Quick Intro: Cleveland Cavaliers History
This quick intro to Cleveland Cavaliers history beings in 1970, 22 years removed from a baseball pennant and six years removed from an NFL championship when Cleveland, Ohio, received an expansion NBA team. Fans submitted thousands of name choices to local newspapers who whittled the field down to five names. Owner Nick Mileti selected "Cavaliers" and the team colors of wine and gold.
In the Cleveland Cavaliers' first draft the team had the number one pick and selected Austin "Mr. Cavalier" Carr, who played with the team for nine years. Carr's number, 34, is one of six numbers retired in Cleveland and he remains the team's color commentator for local TV broadcasts of Cavaliers games.
The team's first playoff series, in 1976, was also the team's first year in Richfield Coliseum, a building Michael Jordan once named one of his favorite places to play. The Cavs beat the Washington Bullets 4 to 3 in the first round—in a series later dubbed the "Miracle of Richfield"—but were later eliminated by the Boston Celtics.
In 1980 the team was bought by new owner Ted Stepien and entered into several years of mismanagement. The "Stepien Rule" in the current NBA collective bargaining agreement—stating a team cannot trade first round draft picks in consecutive years—is named after this owner and his penchant for ruining the team's long term hopes of rebuilding. He quickly sold the team to George and Gordon Gund, who ushered the team into a decade of relevance.
The Gund brothers changed the team colors to the blue and burnt orange that are still so beloved by so many Clevelanders. They brought in coach Lenny Wilkins and players Mark Price, Craig Ehlo, Ron Harper, Larry Nance and Brad Daugherty to assemble a team Magic Johnson once dubbed "the team of the 90s." At the time of that comment, though, Johnson did not envision the juggernaut that Michael Jordan would become. This Cavaliers team was a perennial playoff contender—making it as far as the Eastern Conference Finals—but could never get past Jordan and his Bulls. "The Shot"—as Jordan's last second jumper over Ehlo to eliminate the Cavs from the '89 playoffs is called in Cleveland—is widely thought of as the beginning of Jordan's ascent to greatness and Cleveland repeatedly experiences it every time a Jordan highlight reel plays. In the midst of this run Harper was traded for the draft rights to forward Danny Ferry, whose ten year contract with the Cavs inspired the league to limit the length of contracts to six years in the next CBA. This team eventually succumbed to injury and the pieces were traded away, however the numbers of Price, Nance and Daugherty were all later retired by the Cavs.
The late 90s saw Mike Fratello coach a solid crew of role players—Bobby Phills, Chris Mills, Tyrone Hill and Terrell Brandon—around a declining Shawn Kemp to make repeated playoff runs and quick playoff exits. While these teams repeatedly put together solid seasons the highlight of these years will always be the drafting of fan-favorite center Zydrunus Ilgauskas.
These Cavs gave way to what would be some of the worst seasons since the Stepien years. From 1999 through 2003 the Cavaliers were consistently among the bottom-feeders of the league. Just when the Cavs were at their lowest a young phenom out of Akron—one Lebron James—was set to enter the league. Already dwelling in the league's basement, the Cavs traded away much of their young talent, including promising point guard Andre Miller. This led to securing the worst record in the league and winning the lottery to acquire James in the draft. Team colors then switched back to wine and gold.
After GM Jim Paxson frittered away up-and-coming forward Carlos Boozer, former Cavalier Danny Ferry came on as GM. Under James' leadership the team made the finals for the first time in its history in 2007 but were swept by the San Antonio Spurs. Ferry then brought in All-Stars Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison and Shaquille O'Neal making the team a consistent contender for the NBA championship.