Basketball Kings Without a Throne

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The National Basketball Association (NBA) season begins tonight, October 17, as the Houston Rockets visit the defending champion Golden State Warriors in Oakland, California. Both teams are stocked with superstars, and the Warriors are odds-on favorites to win their third title in the last four years. After the game, the Rockets will take a short ride up Interstate 80 to Sacramento for the Kings’ season opener on Wednesday. The Kings, perennial also-rans and polar opposites of the Warriors, have the worst odds in the league—1 chance in 1,000—to win the championship, making the team all but a sure bet to extend its NBA-longest title drought of 66 years.

Technically, the Kings have never sat upon the NBA throne. It was the team’s ancestors, the Rochester (New York) Royals, who last won an NBA title in 1951. The Royals were a founding member of the NBA in 1949, and they took down the New York Knicks in the 1951 NBA Finals. The Royals were led by two future Basketball Hall of Famers, center Arnie “Stilts” Risen and Bob Davies, one of the greatest guards in NBA history. In 1957, the Royals moved to Cincinnati, where they won 55 games over an 80 game schedule during the 1963-1964 season (only to lose to the Boston Celtics in the playoffs). The biggest star of the Cincinnati team was guard Oscar Robertson, a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest all-around players in NBA history.

The team moved to Kansas City, Missouri, for the 1972-1973 season, but also played games in Omaha, Nebraska. The team became known as the Kansas City-Omaha Kings (the baseball Royals already played in Kansas City). The biggest star of the early 1970's was high-scoring guard Nate Archibald. The team soon dropped “Omaha” from its name and played primarily in Kansas City starting with the 1975-1976 season. The late ’70's Kings were led by guards Otis Birdsong and Phil Ford, forward Scott Wedman, and center Sam Lacey.

In 1983, the team was purchased by a Sacramento business group. The team began play in Sacramento in the 1985-1986 season. The Kings made the playoffs their first season in Sacramento, but lean years followed. The 2000-2001 team advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 20 years before losing to the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers. The next season, the Kings won a franchise record 61 games over an 82 game schedule, but bowed out to the Lakers again, this time in an intense conference final. The Kings of that era featured such stars as guard Mike Bibby, center Vlade Divac, and forwards Chris Webber and Predrag Stojakovic. Since finishing 44-38 in 2005-2006, the Kings have not had a winning season.

The Kings are not lonely at the bottom of the lopsided NBA. Of the league’s 30 teams, 12 have never won a title, 11 have droughts of 40 years or more, and 7 have never even reached the finals. The next-longest NBA title drought belongs to the Atlanta Hawks, who last won a title (as the St. Louis Hawks) in 1958.

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Image: On April 18, 1951, Rochester Royals star Arnie Risen (third from left in blue) nabs a rebound from Harry Gallatin (11, in white) of the New York Knicks in game six of the NBA Finals at New York City’s 69th Regiment Armory. The Royals, ancestors of the modern day Sacramento Kings, defeated the Knicks for the only NBA title in franchise history. Credit: © Marty Zimmerman, AP/REX/Shutterstock

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