By NICHOLAS MURRAY – firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, March 11, 2016
ROCHESTER, N.Y. – When David and Wendy Dworkin became minority owners of the Sacramento Kings in 2013, helping keep the NBA franchise in northern California, it wasn’t simply a business move.
In fact, the new owners of the Rochester Rhinos were helping preserve a piece of their family’s history.
Those who know the history of the NBA will know the Kings began their existence as the Rochester Royals, who were owned and coached by a man named Lester Harrison.
“Lester is best known for helping to integrate basketball by [signing] one of the first African-American players to play professional basketball. His name was Dolly King,” David Dworkin said.
King was signed by the Royals in 1946, which three years later joined the nascent NBA. In 1951, the Royals claimed the NBA championship with Harrison at the helm.
“Lester never married, Lester never had any children, and neither did his sister or brother,” David Dworkin said. “Because of that, Lester’s only living relatives are my mother-in-law, my wife and my two children.”
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David’s mother-in-law, and Wendy’s mother, was Harrison’s cousin Barbara. They became close, so much so that upon Harrison’s death in 1993, he bequeathed much of his memorabilia from the Royals era to David and Wendy. Among the items were Harrison’s Hall of Fame ring and jacket, and numerous collectables that Dworkin sent to the Kings to pass on pieces of the franchise’s history.
The connections he made with people in Sacramento proved key when the prospect of relocation for the Kings loomed. While it had happened before – the Royals had moved to Cincinnati in 1957, and then to Kansas City in 1972 before arriving in Sacramento in 1985 – each time the franchise had continued to sport either the Royals name, or the regal theme in the case of the Kings.
The proposed relocation to Seattle would have been different.
“In 2012 or 2013, the team was going to be relocated to Seattle, and renamed the Seattle SuperSonics,” Dworkin said. “I was bothered by it, and I ended up calling the NBA and saying ‘you can’t let this franchise move to Seattle. They’re not going to be the Seattle Kings, they’re going to be the SuperSonics, and you’re going to extinguish one of the first eight franchises in the NBA that integrated the sport, and it’s going to be a tragedy.’ I got a call back from the General Counsel of the league, and he basically said, ‘look, I never thought of it that way, but you’re right. I’m not sure it’s going to move the needle, but I’ll certainly talk about it with the Commissioner.’”
In May of 2013, when Vivek Randive purchased the ownership of the Kings from the Maloof family, the Dworkin family was reconnected with a piece of its history, and the NBA had a piece of its history preserved as well.
“Our ownership in the Sacramento Kings today reconnected this family with an existing NBA team 60 years later,” Dworkin said. “To my knowledge, our family is the only family in the NBA with their original franchise in any way, shape or form.”
With their purchase of the Rhinos, the Dworkin family is preserving a different type of history. A cornerstone of the USL for the past two decades, Rochester returned to its past glory in 2015 as it claimed the USL Championship in a thrilling overtime contest against the LA Galaxy II.
As the family assumes control of the Rhinos, the lessons the Dworkin family has learned from its sporting history are now set to be implemented as they aim to move Rochester into a new era of success.
“Sports is a business, that’s a reality, and there are many facets to it, but the most important thing I’ve learned is that a sports franchise is a community asset, and that asset is so integral to a community,” Dworkin said. “It helps jobs. It gives people a place to go for entertainment purposes. It gives people a place where they can get together and socialize. It’s a community asset, and when run properly it can do great things for a community.”
For guidance on how to execute this, the Dworkin family immediately contacted numerous teams around the USL who reached out to get the process of the Rhinos’ regeneration underway.
“The other teams in the league have really been amazing,” Dworkin said in January. “We had a 45-minute call with [OKC Energy FC’s Bob Funk], and I’ve gotten emails from a lot of other places like Sacramento saying whatever we can do to help, you let us know and we’ll do it. I’ve got to tell you, it’s been great, and it says a lot about the league when the members of the league who don’t know how I am or anything about me are reaching out to me and saying ‘what can we do to help you?’”
After a tumultuous offseason, though, Dworkin is eager for the Rhinos to make a strong defense of their championship, and remain key players in the USL for many years to come.“I want the Rhinos to be relevant as a team in the league. I want them to be in the conversation for the playoffs every year,” Dworkin said. “We may not win every year, but I want to be in that conversation every year.”