiple times.
The Royals were an also-ran throughout the era anyway. The team failed to keep promising players and played in the tough NBA East division, dominated by the Boston Celtics, even as a Baltimore team played in the West Division for three years, denying the team likely visits to the NBA Finals.
In 1966, the team was sold to a pair of brothers named Max and Jeremy Jacobs. That same season, the Royals began playing some of their home games in neutral sites such as Cleveland (until the Cavaliers began play in 1970), Dayton and Columbus, Ohio which was the norm for the rest of the Royals tenure in the Queen City.
New coach Bob Cousy traded Lucas in 1969. Robertson was traded to Milwaukee in 1970, where he immediately won an NBA title. The declining franchise left Cincinnati shortly thereafter, moving to Kansas City in 1972.
Prior to moving to Ohio, the Royals' biggest rival was the Syracuse Nationals. That team went on to become the Philadelphia 76ers. This left upstate New York without a team until the Buffalo Braves were established in 1970. This third attempt did not last, with the Braves moving to San Diego, California in 1978 to become the San Diego Clippers.
In 1970, the Cleveland Cavaliers were established. This brought a new rival for the Royals, as well as a new team in Ohio. This rivalry did not last, and the Royals moved to Kansas City only a few years later. Although the NBA previously had a team in St. Louis, Missouri in the form of the St. Louis Hawks, by 1972 that team moved to Atlanta, Georgia, thus preventing a potential new rivalry for the Kings. This made the Kings the first team in the state in about four years. Thirteen years later, the Kings moved to California, leaving Missouri without a team.
The initial logo featured a purple and white shield with the word "ROCHESTER" on the top, with a white banner with the word "ROYALS" on it. In 1957, the team logo became a basketball with a cartoon face. The basketball was depicted as wearing a crown with the city of Cincinnati within it. The word "CINCINNATI" was featured above the logo while the word "ROYALS" was below. The crown also had the team name on it. This logo was white with blue outlines. In 1971, the team would adopt a red crown with a blue half-basketball below it. The word "CINCINNATI", in blue, was placed above the logo. The word "ROYALS", in white, was placed on the crown. This would form the basis for the team logo until 1994.
Home arenas 
Hall of Famers 
- Nate Archibald
- Al Cervi
- Bob Davies
- Jerry Lucas
- Lester Harrison
- Arnie Risen
- Oscar Robertson
- Maurice Stokes
- Jack Twyman
- Bobby Wanzer