The Oldest Franchise In The NBA Was Founded 100 Years Ago

With 30 teams in the NBA — some new, some old — and hints of an expansion to 32 teams percolating in the air following a recent talk with NBA commissioner Adam Silver (on Twitter), there's loads of basketball history for hardcore fans and casual viewers to dig into. For instance, History tells us that the NBA formed in 1949 from the fusion of two different leagues: the Basketball Association of America (BAA) and National Basketball League (NBL). The BAA was relatively new at the time — it formed in 1946 — but NBA Hoops Online says that the NBL dates back to 1938. Before this, the NBL started as the Midwest Basketball Conference in 1935. The oldest, still-living basketball team goes back 12 years earlier than that: the Sacramento Kings. 

Back in 1923, however, the Kings weren't the Kings. The team has gone through a tremendous amount of name and location changes over the years, beginning as the Rochester Seagrams named after — yes, you guessed it — Seagram's Gin. The Seagram and Son's distillery sponsored the team in its early days, which allowed them to stay afloat at a time when teams were expected to fold within two or three years, per NBA Hoops Online. In 1943 they became the Eber Seagrams, in '44 the Rochester Pros, in '45 the Rochester Royals, in '57 the Cincinnati Royals, in '72 the K.C.-Omaha Kings, in '75 the Kansas City Kings, and in '85 finally the Sacramento Kings.

The Kings' long reign

The Sacramento Kings — born the Rochester Seagrams in 1923 — survived a full 26 years before the NBA existed. One hundred years ago the U.S. didn't have any kind of unified professional basketball league. There were just a bunch of independent, semi-professional teams who got together to play standalone games. NBA Hoops Online tells us that come 1945, many of the most talented players on independent teams were leaving to join the National Basketball League (NBL). To keep their roster, the Rochester Pros (the King's name at that point) converted their team to a professional club and joined the NBL. They stayed in Rochester, but changed their name to the Royals, and stayed the Royals even when they moved to Cincinnati in 1957. 

The 1930s and '40s were volatile years for the NBL, as Retro Seasons show us. Some teams cropped up and vanished in a year. Some lasted years and then died out. Many folded because their players got consolidated into new NBA teams. But by some miracle, the future Sacramento Kings not only survived this time period to make it all the way to the present but they also thrived. The team's few years in the NBL — before the NBL joined with the Basketball Association of America (BAA) to form the NBA in 1949 — proved to be the most successful in the club's history. They won the league championship their first year in the NBL, and made it to the finals the next two.

The few that remain

Retro Seasons shows us a full list of other, pre-NBA teams that existed in basketball's old days, two of which the reader will instantly recognize: the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks. These teams both formed in 1946 and are the only two teams from that era to change neither name nor location in the intervening decades. Other teams changed names and locations, but still survived: the Syracuse Nationals became the Philadelphia 76ers, the Philadelphia Warriors became the Golden State Warriors, the Minneapolis Lakers became the Los Angeles Lakers, the Fort Wayne Pistons became the Detroit Pistons, and the Tri-Cities Blackhawks became the Atlanta Hawks. The Sacramento Kings, however — being the oldest team — have not only changed their moniker four times but their location five times. That's the most out of any team in NBA history, as NBA Hoops Online says.

But despite existing for so long, the Sacramento Kings haven't exactly been the most successful team in NBA history. Whether by luck of the draw come draft time, funding issues, team dynamics, etc., Retro Seasons tells us they've gone to the finals only five times over nearly 100 years. Three of those times, as mentioned, happened in a row from 1946 to '48 in the NBL. They were also NBA champions in 1951, but haven't even made it to the playoffs since 2005. Here's hoping that basketball's oldest royalty makes a comeback in the near future.