Born: April 1957 – The Rochester Royals relocate to Cincinnati.
Moved: 1972 (Kansas City-Omaha Kings)
Arena: Cincinnati Gardens
- 1957-1958: Lester Harrison & Jack Harrison
- 1958-1963: Thomas E. Wood
- 1963-1969: Louis M. Jacobs, et al.
- 1969-1972: Max Jacobs, Jeremy Jacobs, et al.
The NBA came to Cincinnati in the spring of 1957 when long-time Rochester Royals owners Lester and Jack Harrison moved their franchise to the Queen City.
One of the brightest stars on Cincinnati’s new team was 24-year old All-Star Maurice Stokes. The Rochester Royals drafted Stokes with the #2 overall pick in the 1955 NBA Draft out of St. Francis. The 6′ 7″ power forward won NBA Rookie-of-the-Year honors for 1956 and was named a league All-Star in each of his first three seasons.
On March 12, 1958 the Royals played the Minneapolis Lakers on the road. It was the final regular season game for the Royals’ debut season in Cincinnati. Stokes drew a foul on a drive to the hoop and had his legs taken out from under him. He crashed to the ground, banging his head on the court in the process. Stokes managed to finish the game and then suited up for the Royals again three nights later for a first round playoff contest with the Detroit Pistons. After the game, Stokes began vomiting in the Detroit airport. He managed to board the Royals’ plane but his condition deteriorated quickly. By the time the plane landed in Cincinnati, Stokes couldn’t move or speak. He was transported to a Cincinnati hospital and later diagnosed with post-traumatic encephalopathy as a result of his head injury in the Lakers game.
Stokes remained largely unable to move his limbs or speak for the rest of his life. His Royals teammate Jack Twyman petitioned the court to become Maurice Stokes’ legal guardian. Twyman was 23 years old at the time, eleven months younger than his ward. For the remainder of Stokes’ life, Twyman attended to his friend and raised money for his round-the-clock medical care. Twyman’s efforts included the annual “Stokes Game” fundraiser in the Catskills resort town of Monticello, New York. Maurice Stokes died of a heart attack in 1970 at age 36.
Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Royals nearly moved back to Rochester at the end of their first season in Cincinnati. The Harrison brothers struck a deal to sell the franchise to Rochester businessman Norman Shapiro in March 1958. But the NBA vetoed the sale, not wishing to see the team return to upstate New York. The Harrisons sold the team instead to Cincinnati businessman Thomas E. Wood. The Royals’ ownership would remain in flux for most of the 1960’s. Wood died in 1961 and majority interest in the Royals was held by his estate until 1963. Louis Jacobs acquired controlling interest in the Royals and their home arena, Cincinnati Gardens, in the spring of 1963. Jacobs himself then passed away in 1968, bequeathing the team to his sons Max and Jeremy.
Following the Stokes tragedy in 1958, the Royals re-stocked in the early 1960’s with the arrival of Oscar Robertson (University of Cincinnati) and Jerry Lucas (Ohio State) in the NBA’s territorial draft.
Cincinnati Royals Programs
Footage from the Maurice Stokes All-Star benefit game in Monticello, New York in 1959.
Maurice Stokes died of a heart attack on April 6, 1970 at age 36.
Guard George King (Royals ’57-’58) passed on October 5, 2006 at age 78.
Jack Twyman passed away from cancer on May 31, 2012. He was 78 years old.
Point guard Flynn Robinson (Royals ’66-’67 and ’70-’71) died of multiple myeloma on May 23, 2013 at age 72.
“The Stokes Game“, Bryan Curtis, Grantland, August 16, 2013