Return of the Royals

Here’s why the NBA should consider expanding back into Cincinnati

Robert Butler

An artist’s rendering depicts what a new Cincinnati Royals arena could look like. Designed by Jacob Castle. Used with permission.

The NBA is expanding once again. After nearly 20 years, commissioner Adam Silver has made it known that the league will inevitably expand to 32 teams.

Currently, not much is known about when the league will officially announce the expansion. However, amid the rumors, several cities are considered front runners to land the 31st and 32nd NBA teams.

Seattle and Las Vegas top a lengthy list of potential suitors and are the two favorites to land new teams. International cities like Mexico City have also generated buzz for their ability to expand the NBA’s audience throughout North America.

However, one city, in particular, has been overlooked by the NBA, one that stands out among the rest, one that is a spectacle of the midwest on the banks of the Ohio River: the Queen City, Cincinnati.

The Cincinnati Royals Logo from 1971-1972. The Royals played in Cincinnati for 15 seasons before moving to Kansas City, then Sacramento.

With a rich sports history, prospering city, and an avid fan base, it’s time the NBA started taking Cincinnati seriously when considering expansion.

The Cincinnati Royals 

Why not expand into a city that has already housed an NBA team in the past?

The Cincinnati Royals, now the Sacramento Kings, were one of the original 11 NBA teams. Originating in Rochester, New York, the Royals moved to Cincinnati in 1957 and called the city home until 1972.

Tucked away in Bond Hill, the Royals played their games in the historic Cincinnati Gardens, which hosted hockey, concerts, presidential speeches, and the 1966 NBA All-Star Game.

Despite never reaching the Finals, the play of future NBA Hall-of-Famers Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas helped the Royals compete with some of the NBA’s best. The dynamic duo, along with some of their all-star teammates, faced off against a Bill Russell-led Boston Celtics that won eight championships in a row, a Philadelphia 76ers team that featured Wilt Chamberlain, and the Los Angeles Lakers led by Jerry West and Elgin Baylor.

Due to poor home attendance, the team eventually relocated to Kansas City in 1973 and then to Sacramento in 1985, where they still play today. However, regardless of how things may have turned out, there aren’t many cities vying for an expansion team that can boast their history with the NBA quite like the Queen City.

Location and City 

Cincinnati’s location at the nexus of Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana also puts it in the heart of basketball country. Situated between some of college basketball’s winningest programs and arguably the most passionate basketball fan base in the U.S., Cincinnati looks like a prime location for the NBA to expand its reach.

There have been many attempts to tap into this market, including in Louisville. Louisville, the most populous city in Kentucky, has long been rumored to be a potential landing spot for an NBA team, but its passion for the sport seemingly wasn’t enough for the NBA to pull the trigger.

However, Cincinnati could draw on this love for basketball while boasting its vast improvements and population growth.

Over the past decade, Cincinnati has invested in multiple multi-million dollar infrastructure projects, drastically improving its downtown and riverfront districts. Now a sight for sore eyes, the Queen City’s newfound liveliness has attracted the attention of thousands looking to move into and around the city.

Greater Cincinnati has also grown into one of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation, ranking 30th nationally and 1st in Ohio. Cincinnati’s population has steadily increased over the past ten years too.

Ranked No. 42 among the 100 best places to live in 2022 by Livability, Cincinnati is much different than it once was in the 70s. Thriving culturally and economically, the city would look even better with a new NBA team.


Cincinnati is home to not only three major league sports teams (Bengals, Reds, FC Cincinnati), but also one of the most loyal sports fan bases around. Attendance issues, now a thing of the past, are virtually nonexistent in modern Cincinnati sports.

Potential logo designed by Jacob Castle. Used with permission.

Through thick and thin, Cincy fans have continuously shown their support for their city and their favorite players and teams. This loyalty, coupled with the recent success of Cincinnati pro sports, has revitalized downtown Cincinnati and revived the historic sports town.

The Bengals saw their home attendance skyrocket after making a Super Bowl appearance last season. Arguably the NFL’s hottest young team, Cincinnati’s attendance increased by over 10% from last season, posting top-ten attendance numbers in the process.

Joe Burrow and company are not the only ones drawing the attention of the sports world to Cincinnati either. FC Cincinnati, one of Major League Soccer’s newest franchises, has quietly cultivated one of the most avid fan bases in the country.

Founded in 2015, FC Cincinnati found early success starting in the USL, drawing crowds of well over 20,000 fans a game. This overwhelming support for the new soccer team ultimately helped them attract the attention of the MLS, which introduced them as their 26th franchise back in 2016.

Now playing in TQL Stadium, FC Cincinnati ranked 8th this past year in home attendance and is looking to build off its playoff run last season.

Even the Reds, despite a disappointing season, averaged over 17,000 fans a game this past year, which was better than two playoff teams.

With Cincinnati sports being put back on the map, it is not unreasonable to believe that this support could be replicated for a brand-new NBA franchise.

Whether they are in the midst of a rebuild or making a playoff push, Cincinnati teams will continue to make headlines, and their fans will too.

If Adam Silver is seriously considering expanding soon, Cincinnati deserves to be brought up in those conversations. Considering the city’s impressive development and support for its professional sports teams, it would be the perfect place for a brand-new NBA franchise.