SAN DIEGO -- Joe Axelson, 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 shifted to Sacramento, has died. He was 80.
Axelson died on Saturday at his home in Coronado, his son, David Axelson, said Sunday. 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.
Over his career with the Royals-Kings franchise, he was responsible for some controversial trades, including swapping 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.
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 part of a group that moved the franchise to Kansas City-Omaha after the 1971-72 season.
When the Kings were leaving for Sacramento, some Kansas City fans wore Joe Axelson masks to the final game at Kemper Arena. The Kings finished that 1984-85 season with a 31-51 record and averaged just 6,410 in attendance.
David Axelson said that since his father retired from basketball, he remained a devoted sports fan who followed the NBA and his lifelong favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs.
Axelson is survived by sons David and Mark; daughter Linda; and six grandchildren.