Cincinnati—birthplace of professional baseball—thrust its name into another major league sport this winter as it becomes home to an entry in the National Basketball Association. After a dozen years in Rochester, the energetic, effervescent Les Harrison has moved his beloved Royals into the Queen City of the Midwest.
No little part in plans for the future and influence in Harrison’s change of address are facilities of the new palace into which his Royals have moved. The trim and neatly compact Cincinnati Garden, with its comfortable theater-type seats and unobstructed view, will provide the homecourt for the Royals.
This move also gives the Royals territorial draft choices from a 50-mile sweep that is indeed a hotbed of basketball. Located in that area besides the fine teams turned out by George Smith at the University of Cincinnati and crosstown-rival Xavier University are Miami University and Tom Blackburn’s University of Dayton Flyers. This proximity could fill the Royal ranks with outstanding “local” stars, which in not the too-distant future could include Middletown High School’s famed Jerry Lucas.
Cincinnati, a usually conservative community sprawled over seven hills along the banks of the Ohio River, was pleasantly surprised that caution was cast aside in July, 1946 when the Cincinnati Garden Corporation not only proposed but set about constructing a winter sports arena. The Garden opened its doors to the public on February 22, 1949.
There are no holes behind which to sit your mother-in-law, and no balconies to challenge mountain climbing technique. The main roof is high enough above the court to shelter a 10-story apartment building.
The Cincinnati Garden provides close-to-action, unobstructed visibility for the 14,000 sports fans it can and has handled. Cincinnati businessman Tom Wood is president of the Garden Corporation with on the spot direction handled by soft-spoken Tom Grace, executive vice president, and Alex Sinclair, general manager.
The Garden provides the home ice for the Cincinnati Mohawks of the International Hockey League. The Garden walls have rebounded to the roar of midget racing cars; the snorts of rearing, unbroken horses; the splash of trim divers; and the solemn, sacred songs of religious groups.
Into this setting, Harrison has moved his Royals. It’ll be a young team, directed by a young coach that will represent Cincinnati in the Western Division of the NBA. At 34, Bobby Wanzer will attempt to show he’s as much of a wizard at master-minding the team from the bench as he was in his play as a guard for 10 seasons with the Royals.
Key figure in Wanzer’s projected building program is Maurice Stokes. The former St. Francis of Pennsylvania collegiate star followed his Rookie of the Year laurels earned in his first season of professional basketball by setting a new professional rebound record last season.
And this year, Stokes is going to get much needed help, especially off the boards. In a postseason trade, Harrison acquired for his Royals from the Minneapolis Lakers the 6’9” Clyde Lovellette and pro freshman Jimmy Paxson, former University of Dayton captain.
Lovellette, regarded as having one of the best scoring touches of basketball’s big men, was fifth in the league in rebounding and sixth in scoring. Big Clyde averaged almost 21 points a game.
Besides “Mighty Mo” Stokes and Paxson to flank Lovellette, the Royals have their leading scorer of last season, Jack Twyman, who is expected back from Army service in time to play a major role in Royal fortunes.
Wanzer’s strong frontline will have a pair of fine backcourt men to supplement it, if the Royals are to make an auspicious debut in their new palace. Veterans returning are former Seton Hall playmaker, Richie Regan, and ex-Western Kentucky star, Tom Marshall, who returned late last season from Army service.
Two rookies regarded as strong possibilities in the guard picture are Dick Duckett, St. John’s captain and most valuable player in the 1957 East-West Collegiate All-Star game, and Gerry Paulson, Manhattan’s scoring pacesetter and most valuable player of last December’s Holiday Festival.
Cincinnati, like Rome, is built on seven hills. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the Royals aren’t likely to be built in a single season. But Royalty has moved into a new palace—a good start on the road to additional fame and greater fortune for the Greater Cincinnati area.
[This article appeared in Sports Review’s 1958 Basketball issue. It was penned by Pepper Wilson, the Royals’ general manager.]