Hello Dolly!!

By Claude Johnson
Updated: March 19, 2009

NEW YORK — The Rochester Royals basketball club won the 1945-46 championship of the National Basketball League in its first season with the league.

The following year they defended their title, playing with a new edition to the team. He was William “Dolly” King, the Royals’ first African American player.

The Royals, under owner Lester Harrison, who had signed King, were a highly talented and tight-knit team of stars that included future Hall of Fame member Bob Davies, team captain Al Cervi, future Hall of Fame member and New York Knicks player and coach William “Red” Holtzman, and Andrew “Fuzzy” Levane.

Harrison himself would be enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1980, and the Royals would later join the NBA and eventually become the Cincinnati Royals, the Kansas City Kings, and then the Sacramento Kings.

When King joined the team in 1946, he seemed to fit in nicely, averaging 5 points a game coming off the bench as the Royals won their first four games.

The team certainly wanted the surrounding community to become enamored of King, as evidenced from the Royals’ official program, which had this to say:

Six feet, four inches, 215 points. That’s Dolly King, one of the latest courtsters to join the ranks of the Royals in their sophomore year in the NBL.

King, powerful, classy ex-Long island cage great, will be a freshman himself in the league, but his experience in the pro game has pitted him against about 75 percent of the talent now in the circuit.

King, who was graduated from Alexander Hamilton High School, Brooklyn, brings a brilliant basketball background to Rochester. At Long Island University, where he gained nationwide acclaim, under the tutelage of Clair Bee, Dolly captained the team and was a member of the National Collegiate quint, in 1938-’39 and 1930-’40. He also was a great football starduring LIU’s brief whirl in the grid picture.

As captain of the New York Renaissance, long one of the top colored fives of the nation, Dolly sparked the team in its drive to the 1943 world’s professional title. His presence in the lineup gave the Rens poise and steadiness. Later, with the Washington Bears, a crack contingent sponsored by a District millionaire, King scintillated in the same Chicago tournament, the Bruins snaring the crown. His performances, in fact, were so outstanding that he was named to the national pro team four consecutive seasons.

Especially adept in retrieving the ball off the boards, the giant Negro athlete since also has played with the Gruman, L.I., Wildcats [sic]. As a scoring threat Dolly can hold his own with the top courtsters in the National circuit. His real value to the team, however, is his floor work. There he is beyond reproach.

One would have had to have been happy for King, with the accomplishment of this step in his basketball journey.

Recall that it was King who, as a senior, left L.I.U. in the middle of its 1941 undefeated season in order to tour and play professionally with the Rens, who at the time were heading to Cleveland to compete in the Rosenblum Tournament and then to Chicago for the World Pro Basketball Tournament.

L.I.U. went on to win the 1941 National Invitation Tournament (N.I.T.), and this, it must be remembered, was before the N.C.A.A. and March Madness were as big as they are today.

King surely would have finished at L.I.U. and certainly would have been drafted by the N.B.L. were it not for the whites-only policy employed there and in other racially segregated leagues.

By the time the N.B.A. was formed in 1949, King was past his prime.

Keep this story in mind — Dolly King and relative opportunities then vs. now — as you follow your bracket this week.