The franchise started in 1945 as a member of the National Basketball League as the Rochester Royals. After winning the 1946 NBL title, the Royals shifted to the Basketball Association of America in 1948. They would win an NBA title in 1951, which would be the only one to date in the team's history. In 1956, the team moved to Cincinnati. In the 1960-1961 season, Oscar Robertson joined the team, and though he played brilliantly, he along with another future hall of famer Jerry Lucas could not lead the Royals to the NBA Championship and by the 1970-1971 season he left the Royals to join the Milwaukee Bucks, and in 1972, the team moved to Kansas City and renamed themselves the Kings (because of the Royals baseball franchise in the same community). For several years, the team divided its home games between Kansas City and Omaha. However, not even the talents of Nate Tiny Archibald could not change the fortunes of the team in a new town. In the 1980-1981 season, the Kings made a surprise run in the NBA Playoffs, they beat the Phoenix Suns in the divisional playoffs before they were eliminated by the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals.
The Kings moved west to their current home of Sacramento in 1985. Much of their early tenure in Sacramento was spent as the NBA's bottom dwellers, making playoffs only one time between 1985 and 1995. Some of their early lack of success was attributed to poor luck, such as the virtually career-ending car crash suffered by promising point guard Bobby Hurley, and some was attributed to poor management such as the too-long tenure of head coach Garry St. Jean and the selection of "Never Nervous Pervis" Ellison with the first overall pick in the 1989 NBA Draft. The Kings finally broke through mediocrity with the draft selection of Jason Williams, the signing of Vlade Divac, and the trade of Mitch Richmond for Chris Webber prior to the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season. These acquisitions coincided with the arrival of Peja Stojakovic, who had been drafted in 1996. Each of these moves was attributed to general manager Geoff Petrie who has won NBA Executive of the Year several times.
Following these acquisitions, the Kings rose in the NBA ranks, becoming a perennial playoff contender, as well as one of the most exciting teams in the NBA. Led by new head coach Rick Adelman, and aided by former Princeton head coach and Kings assistant Pete Carril, their so-called "Princeton offense" turned heads around the league for its run-and-gun style, superb ball movement, and the team's seeming ability to score at will. The Kings led the league in average points per game year in and year out, and quickly became the NBA poster child for playing the "right" way: both successful and extremely fun to watch. Critics still found fault with the Kings, citing their poor team defense, Williams' "flash over substance" style of play leading to too many turnovers, and the lack of a big-game player, as Webber was knocked for often failing to step up his game in important matchups. Still, they quickly became NBA darlings, garnering many fans outside of California, and even around the world, many of which enjoyed Williams's amazing passing abilities and Webber's sharp all-around game. Despite their tremendous successes, they were still a young team, and were ultimately defeated by more experienced teams in the playoffs, losing to the Utah Jazz in 1999 (in a thrilling five-game matchup), and the Los Angeles Lakers in 2000. Following the 2000 season, the Kings traded starting small forward Corliss Williamson to the Toronto Raptors for defensive shooting guard Doug Christie, opening a starting spot for sharpshooter Stojakovic. In 2001, they won their first playoff series in the Webber era, defeating the Phoenix Suns 3-1, before being swept in four games by the Lakers, who went on to win the NBA championship.
In July of 2001, Petrie traded starting point guard Jason Williams to the Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies for point guard Mike Bibby. The trade solved needs on both sides: the Grizzlies, which were in the process of moving to Memphis, wanted an exciting, popular player to sell tickets in their new home, while the Kings, an up-and-coming team, seeked more stability and control at the point guard position. Although questioned by some Kings fans at the time, NBA officials and experts proclaimed Bibby as the better (if less exciting) player in the deal, as well as a better leader, having led the Arizona Wildcats to an NCAA championship in 1998. This move was complemented by the crucial re-signing of Webber to a maximum-salary contract, securing the star power forward for years to come.
With the solid and steady Bibby as their new floor leader, rising star Stojakovic at the wing, Webber providing all-star numbers nightly, and a talented bench led by the energetic Bobby Jackson, the Kings continued their dramatic rise in the NBA ranks, both in the standings, finishing the 2002 season with the league's best record (61-21), and with the fans, gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2001, with the title "The Greatest Show On Court", at the height of their popularity. In fact, the only team that could compete with the success and popularity of the Kings was their in-state rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers, who were thriving with their superstar tandem, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.
