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Passings | Joe Axelson

NBA manager led Royals, Kings

June 03, 2008|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Joe Axelson, 80, a former executive and general manager for the Cincinnati Royals who remained with the NBA team when the franchise moved first to Kansas City-Omaha and became the Kings, then later to Sacramento, died Saturday at his home in Coronado, his family said. The cause of death was not immediately determined.

Axelson received the NBA's first executive-of-the-year award, in 1973 as GM of the Kansas City-Omaha Kings.

During his career with the Royals-Kings franchise, he was responsible for some controversial trades, including sending Oscar Robertson to Milwaukee in 1970 after Robertson squabbled with coach Bob Cousy and asked to leave Cincinnati. The Royals had to settle for Charlie Paulk and Flynn Robinson in the trade.

Axelson at other times traded away Jerry Lucas, Nate Archibald and Norm Van Lier.

Axelson spent 10 years with the Royals-Kings franchise, left in 1979 for a position in the league office, then returned to Kansas City in 1982. The team moved to Sacramento in 1985.

Among his moves as president of the Kings in Sacramento was to hire former Boston Celtics great Bill Russell as coach. Russell previously had coached at Boston and Seattle but had been out of coaching for 10 years. The Kings foundered, Russell didn't last a full season before being moved into the front office, and Axelson was demoted to vice president in charge of business operations.

Axelson was born on Christmas Day, 1927, in Peoria, Ill. He earned a bachelor's degree from Northwestern University in 1949, then joined the Army, serving in the Signal Corps.

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