Let’s not get too excited here, but Orange County may soon be getting a third major league sports franchise. As you may know from reading this newspaper or elsewhere, the hapless Sacramento Kings are perhaps only days away from leaving the state capital of politics for the state capital of amusement, Anaheim.
The Kings will decide sometime in April whether to spend at least another year at the aging Power Balance Pavilion or to flee for the plusher confines of Honda Center.
Although you might expect the Lakers and Clippers to object to having their turf invaded by a third team, the NBA requires only a majority vote to move a franchise.
They started in the 1920s as a semi-pro conglomeration initially known as the Rochester (New York) Seagrams, then became the Pros and later, the Royals. They won league titles in the old National Basketball League and its successor, the National Basketball Association, but found it hard to succeed financially in a small market such as Rochester.
In 1957 they relocated to Cincinnati, and became a perennial contender in the Sixties with Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas, but couldn’t break through in the East because of the dominance of the Boston Celtics. After Lucas and Robertson were traded, the franchise declined and was again moved west.
The Kansas City-Omaha Kings (the Royals’ name was dropped because of the baseball Kansas City Royals) debuted in 1972, and the Omaha part was eliminated in 1975. But it was never a big success, and in 1985 the team moved again westward, becoming the Sacramento Kings.
Things looked good for a while. The 2001-2002 team had the best record in the NBA and extended the Lakers (Shaq and Kobe) to seven games in the Western Conference finals. The team has a few more good seasons, but has since slid back into mediocrity. As of Monday, the Kings were 17-52, which is 32.5 games back of the Lakers in the NBA’s Pacific Division.
Since the Los Angeles market already has the (hockey) Kings, the projected name for the team would be the Anaheim Royals, or some variation on that, connecting them to their early roots in Rochester.
But do we really want them? We at the Journal like the idea of being that close to (and being able to cover) a third big league franchise, but what’s in it for Joe Fan? Can this market really support three NBA teams? Would the Royals be a sort of cut-rate Clippers operation, if such a thing is possible?
It seems likely that for the first season or two, the novelty of the NBA on Katella Avenue would pack the house. After all, the Clippers usually drew well when they played in Anaheim, despite the poor quality of their teams. But Southern California hoops fans are spoiled by the success of the Lakers and will soon find somewhere else to spend their money and time if the team is not competitive and interesting fairly quickly.
The Clippers, who have the league’s worst uniforms, also have one of major sports’ worst owners, in Donald Sterling. Sterling, who got rich in real estate, keeps the Clippers like pets, as a sign of affluence and status. They are the Chihauhas of the league.
On the other hand, the Maloof family, which owns the Kings, aren’t exactly the second coming of the O’Malleys, either. Their WNBA team, the Monarchs, folded and the Kings aren’t far from it. Perhaps the real question is which area team will have the worst ownership.
I see one solution to this dilemma. Merge the Clippers and the Royals into one team, move the franchise to Anaheim and sell it to Arte Moreno. That would rock the local sports scene and spare us a real return to the Royal’s original “semi-pro” style of operation.