History’s Forgotten Bust: How Sihugo Green Destroyed A Cincinnati Royals Dynasty

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The man who was drafted before Bill Russell has a six-line Wikipedia page.

He averaged 9.2 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. He didn’t top 40% from the field until his eighth NBA season. He produced fewer win shares in his career than Paul Millsap did this season.

The man who was drafted before Bill Russell was Sihugo Green, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why that happened.

The 1956 Rochester Royals did indeed have a Hall of Fame big man in Maurice Stokes, but at 6’7” he easily could’ve slid down to power forward. They also had a Hall of Fame wing, Jack Twyman, who minimized the need for a superstar guard.

It’s not as though Green was a better raw prospect either. He was a two-time All American at Duquesne, but Russell led a San Francisco team that won 55 straight games and two National Championships. He won National Player of the Year over Green in both 1955 and 1956. Russell was the greatest college basketball player in history by the time he joined the NBA. There was no argument that Green was better.

Green didn’t just cost the Royals Russell. They had the No. 1 pick in 1957 as well. With Green seemingly entrenched, they traded the pick to Minneapolis. That pick was Hot Rod Hundley, a two-time All Star. Of course, there was a far more notable guard sitting on the board as well. With the No. 8 pick, the Boston Celtics grabbed Hall of Famer Sam Jones. Had the Royals taken Russell in 1956, they almost certainly would’ve ended up with either Jones or Hundley in 1957. That would’ve given them four stars at four positions. And then there’s the point guard that brings it all together.

The Royals moved to Cincinnati in 1957. In 1960, that allowed them to use a territorial draft pick on yet another Hall of Famer, one famous for playing for underwhelming teams. But imagine what Oscar Robertson could’ve done with Russell, Stokes, Twyman and Jones? Imagine what the Cincinnati Royals could’ve been.

Yet you’ll never see Sihugo Green on any lists of the biggest busts in NBA Draft history. Nobody calls him the Sam Bowie of the 50’s, the first Darko or the miracle that created the Boston Celtics. Sihugo Green has been lost to time, an afterthought who came around too early to garner any real hatred and died before the internet had a chance to kill to him. He is the patient zero of draft bustitis, and before you read this you didn’t even know his name. I can’t blame you, before I stumbled onto this and started connecting the dots, didn’t even know his name.

It goes to show how little digging basketball fans have done on the pre-merger NBA. Here we have a defining moment in league history, a fulcrum point that creates the Celtics dynasty and destroys the Royals, and it’s never discussed simply because of the era. But at the very least, it’s a clear path for Oscar Robertson to end up on Bill Russell’s team, and it didn’t happen because the Royals felt they needed a guard and passed on Russell for Sihugo Green.

6 thoughts on “History’s Forgotten Bust: How Sihugo Green Destroyed A Cincinnati Royals Dynasty”

  1. That team would have been awesome if Stokes doesn’t have that head injury. Maybe the Royals are still in Cincinnati today (I heard that they left in 72 because of the lack of fan interest).

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    1. Yea, the implications range the entire league. Hell, maybe they never leave Rochester if Bill Russell has a great rookie year. We could have a Rochester NBA franchise in 2016, a sort of Green Bay equivalent for basketball.

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      1. In addition, there would be no Buffalo Braves, which in turn butterflies away the San Diego Clippers and Donald Sterling.

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  2. The biggest problem with Green was that he wasn’t really a guard. He was a 6’2″ forward in college. A fantastic leaper, and one of the first non big men to play above the rim, he was a spectacular player in college, and was already a streetball legend in NYC as a high schooler.

    I think what really happened here is that you had a couple of things going on. First, Duquesne had been one of the elites in college ball since the mid 30s. As a program, they had had a much higher profile than USF. Green was from Brooklyn, and NYC had long been the center of the basketball world. Duquesne was an eastern school that played in NY frequently, and usually opted to play in the NIT as opposed to the NCAAs back then. Teams with black players preferred the NIT, as the NCAA played many games in places where black players were subject to awful abuse. In that era, the NIT was still a very high profile event, and Duquesne was in the championship game Green’s first 2 years, winning in 1955. Until the late 50s, winning the NIT was as big a deal as winning the NCAAs was.

    The bottom line, is that playing out west, a lot of people didn’t get to see Bill Russell, while Green was very well known back east. If Green had been 6’5″, he’d have been a superstar in the NBA. At 6’2″, he had to become a guard, and that’s not what his skill set was. Rochester likely figured that Green would sell more tickets, as he was well known in the east. Russell was a very unique player. As he wasn’t a great scorer, other than rebounds, stats were not going to give you a good read as to what he was. You had to see him play to understand the intangibles he brought to the table, as well as his impact on defense. As scouting was pretty much a joke in all sports except baseball back then, I can see how a team could have really missed on Russell.

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    1. Thanks for the incredibly informative reply. I’ll admit I hadn’t heard of Green until I started researching this, so to hear from someone who really has a better understanding of his game is very helpful. I’d advise anyone who reads this piece to read your comment as well, it provides some very meaningful context.

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