It’s time to get the Kings out of Sacramento.
No, no, no. I don’t mean the team. Mayor Kevin Johnson and new owner Vivek Ranadive did a great thing by keeping the Maloofs from allowing the team to be sold and moved to Seattle last spring.
But it’s definitely time for the Kings to leave Sacramento … as in the nickname.
There has already been one franchise rebirth this season in the NBA, as the newly named Pelicans are proving to be a pleasant surprise in New Orleans after the transplanted Hornets nickname was abandoned this year.
Charlotte will get its identity back next year when the dreadful Bobcats name is consigned to the dustbin of history in favor of the city’s historic (and I do mean historic, like Revolutionary War historic) identity as the Hornets.
The Sacramento franchise has more than 60 years of history behind it. But some of that history is ancient history:
- The franchise’s lone championship was earned in 1951, three cities and one nickname ago.
- The franchise’s greatest player toiled in Cincinnati, two stops ago and under a different nickname.
- The “Kings” nickname only happened because when the franchise—then known as the Royals—was abandoning Cincinnati for Kansas City in the early 1970s, there was already a team known as the Kansas City Royals. Creative thinkers that they were, the powers-that-be in charge of the franchise changed the name from Royals to Kings.
The franchise came into being as the Rochester Royals, in the small city of Rochester in upstate New York in 1945 in the old National Basketball League. The Royals made played for the NBL title in all three seasons it played in the NBL, winning the crown in its inaugural season in 1945-46.
In 1948, along with the Minneapolis Lakers and Fort Wayne Pistons, the Royals jumped to the upstart Basketball Association of America, which had launched in 1946. They finished with the BAA’s best record, but lost in the Western Division Finals to the Lakers (a common theme in the franchise’s early history).
The NBL and BAA merged in 1949 to become the NBA and the Royals were an early power, winning the championship in 1951 and making the playoffs in each of their first seven seasons.
But Rochester wasn’t a large enough market to compete in the NBA and in 1957, the club relocated to Cincinnati. It didn’t have quite as much success there. In 15 seasons, the Royals reached the playoffs just seven times, and that was with the franchise’s greatest player—Oscar Robertson—on board from 1960 until he was traded in 1970.
In 1972, the team picked up stakes and moved again, this time to Kansas City, but with the plan of playing eight home games a season in the basketball hotbed of Omaha, Neb. The Kansas City-Omaha Kings were long on name, short on wins. In 1975, the “Omaha” part of the name was dropped and the team achieved a dubious distinction in 1981, when it became one of the last two teams with losing records to reach the conference finals.
The Kings qualified for the playoffs with a 40-42 record, upset the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs and stunned Pacific Division champion Phoenix in the conference semifinals to set up a meeting with the 40-42 Houston Rockets, who blasted the Kings in five games to become the last team with a losing record to reach the NBA Finals.
Since coming to Sacramento nearly three decades ago, the Kings have made just 10 playoff appearances. Eight of those were consecutive, the glory years under Rick Adelman from 1998-99 through 2005-06.
Adelman coached the team to a .633 winning percentage in his eight seasons and the Kings experienced one of the most agonizing defeats in NBA history in the 2002 Western Conference Finals, when the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Kings (or were awarded a win over the Kings, depending on how your perspective) in Game 6 and bounced back to win Game 7 at Arco Arena.
Besides the Adelman era, however, there is little but heartache and misery to hold onto.
- The Phil Johnson era lasted parts of two seasons, resulted in a 51-77 record and a three-game sweep in the 1986 playoffs.
- Bill Russell brought a Hall of Fame resume to Sacramento and left 58 games into the 1987-88 season with a 17-41 record.
- Dick Motta won an NBA title with Washington in the 1970s. He won 48 games and lost 113 of them over parts of three seasons in the 1990s.
- There was the famous 1990 NBA Draft, when general manager Jerry Reynolds had four (FOUR!) first-round picks and turned them into Lionel Simmons (No. 7 overall), Travis Mays (No. 14), Duane Causwell (No. 18) and Anthony Bonner (No. 23). Reynolds followed that up with Billy Owens (No. 3 overall) and Pete Chilcutt (No. 27) in 1991. Six first-round picks in two years and Reynolds turned it into … well, not much.
So why not embrace change?
A new arena is going to be opening in downtown Sacramento at some point in the near future (2016 is the target date). Why not go into the new building with the idea of creating a whole new identity for the franchise?
Abandon the Kings name, a name that is—at best—remembered for falling short in the postseason, of having a potential NBA Finals bid taken away by incompetent officials and for losing … lots and lots of losing.
Try something new. Something that doesn’t have the stink of almost 70 years of mostly bad times. Something uniquely Californian.
Call me crazy, but the Sacramento Condors seems to have a nice ring to it. I don’t know–just something that hasn’t been dragged across the country through three other cities (or four, if you count Omaha) and not one of those singular-plurals like “Cardinal” or “Heat.”
The point is simply this: Write a new history. Remember the old, but move forward with the new.
Oh, and ditch the purple-and-black while you’re at it. The 1990s are long since done.