The Rochester Royals

Graeme
By
Posted: February 18, 2015


The Rochester Royals were a professional basketball team based out of Rochester city in upstate New York. The team played in the NBL from 1945 to 1948 and then joined the BAA which later became the NBA in 1948. The team was based at the Edgerton Park Sports Arena from 1945 to 1955 and then the Rochester War Memorial Arena from 1955 to 1957.

How did the Rochester Royals Begin?

The Royals can trace their roots to 1923 in semiprofessional outfit Rochester Seagrams. Team owner Les Harrison took a big financial risk by mortgaging a lot of his property in order to turn the team pro and join the NBL. He succeeded and the team became the latest addition to the NBL, which mainly consisted of small town teams. The moniker “Royals” was picked out of a city-wide competition in reference to the team’s ambition to “bring the crown to Rochester”. The team was largely a one-man story as Harrison owned, managed and coached the team himself.

The Rochester Royals in Competition

The Royals registered instant success, as they won the NBL championship in 1945/46, their very first season. The next season, they were back to the Finals but were beaten by the Chicago American Gears in four straight games. In 1946/48 they retained the division title but again tripped at the last hurdle, losing the NBL Finals to the Minneapolis Lakers.

They joined the BAA in 1948/49 and continued their impressive form by winning the western division and proceeding all the way to the division finals. However, they lost to the Minneapolis Lakers in two straight games. After degraded attacking options in 1948/49 saw them exit the playoffs at the first round, they reached the NBA Finals for the first time in 1950/51. The matchup against New York Knicks went all the way to game seven, which the Royals won in dramatic fashion for their first NBA crown.

Following their NBA championship triumph, they retreated into a decline of sorts. From 1951/52 to 1954/55 they exited the playoffs early only making it to the western finals once. In the 1955/56 season, they failed to reach the playoffs for the first time in their history as they finished last in the division with a 31-41 record. They posted another 31-41 record for last in the 1956/57 season, which was also their last in Rochester.

The Rochester Royals’ most Notable Moments

The greatest highlight of the Royals’ stint in Rochester has to be their 79-75 victory over the New York Knicks in game 7 of the 1951 NBA Finals. The series had gone to game 7 after the Royals relinquished a 3-0 lead. In Game 7 at Edgerton Park, the teams were tied at 75 apiece with 40 seconds remaining. However, Bob Davies scored two last minute free throws which gave the Royals the lead before Jack Coleman’s layup from the resulting tip pulled the team further ahead and ensured a first and only NBA championship for Rochester.

In 1946, just as plans for the team to join the NBL were nearing completion, one of the last things that remained was to find a fitting name for the team. The ‘Seagrams’ moniker wasn’t exactly popular with the press due to its reference to a beer company. Les Harrison and his brother Jack initiated a citywide competition to come up with ideas for a new name. The competition was won by fifteen year-old Richard Paeth who suggested the name “Royals”. In his essay, Richard asked “what could be more fitting than ‘Royals’ as a name for the team Les Harrison is going to send out to bring the crown to Rochester?” The Royals set out to do just that and brought the NBL crown home in their very first season.

The Royals’ most Notable Players

Bob Davies played for the Royals from 1945 to 1955. He was a great scorer, regularly recording season totals on the upper hundreds and twice scoring more than a thousand points. He was instrumental in their 1951 NBA Finals triumph by scoring three last minute free throws in game 7 against the New York Knicks, effectively winning the Royals the title. During his ten years with the Royals he scored a total of 7770 points and made 2250 assists.

Bobby Wanzer joined the Royals in 1947 and formed a formidable partnership with Davies which helped the team win the 1951 NBA title. Between 1947 and 1957, he scored 6924 points and 1830 assists for Rochester.

Arnie Risen joined Rochester in 1948, completing a formidable trio with fellow Hall of Famers Davies and Wanzer. He scored 1077 points and 158 assists during their NBA title winning 1950/51 season. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1998.

What Happened to the Rochester Royals?

Despite being one of the best teams in the league, the Royals suffered a fate that was common with small town teams in that era. The city of Rochester could not provide a large enough fan base to support the team financially in the face of rising player wages and the restriction of exhibition games. With this in mind and with increasing pressure from the NBA, Harrison decided to relocate the team to Cincinnati despite having built a new stadium two years earlier. The team was renamed Cincinnati Royals and the franchise is still in existence today in the form of the Sacrament Kings.

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