Cleveland Cavs | Cleveland Cavaliers History
In 1970, Nick Mileti organized the Cleveland Cavaliers, a professional basketball team that plays in the National Basketball Association. Playing in the Cleveland Arena, the team struggled during its first season, finishing last in the league, with a record of fifteen wins and sixty-seven losses.
Over the next several years, the Cavaliers improved dramatically, especially after moving to the Cleveland Coliseum, in Richfield, Ohio, in 1974. The Coliseum helped team owners to attract better players, as the players sought to play in more modern and comfortable environments.
In 1976, the Cleveland Cavaliers won the Central Division title and earned the team’s first playoff spot.
In 1980, Mileti sold the Cavaliers to Ted Stepien. The team floundered under his leadership, winning just fifteen games during the 1981-1982 season. Stepien simply did not have the necessary experience to lead the team. Financial difficulties quickly arose, causing the owner to trade the team’s most-talented and best-paid players.
In 1983, Stepien sold the Cavaliers to George and Gordon Gund. The team’s financial situation improved, as did its performance on the basketball court. The Cavaliers returned to the playoffs in 1988, under head coach Lenny Wilkens, who the Gunds hired in 1986.
The next year, the team achieved its best record, with fifty-seven wins and twenty-five losses. In 1994, the team moved from the Cleveland Coliseum to Gund Arena, in the center of downtown Cleveland. During the first part of the 1990s, the Cavaliers also made the playoffs for five consecutive years.
By the late 1990s, the team, however, faltered. From the 1998-1999 season to the 2004-2005 season, the team failed to make the playoffs. In 2006, however, the Cavaliers, led by LeBron James, returned to the NBA playoffs.
The Austin Carr Era
The following seasons saw the Cavaliers gradually improve their on-court performance, thanks to season-by-season additions of talented players such as Bobby “Bingo” Smith, Jim Chones, Jim Cleamons and Dick Snyder. The Cavaliers improved to 23–59 in their sophomore season, followed by a 32–50 record in 1972–73, and 29–53 in 1973–74.
In 1974, the Cavaliers moved into the brand-new Richfield Coliseum, located in Richfield, Ohio just south of downtown Cleveland in Summit County. The move was done as the Cleveland Arena had fallen into disrepair, and the location was chosen in an effort to draw fans in from nearby Akron and other areas of Northeast Ohio. That season, the Cavaliers finished with a 40–42 record, falling just short of a playoff berth.
“Miracle of Richfield” Season
In the 1975–76 season with Carr, Smith, Chones, Snyder, and newly acquired Nate Thurmond, Fitch led the Cavaliers to a 49–33 record and a division title. Fitch received the league’s Coach of the Year award as the Cavaliers got their first winning season, made their first-ever playoff appearance, and clinched their first Central Division Title.
In the playoffs, the Cavaliers won their series against the Washington Bullets, 4–3. Because of the many heroics and last-second shots, the series became known locally as the “Miracle of Richfield.” They won Game 7, 87–85, on a shot by Snyder with four seconds to go. But the team became hampered by injuries—particularly to Jim Chones, who suffered a broken ankle.
The Cavaliers proceeded to lose to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. It is widely believed among both Cavaliers fans and players that the “Miracle” team would have won the 1976 NBA Championship had Chones stayed healthy.
Cleveland won 43 games in both of the 1976–77 and 1977–78 seasons, but both seasons resulted in early playoff exits. After a 30–52 season in 1978–79, Fitch resigned as head coach.
1980–1983: Ownership under Ted Stepien
The following season, after going 37–45 under Fitch’s successor Stan Albeck, original owner Mileti sold his shares to Louis Mitchell who sold the shares to minority owner Joe Zingale.
In 1980, after just a few months, Zingale sold the team to Nationwide Advertising magnate Ted Stepien on April 12, 1980. Early on in his tenure, Stepien proposed to rename the team the “Ohio Cavaliers”, part of a plan that included playing their home games not just in the Cleveland area but in Cincinnati and in non-Ohio markets such as Buffalo and Pittsburgh.
He also made changes to the game day entertainment, such as introducing a polka-flavored fight song and a dance team known as “The Teddy Bears”. Stepien also oversaw the hiring and firing of a succession of coaches and was involved in making a number of poor trade and free agent signing decisions.
The result of his questionable trading acumen was the loss of several of the team’s first-round draft picks, which led to a rule change in the NBA prohibiting teams from trading away first-round draft picks in consecutive years. This rule is known as the “Ted Stepien Rule”.
The ensuing chaos had a major effect on both the Cavaliers’ on-court performance and lack of local support, going 28–54 in 1980–81 (Stepien’s first year as owner), followed by an abysmal 15–67 mark in 1981–82.
The 1981–82 team lost its last 19 games of the season which, when coupled with the five losses at the start of the 1982–83 season, constitute the NBA’s second all-time longest losing streak at 24 games.
Although the team improved its record to 23–59 the following year, local support for the Cavaliers eroded which eventually bottomed out that year by averaging only 3,900 fans a game at the cavernous (and isolated) Coliseum which seated more than 20,000.
Though Stepien eventually threatened to move the franchise to Toronto and rename it the Toronto Towers, brothers George and Gordon Gund purchased the Cavaliers in 1983 and decided to keep the team in Cleveland. As an incentive to the Gunds, NBA owners awarded the team bonus first-round picks for each year from 1983 to 1986 to help compensate for the ones Stepien traded away.
1983–1986: The Gunds Era
Shortly after purchasing the Cavaliers in 1983, the Gunds changed the team colors from wine and gold to burnt orange and navy blue. Furthermore, they officially adopted “Cavs”as a shorter nickname for marketing purposes, as it had been used unofficially by fans and headline writers since the team’s inception.
Under the coaching of George Karl, the Cavaliers failed again, and missed the playoffs, with a 28–54 record, in the 1983–84 season. The Cavaliers finally returned to the playoffs in 1985, only to lose to the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Boston Celtics in the first round. At that point, the team was in transition, led by dynamic players such as World B. Free, Roy Hinson and John Bagley.
But in 1986, Karl was fired after 66 games. Interim head coach Gene Littles guided the team the rest of the way, which saw the Cavaliers finish one game short of the playoffs.
During the seven-season period, the Cavaliers had nine head coaches: Stan Albeck, Bill Musselman, Don Delaney, Bob Kloppenburg, Chuck Daly, Bill Musselman (again), Tom Nissalke, George Karl, and Gene Littles. The only playoff appearance earned during this stretch was during the 1984–85 season under Karl, losing to the Boston Celtics in the first round in four games (1–3).