Editor’s Note: While we wait for the return of NBA basketball, we’ll be taking a look back at Kings history through the Cincinnati Royals and Kansas City days to identify the best players for each letter of the alphabet. We hope you enjoy KANGZ, A-Z.
The 1981-82 season was one of drastic change for the Kansas City Kings. In the summer of 1981, the Kings traded Otis Birdsong, their leading scorer from the season before, to the New Jersey Nets in exchange for Cliff Robinson, a 21-year-old forward with star potential.
The Kings trade Birdsong after he signed an offer sheet with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Instead of losing him for nothing, they traded him to the Nets. The Cavaliers still managed to snag one of Kansas City’s top talents in free agency, though, as they signed Scott Wedman, the team’s second-leading scorer. Suddenly, a team that made the Western Conference Finals the season before was setting up for a rebuild.
Luckily for the Kings, they had 12 picks in the 10-round NBA Draft, including two first-round picks. However, it was the player that they took with the No. 29 overall pick that would go on to make a name for himself in Kansas City. I’m, of course, talking about Eddie Johnson.
Johnson first made a name for himself during his sophomore year with the Fighting Illini. When Illinois hosted Michigan State in January of 1979, Johnson hit a game-winner over another famous Johnson, Earvin Johnson, who these days just goes by “Magic.”
Eddie Johnson followed his promising sophomore season with back-to-back seasons where he averaged at least 17 points and 8 rebounds per game. That combination of scoring and rebounding didn’t show up in the NBA immediately, but similar to his college career, Johnson broke out in his sophomore season in the league.
In his second season with the Kings, Johnson averaged 19.8 points per game on 49.4% shooting from the field, and a team-high 6.1 rebounds per game. Johnson also appeared in 82 games for the Kings, which is something he did three times in his four years in Kansas City.
For his career with the Kings, Johnson averaged 18.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. He’s ranked ninth on the Kings’ all-time scoring leaderboard.
But as prolific of a scorer as Johnson was, his place in Kings history has more to with his connection to the team’s history. Johnson was in his fifth season with the Kings when they relocated to Sacramento in 1985, and he made sure to make the Kings’ first season in Sacramento memorable by leading them to their first-ever playoff berth. The Kings wouldn’t made the postseason again until 1995-96 season.
There are players that have had more successful careers with the Kings than Johnson, and spent more time with the team, but Johnson, by all accounts, it the original Sacramento King.