Kindred’s Special: The Rochester Royals–When the Sport was King in Rochester, NY

I remember the good old days when referees used their whistles for infractions of the rules, few as they were back then.  Basketball was slower by today’s standards.  Maybe that is why the Rochester Royals eventually left to take up residence in Cincinnati, Ohio.   But rules were pretty much followed which, of course, meant scores were often lower and skill at shooting came from the two-handed set shots so brilliantly done by guards Bobby Wanzer and Bobby Davies, two favorites of the fans.  Then there was Arnie Risen, perhaps one of the stellar centers of all time and rated by many old timers even today as one of the greatest in the business.  His hook shot was just part of his skill.  And the cadre of supporting talent was immense.  The team played the game by the rules and everyone contributed, so much so that the Royals won the NBA Championship in 1951.

Looking at the current championship series on TV is disheartening.  Of course there are many great players on both teams but the referees do not follow the rules strictly.  For example, the other night I saw super star after star double dribbling, carrying the ball several steps to the basket for a lay-up.  The fans love the fact that rules are meant to be broken by the stars of the game but there is something wrong when a basket made through an illegal move on the court adds to the victory and loss between two teams.  Thankfully the winning team was not the culprit.  I won’t mention the player who so often is seen bending the rules when baskets are needed to be made.  And I won’t point out the team because it serves no purpose.  The high spirit of the players have to be forgiven and the fans sure would not like to see too many whistles blown during the game.  There are enough fouls called to slow the game down and such infractions as I mention probably would destroy enjoyment for all–the teams and viewers alike.

One of the great men of the Rochester community was Bobby Wanzer.  He was born in Brooklyn.  He joined the marines (1943-46); during WWII, he was stationed at Guam in 1944 serving in both the occupation and defense against the Japanese.  After the war, he became a student at Seton Hall.

He was a star at Seton Hall University and joined the Royals where he helped them win the NBA championship in 1951.  He was recognized as one of the best ball handlers of his or any era.  He was a five-time all-star, served two years as player-coach and then as coach after the move to Cincinnati in 1957.  He returned to Rochester to take the coaching position at John Fisher College in 1962. He led the Cardinals amassing a record of 311 wins and 249 losses which spanned a 24 year career.

In 1987, he was inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame.

I met Arnie Risen when having lunch at George’s Restaurant we both frequented.  He said the Royals gave the Rochester fans a great run during an era that saw changes in how the game was played.  They played the game the way it was played during their era.  Eras change every game menu, create new stars and dynasties.  And those living those times all share a compassion and love for the pastime–BASKETBALL. 

 

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