JOSÉ LUIS VILLEGAS / Bee file, 2012

The Maloof family, led by brothers Gavin, left, and Joe, purchased controlling interest in the Kings in 1999.

Kings franchise has been on quite a journey

Published: Tuesday, Apr. 30, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3C
Last Modified: Thursday, May. 16, 2013 - 11:41 am

The Kings' franchise seemingly has been on the move since setting up shop in the NBA in 1948 – from Rochester, N.Y., to Cincinnati to Kansas City, Mo. (and Omaha, Neb.). And the threat of another move has hung over the Kings periodically since they arrived in Sacramento in 1985.

Monday, the NBA's relocation committee of seven team owners probably ended the latest threat, voting unanimously to deny a Seattle group's proposal to purchase and move the Kings to the Northwest. Here's a closer look at the vagabond nature of the Kings over the years:


In 1957, six years after winning the NBA title, the Rochester Royals – undone by declining attendance and revenue – moved to Cincinnati. "I offered the team to anyone in Rochester for $50,000," charter owner and coach Les Harrison told The Bee in 1997. "Nobody would take it. So I sold them to Cincinnati for $200,000." It didn't help that the Royals picked Duquesne's Sihugo Green with the second pick in the 1956 draft instead of USF's Bill Russell.


After going 31-41 in 1956-57, the Royals packed for Cincinnati. Perhaps things would have gone better if they could have brought Russell with them. And although they drafted Oscar Robertson out of Cincinnati in 1960, they never gained a fervent following and moved to Kansas City in 1972.


Kansas City already had the Royals baseball team, so the NBA team was renamed the Kings. While they waited for Kemper Arena to open for the 1975-76 season, the team temporarily was known as the Kansas City-Omaha Kings. If the Kings had been able to sign a freshman guard out of Michigan State named Magic Johnson in 1978 – he negotiated with general manager Joe Axelson for hours – consider how that might have altered the franchise's fortunes. The high-water mark in the Kansas City era came in the 1981 Western Conference finals, but the Kings lost to the Houston Rockets, then owned by the Maloof family. After attendance sagged to fewer than 6,000 a game, the team was sold to a Sacramento group headed by developer Gregg Lukenbill for $10.5 million in 1983. Said Lukenbill then: "It's a whole new world for us. This marks the turning point in improving the quality of life in Sacramento."


The Kings were welcome in Sacramento long before moving here. When the team arrived in Sacramento for a visit and workout late in the 1984-85 season, they reportedly were greeted at the airport by some 5,000 fans. On opening night in 1985, a packed 10,333-seat Arco Arena included a sea of tuxedos, Commissioner David Stern and plenty of cowbells.


The NBA board of governors and Stern stressed to Lukenbill that if a new arena wasn't soon built to replace the temporary building, the NBA would have the authority to purchase the club for $18 million and relocate it. Dressed in his familiar plaid flannel, Lukenbill passionately implored the board of governors in New York in 1987 to be patient, saying then, "There will not be any problem."


Pleasing the NBA and its swelling fan base, Arco II opened at a cost of $40 million for the 1988-89 season. Lukenbill, in a tux on opening night, called Arco "the Disneyland of sports complexes anywhere in the world." Said Stern that night: "It's a first-class facility, as good as any other in the league."


Jim Thomas, a developer based in Los Angeles, led a group that purchased controlling interest of the Kings for $160 million in 1992, despite concern from the existing owners that Thomas wanted to relocate the team to Southern California.


In 1997, Thomas hammered out a $73 million loan from the city of Sacramento that he said was paramount in easing the financial burden on the franchise and would prevent the possibility of the team moving to Nashville, Tenn. Also in 1997, San Diego Chargers owner Alex Spanos offered to purchase the Kings to "keep them forever in Sacramento, where the Kings belong."


The Maloof family bought controlling interest in the Kings for a reported $156 million in 1999. In 2011, the Maloofs ditched a plan to relocate the franchise to Anaheim, then backed out of a handshake agreement for a new arena in 2012.

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