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NBA's Oldest Franchise Begins a New Life


Posted on March 1, 2017

The Sacramento Kings end their nomadic history by settling in California's capital city.


IT’S A WONDER that more sports teams don’t have identity crises.

Think of it: Throughout the lifespan of a club, its name, venue, city and especially its faces may continually change.

So do its owners, presidents, managers, coaches and—with each move—its fans.

It’s a little like being a military brat—except that every time you move to a new base, you have to not only make new friends but also get accustomed to having new parents.

Before they wound up in Sacramento in 1985, an alternate name for the Kings could have been the Nomads. They began life in 1923 as the semi-pro Rochester Seagrams. By 1948, they were a professional team—the first basketball franchise in what would come to be known as the National Basketball Association—known as the Rochester Royals. Nine years later they were the Cincinnati Royals, and from 1972 to 1985 (we’re almost there), the Kansas City-Omaha Kings—yes, that Omaha, the one they keep in Nebraska. The team would play half its home games in Missouri and half in the then-Cornhusker State—a practice it quit in 1975, re-branding itself as the Kansas City Kings.

The team moved to Sacramento a decade later. The principal owner was Jim Thomas, a developer. A few of the famous names comprising the starting lineup (in alphabetical order): Reggie Theus, LaSalle Thompson, Mark Olberding, Terry Tyler, Mike Woodson.

The Kings made the NBA playoffs 10 years apart: in 1986 and 1996. Back then, Jerry Reynolds and Bill Russell were the head coaches. (Reynolds is still the broadcast voice of the team, along with Grant Napear.)

In 1998, the team was bought by the Maloofs, a Las Vegas-based family business. Their empire included casinos, beer distribution and various sports enterprises. During the 15 years of the Maloofs’ ownership, which ended in 2013, the future of the Kings as a Sacramento team fell under a cloud of doubt more than once. There were attempts to buy the team and move it to Anaheim and, a little later, to scurry the franchise off to Seattle.

But once the team was purchased by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Vivek Ranadivé—with the NBA’s condition that a new arena would be built for the Kings—the new era began in earnest. Working alongside Ranadivé and a cadre of advisors and partners, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA star, had performed a full-court press of charm and negotiating skill. He rallied local businesspeople, appointed and elected officials, and—most importantly—committed fans to demonstrate that this city had the financial resources, vision and emotional wherewithal to host a major league basketball team. As a sports analyst for TNT put it, “Sacramento was able to do in months what it had taken Seattle two years to put together.”

Golden 1 Center is now ready for its close-up, so take your seats. The Nomads have stopped their wandering.

Seagrams
Seagrams

Sam Lacey
Sam Lacey, Cincinnati Royals

Rochester Royals
Rochester Royals

Kansas City-Omaha Kings
Kansas City-Omaha Kings

Bill Russell
Bill Russell

LaSalle Thompson
LaSalle Thompason

Terry Tyler
Terry Tyler

Mark Olberding
Mike Olberding

Reggie Theus
Reggie Theus

Mike Woodson
Mike Woodson

Jerry Reynolds
Jerry Reynolds

Mitch Richmond
Mitch Richmond, 1996 playoffs

Michael Smith
Michael Smith, 1996 playoffs

Gavin and Joe Maloof
Gavin and Joe Maloof

Sac Proud

Divac, Miller and Ranadive
Vlade Divac, Brad Miller, Vivek Ranadivé

New Arena Groundbreaking
New arena groundbreaking

Kevin Johnson and Vivek Ranadive
Kevin Johnson and Vivek Ranadivé