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Cats of Kansas City

NBA basketball in KC, a brief history of the Kansas City Kings

2023-06-07

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Kansas City has fine options for college basketball. The Jayhawks' men and women's teams are great. If you don’t mind the hike, K-State’s basketball teams are best in class too. The UMKC Roos, both the men and the women, don't necessarily dominate like their Kansan counterparts, but they do give us more options for college ball. The NBA though? We're out of luck if we want to see Lebron, Nikola, or Giannis whoop our local NBA team. We haven't had one in almost four decades.

A few years ago the NBA expansion rumor mill included Kansas City on the short list of potential cities. Although the media is still talking about an NBA expansion, they aren’t throwing around Kansas City as a potential landing spot anymore. Even London and Mexico City have a better chance than we do thanks to the NBA's global aspirations. Kansas City might have to wait a while.

We can always clutch on to the distant memory of our very own NBA team, the Kings, who called KC home from 1972 until 1985 when they moved to Sacramento. They are still in Sacramento today, where they've continued the tradition of playing mediocre ball ever since (although this year they showed promise).

Kansas City seemed to be little more than a decade-long pitstop in the Kings' voyage west. They started out in Rochester, NY, as the Royals, joining the NBA after its merger with the NBL (National Basketball League). They moved to Cincinnati in 1957 where they played fourteen seasons. The Cincinnati Royals peaked in 1963-64 when their team was lead by Oscar Robertson and the rookie Jerry Lucas. They were a mere 30-52 in their last season, 1971-72, and after struggles with attendance, they were bought by a group of Kansas City investors in 1972. They moved to KC and renamed themselves the Kings, since the Royals baseball team had taken dibs on the name a few years prior.

Initially, it was the Kansas City-Omaha Kings. Kansas City had to share the team with Omaha for the first couple of years, with games split between the KC’s Municipal Auditorium (at the Convention Center) and Omaha’s Civic Auditorium. They split their time because the Municipal Auditorium wasn't very big, accommodating just over 7,000, and wasn't always available. After they moved into the brand new Kemper, they eventually began playing all their home games in Kansas City, and Omaha was removed from their moniker. They were a decent team in the early 80’s but only once made it as far as the Western Conference Finals.

Then in 1983, the Kings were sold to a group of Sacramento investors who had earlier tried but failed to buy the Indiana Pacers. They repeatedly expressed their commitment to keeping the Kings in KC, but when their lease at the Kemper was up, they cited unreasonable terms as their rationale for not renewing. The Kemper had offered them the lease for just a dollar a year along with a cut of the parking and concession sales. It was very generous, a king's ransom you could say, but they moved anyway.

The Kings' last season in Kansas City was disappointing. The attendance sometimes didn't break 4,000, and the team ended in last place with a miserable record, 31-51, just one game better than the Cincinnati Royals' last year. The Kings' final game in Kansas City was a blend of a sentimental farewell and a spiteful sendoff. Every player was given a standing ovation during the pre-game introductions, but fans also brought signs to “Kill Axelson” (the GM) and to “Nuke Sacramento.” Some of the fans must have been from Philadelphia.

The Kansas City Kings were never a great team. Kansas Citians were never great fans if we're honest. The Comets, the soccer team, shared the Kemper with the Kings, and Comets' games regularly had twice the attendance. Perhaps the NBA had good reason to unanimously accept the Kings' move from Kansas City to Sacramento, but it has been forty years. Give KC another chance. Some of us would love to have a mediocre NBA team in town again, including Mayor Lucas.

During its time in Kansas City, the Kings had a couple of famous coaches, Bob Cousy (more renowned as a Celtic player than as a Kings coach) and Cotton Fitzsimmons. The Kings had a couple of famous players during its tenure too including Tiny Archibald (the only player ever to lead the league in both points and assists) and Jo Jo White (a KU player), who would both go on to join Cousy and Fitzsimmons in the Hall of Fame.

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