Champ Among Kings

Bill Calhoun Was There When Franchise Won It All

By R.E. Graswich
November 2018

Bill Calhoun has vivid memories from his NBA career. He remembers when the league created the rule to stop goaltending. He remembers when they introduced the 24-second shot clock.

And he remembers the last time the Kings franchise won a championship. He played forward for the Rochester Royals.

The year was 1951. The team that would become the Sacramento Kings beat the New York Knicks for the NBA title. The Kings haven’t touched a championship since.

“The town was pretty excited, but fans were nothing like they are today,” Calhoun says. “We had a 4,000-seat arena, and they filled it for every game, but they didn’t go crazy.”

Calhoun turns 91 this month. He walks every day in his Reno neighborhood despite bad knees and recent heart surgery. He feels pretty good, considering. Calhoun and Frank “Pep” Saul are the last surviving members of the Royals’ championship team. Saul is 94 and endures with Alzheimer’s.

Nobody expected the Royals to beat the Knicks in 1951.

Nobody believed they were talented enough to reach the championships.

To advance to the final round, the Royals upset the Minneapolis Lakers and George Mikan—a remarkable center whose skills inspired the goaltending rule and 24-second clock. Calhoun played every minute in the series and guarded Jim Pollard, NBA Hall of Fame forward from Stanford.

“I shut him down,” Calhoun says. “I neutralized him.”

In those days, the Royals were like the Kings. They were stars in their home town, but ignored elsewhere. The best players didn’t want to work in the backwater of upstate New York. Calhoun didn’t mind. A kid from San Francisco, he was 19 when the Royals signed him.

“I never heard of the NBA before that,” he says. “I showed up in Rochester dressed in California clothes. Everybody else had suits, ties and those hats Easterners used to wear. I stuck out.”

Unlike the Kings, the 1951 Royals had something special—chemistry. Calhoun was a defensive wizard. Bobby Wanzer could score from the perimeter. Arnie Risen was fearless around the basket. Arnie Johnson was a fine rebounder. Red Holzman was a natural leader. And Bob Davies was an exquisite playmaker.

“We all got along and our talents complimented each other,” Calhoun says. “A great group of guys.”

Calhoun was paid $2,000 for the playoffs and championship. Soon afterward, he was traded to Baltimore. He played four more years with Syracuse and Milwaukee.

Today, he follows the Golden State Warriors, not the Kings. He says, “I have no interest in seeing a game that has no meaning. I love the Warriors. They come running down with four guys, each of them has a shot, and they pass the ball.”

His favorite Kings team, aside from the 1951 squad, was the 2002 team that almost beat the Lakers in the West Conference Finals.

“I loved that team,” the old champ says. “When I saw Vlade Divac make back-door passes, and when I saw their guards playing defense, I knew they were something special.”

R.E. Graswich can be reached at reg@graswich.com.

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