Photo Credit: keithjj] on Pixabay, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Cincinnati does not have a professional basketball team. When you’re a medium-sized media market, this is the reality: there are only so many eyeballs to go around. Between the Bengals, Reds and the, wait…let me double-check this…yep, undefeated FC Cincinnati soccer team, there’s not a lot of room for another pro sports team to wiggle its way into the fold. Besides, we’ve already got UC and Xavier for our basketball-fix – who needs the NBA?
Still, it’s worth remembering that, at one point in history, there actually was a bona-fide NBA team that called Cincinnati its home: the Cincinnati Royals. From 1957 - 1972, the Royals played at the former Cincinnati Gardens in Bond Hill. With Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics at the peak of their powers in the East and Jerry West’s Los Angeles Lakers at their peak out West, this spunky midwestern squad was never able to muscle their way into the NBA Finals, but with seven playoff appearances during their time in the Queen City, the Royals were hardly pushovers, even if their legacy has been mostly forgotten.
In fact, while team success eluded them, there was plenty of individual success to go around. Oscar Robertson, who was so dominant during his three years at the University of Cincinnati that the NCAA named one of their player-of-the-year trophies after him, spent the first ten years of his career playing for the Royals. His famous triple-double season? Yup – that was with the Royals. Something even more spectacular: if you lump his first three NBA seasons together, he averaged a triple-double over that span too.
And it wasn’t just the Big O that found major professional success in Cincinnati. Another UC alum, Jack Twyman, played in Cincinnati for the Royals from 1957-66, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983. Jerry Lucas and Nate "Tiny" Archibald also got their Hall of Fame careers started in Cincinnati. Unfortunately, after trades of both Lucas and Robertson, fan support dwindled, and the Royals would relocate to Kansas City in 1972. Pro basketball in Cincinnati was caput.
Eventually, the Royals would undergo a name change, and then another move, this time to their modern-day home of Sacramento. They discarded their Royal moniker for something even more…well, royal. The Kings, henceforth, they would be known. But for a long, long, long while, these Kings were confined to the NBA’s dungeons. From Kings to paupers, if you will. Up until this year, the Kings owned the ignominious distinction of longest active playoff drought among the Big Four North American professional sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL).
This year, though, they did it. It’s the Return of the King(s). The meek have become the strong. And now, after defeating Steph Curry and the defending-champion Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the First Round, the young Kings are looking to reclaim their crown.
Led by 25-year-old point guard De’Aaron Fox and 26-year-old big man Domantas Sabonis, the Kings have taken the NBA by storm this season with a historically potent offensive attack. They led the NBA in scoring, averaging an astounding 120.7 points per game, and even put up 176 (though it did require two overtime periods) – the third-most in a single game – against the Los Angeles Clippers in February. The Fox-Sabonis combo is as lethal as any duo in the NBA, and that’s remarkable when you consider how many great players there are in the NBA right now and how overlooked both Fox and Sabonis are.
So, if you’re a fan of basketball here in Cincinnati, or anywhere that doesn’t have a natural basketball allegiance, consider rooting for the Kings this Spring. They’re the “Nobody Believes in Us” team of 2023. They finished with the third-best record in the Western Conference, yet just two out of eighteen ESPN basketball analysts believe they’ll advance past the sixth-seeded Warriors. Wait, being counted out? Cincinnatians know a thing or two about that.
Am I saying you should hop on the Kings bandwagon? Yes. The same Kings that averaged a ghastly 29 wins per season from 2006 - 2022? Yes. The same Kings that saw twelve different head coaches man the sidelines during that span? Yes. Come on, that’s got to be more exciting than rooting for LeBron’s Lakers, right? They might have skipped town and changed their name, but nobody in the NBA has more of a Cincinnati-feel than the Sacramento Kings. That’s good enough for me.