The recurring playoff encounters between the Kings and Lakers, coupled with the elite status of both teams, their contrasting styles of play (team play vs. individual superstars) and personality (small-town underdogs vs. Hollywood ego), their geography (Northern California vs. Southern California), their respective cities' roles to the state (state capital vs. largest city), as well as some undeniable bad blood between the teams, led to a full fledged rivalry between the two teams. This rivalry reached its apex in the 2002 Western Conference Finals, in which the Kings and Lakers endured a grueling seven-game series considered to be one of the greatest series in NBA history. The Kings were the division champions and held the best record in the league, while the Lakers were the two-time defending champions. While the Kings put up an incredible effort, winning three games, cementing their status as NBA elite, and giving rise to a new playoff hero in Bibby, it was the Lakers who ultimately won the series by way of an incredible game-winning three-pointer by Robert Horry in Game 4, and arguably the most questionable officiating in NBA history in Game 6, which included giving the Lakers an unprecedented 27 (compared to the Kings' 9) free throw attempts in the fourth quarter alone, as well as a critical late-game foul on Bibby on a play in which Bibby was elbowed in the face by Bryant and knocked to the floor with a bloody nose. The officiating left a black mark in an otherwise supremely entertaining series, leaving many Kings and NBA fans in shock and outrage, including consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who wrote a letter to the NBA demanding a review of the game, and Washington Post sports writer Michael Wilbon, who wrote simply, "I have never seen officiating in a game of consequence as bad as that in Game 6." The Lakers carried their momentum into Game 7, defeating a visibly shaken Kings team in overtime, as the Kings missed nearly half (14) of their free throw attempts (30) during the game.
After winning another division championship in 2003, the Kings lost Webber to a knee injury in the playoffs, ultimately losing to the Dallas Mavericks in a seven game series. Webber's knee required major surgery, and his questionable mid-season return in 2004, in which he visibly lost much of his explosiveness and agility, led to a playoff defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Timberwolves in seven games.
The 2004-05 season marked another season of dramatic change for the Kings, who lost three of their starters from the 2002 team. In the offseason of 2004, Divac opted to sign with the rival Lakers, giving Miller a starting spot at center. Early into the season, Christie was traded to the Orlando Magic for shooting guard Cuttino Mobley. But the greatest change came in February, when Webber was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers for three relatively unheralded forwards: Williamson, Kenny Thomas, and Brian Skinner. The Kings ultimately lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Seattle Supersonics. The 2005 offseason continued the team transformation, with the Kings trading Jackson to the Grizzlies for oft-troubled shooting guard Bonzi Wells, and signing all-star power forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim, and the 2005 mid-season was marked by the trading of Peja Stojakovic to the Indiana Pacers for superstar player and superstar headcase Ron Artest. With only one player (Bibby) remaining from the 2002 team, this effectively ended an era consisting of the most prolific seasons in Kings history, from 1998-2004.
- The Kings' uniform colors are similar to those of the National Hockey League's Los Angeles Kings.
- They are the brother team to the Sacramento Monarchs.
Players of note
- Nate Archibald (Kansas City/Omaha)
- Jerry Lucas (Cincinnati)
- Oscar Robertson (Cincinnati)
- Maurice Stokes (Rochester/Cincinnati)
- Jack Twyman (Rochester/Cincinnati)
Not to be forgotten:
- Doug Christie
- Vlade Divac
- Otto Graham (Rochester)
- Bobby Jackson
- Mitch Richmond "The Rock"
- Lionel Simmons "The L-Train"
- Wayman Tisdale
- Spud Webb "The Spudster"
- Chris Webber
- Jason Williams
- Dwayne Schintzius
- Duane Causwell
- Pete Chilcutt "The Chilidog"
- Evers Burns
- Randy Brewer
- Peja Stojakovic
- 1 Nate Archibald, G, 1970-76 (1970-72 Cincinnati, 1972-76 Kansas City)
- 2 Mitch Richmond, G, 1991-98 (only Sacramento player as yet honored)
- 6 (Sixth Man) - The Fans of Sacramento, 1985-present
- 11 Bob Davies, G, 1948-55 (all in Rochester)
- 12 Maurice Stokes, F, 1955-58 (career-ending injury in team's first season in Cincinnati)
- 14 Oscar Robertson, G, 1960-70 (all in Cincinnati)
- 27 Jack Twyman, F, 1955-66 (1955-57 in Rochester, 1957-66 in Cincinnati)
- 44 Sam Lacey, C, 1970-81 (1970-72 in Cincinnati, 1972-81 in Kansas City)