Rochester, like other cities of its size, hosted barnstorming teams. One of the most prominent, the Seagrams, was founded in 1923 by Les Harrison and sponsored by the Eber Brothers and Seagrams liquor companies. The Seagrams twice competed at the invitational Chicago’s World Professional Basketball Tournament, in 1940 and 1941. Though they lost in early rounds both times, their invitation to the tourney was an indication of their rising national profile. The Seagrams moved into the 4,200 seat Edgerton Park Sports Arena in 1943-44, and become known as the Rochester Pros. They played against nationally known barnstorming teams, including the Harlem Globetrotters.
When an NBL expansion franchise became available, Harrison jumped at the opportunity. He purchased the franchise rights for $25,000 in 1945, transforming the semi-pro Rochester Pros to the professional Rochester Royals in the process. A local 15 year old, Richard Paeth, suggested the new moniker in a naming contest: “Webster defines Royals as ‘pertaining to a king or crown…’ What could be more fitting than this as a name for the team Les Harrison is going to send out to bring the crown to Rochester?”
The city did not have to wait long for that crown. The Royals won the NBL title in 1945-46, behind the powerful play of future Hall of Famers Al Cervi, Bob Davies, and Red Holzman. The team claimed the division title in 1946-47 and 1947-48, staking their claim to being one of the powerhouse franchises of professional basketball.
The Royals sold out their games at Edgerton, but it was a very small arena, To supplement their income, Harrison scheduled exhibition games on the league’s off days, an important source of revenue for the franchise. As Holzman recalled, “(In 1945-46) we must have played a hundred exhibition games in addition to 34 league games.” All those games pushed the club into the black, allowing Harrison to keep the club profitable.