Final Score: Rochester Royals 104, St. Louis Hawks 99. That was the final score of the final game of the final season for the team known as the Rochester Royals in 1957. That was the end of the road for a team with a legendary track-record. Rochester was home to a pretty formidable team from 1945 – 1957. This was a team that won two championships and was victorious in about 70% of their games over their 12 year history.
The Royals franchise has a lengthy history. After departing from our city they briefly moved to Cincinnati, then to Kansas City, and finally Sacramento where they are known today as the Kings. They called Rochester home first and it was in our town where they won their only two championships in franchise history, one while in the National Basketball League and the other in the National Basketball Association.
Many teams take a while to become reputable and successful, though right off the bat this team had a promising roster. In the Royal’s 1945 inaugural season they had beat out both Fort Wayne and Sheboygan to claim the championship. The team recruited quarterback Otto Graham and a baseball catcher named Del Rice to be on the original 1945 team. The team was founded by Lester Harrison who was a quirky character. Harrison was a farmer and a jack of all trades. He owned the team, did all the managing, coaching, and promotion.
The team name, Royals, came from the liquor industry. The popular whiskey, Crown Royal, backed Lester’s team early on. Thus Crown Royal helped give birth to Rochester’s basketball team and became its namesake.
Another interesting historical note involves the actor Chuck Connors, who was a defining part of the team’s early success. Connors was a star athlete in a number of sports. His greater and later success came in movies and television where he starred in the 50s western, The Rifleman. Connors versatility knew no bounds as he was on the Brooklyn Dodger’s baseball team, the Royal’s, and was a starting a career as an actor in the 40s.
Red Holzman was also a part of the original team roster and he would eventually go on to become the legendary coach of the New York Knicks and lead them to two championships in the early 1970’s. The team had a consistently good track-record in its Rochester years. Appearing in the playoffs multiple times over their twelve year history, the Royals took the championship in the NBL (1946) and the NBA (1951) during their run in major league basketball.
The team may have moved to a larger city and marketplace but they have never recaptured the Golden Years they had in Rochester, as Sacramento never won the finals or even appeared in them.
Unfortunately a city’s merits and loyalties are insignificant compared to the profits a team can generate for its owners. It ultimately came down to the fact that Rochester just didn’t have a large enough market to keep the team. However, one might add that this isn’t an unusual situation. Teams always go to where the money is and that is not necessarily in the best interest of places like Rochester where the team had a good home for years.
This type of thing is not unusual; Buffalo was once home to the Braves before they relocated to San Diego to become the Clippers then finally on to Los Angeles. Milwaukee had the Hawks before they went to St. Louis and finally Atlanta where they currently reside. Or how about more recently with the Vancouver Grizzlies relocating to Memphis and Seattle’s Sonics relocating to Oklahoma City to become the Thunder. One of Rochester’s biggest early rivals, the Minnesota Lakers, went to LA. Ultimately this is to be expected with many major sports teams and our town was no exception. Teams sometimes move to different markets to find better prospects, no team is permanently set in one place.
The Royals themselves may no longer reside in Rochester but their undeniable legacy and track-record will remains intact.