The CLEVELAND CAVALIERS basketball team was organized by Nick Mileti and admitted to the National Basketball Assn. in 1970, along with the Buffalo Braves and the Portland Trail Blazers. With the league expansion, the Eastern and Western conferences were subdivided into 2 divisions with the Cavs part of the Central Division of the Eastern Conference. The team opened their first season with a group of players selected in the expansion and college drafts and finished in last place with a 15-67 won-lost record. They played their home games at the CLEVELAND ARENA until 1974, when they moved to the Coliseum, built by Mileti in Richfield. With experience, the Cavs improved their record, winning their first division title and their first playoff spot in 1976, but they lost to the Boston Celtics in the semifinals. Mileti sold the team to Ted Stepien in 1980. Inexperienced at operating a professional basketball franchise, the Cavaliers' new owner was criticized during his 3-year reign for making questionable trades and numerous changes in the coaching staff; in the 1981-82 season, the Cavs finished 15-67. After losing about $15 million in 3 years, Stepien sold the team to George and Gordon Gund. Although the team made the playoffs in 1985, the new owners sought changes in 1986, hiring Wayne Embry as general manager and Lenny Wilkens as head coach. The franchise stabilized under Embry and Wilkens, and led by center Brad Dougherty and guard Mark Price, the 1991-92 team defeated the New Jersey Nets and the Boston Celtics before losing to the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference final. Wilkens, who resigned after the 1993-94 season, compiled a 316-258 record during his 7 years as coach and took the team to the playoffs 5 times and to the Eastern Conference final in 1992. Mike Fratello replaced him as head coach 17 June 1993; he coached the Cavs to the playoffs in 1994 and 1995. The Cavs moved from the Coliseum to the Gateway Gund Arena prior to the 1994-95 season.
Fratello's defensive style of coaching did not endear him to Cleveland's fans and sportswriters. When the average attendance sagged to 14,120 in the 1999 season, Fratello was blamed. At the end of the season, Gordon Gund fired Fratello. Fratello posted a modest 248-212 record in his tenure as the Cavaliers coach. He led the team to the playoffs in 1994, 1995, 1996, and 1998; however he failed to lead the team past the first round in each of these years. On the same day Fratello was fired, Wayne Embry stepped down as general manager, handing the reins of the team over to his hand-picked successor, Jim Paxson. While with the Cavaliers, Embry was twice named the NBA Executive of the Year, in 1992 and 1997. He directed the Cavaliers to the playoffs 9 out of his 13 years in Cleveland. On 7 July 1999, Jim Paxson hired Randy Wittman to replace Mike Fratello as head coach. Wittman's first year did not go well as the Cavaliers went a disappointing 31-50. A similarly dismal record was posted in 2000-2001, when the Cavs went 30-52. At the close of the season, Randy Wittman was fired and replaced by John Lucas, who previously held head coaching positions in Philadelphia and San Antonio, and most recently was an assistant coach for the Denver Nuggets. Lucas' first year was less than auspicious, as the team finished with a 29-53 record.
Celebrating their thirtieth season, the Cavaliers honored the all-time Cavs team as voted by the fans on 15 April 2000. Bingo Smith, Austin Carr, Nate Thurmond, Jim Chones, Campy Russell, World B. Free, Mark Price, Larry Nance, Brad Daugherty, Hot Rod Williams, Terrell Brandon, and Sean Kemp were selected to the team.
The Cavaliers' fortunes reversed when they acquired the first pick in the 2003 NBA Draft Lottery, giving them the ability to draft Akron native LeBron James. The Cavaliers switched their colors to wine and gold (with a blue alternative uniform), and hired yet another new head coach, Paul Silas. The addition of LeBron James made an immediate impact, as the Cavaliers won eighteen more games during the 2003-2004 season than their previous year, and finished two games above .500 the following year in 2004-05. In 2005, Quicken Loans founder and chairman Dan Gilbert acquired the team and hired Mike Brown as coach and Danny Ferry as General Manager.
In the 2005-06 season, Mike Brown and LeBron James led the team to a 50 win season. That season, the Cavaliers' won their first playoff series victory since 1992-93 against the Washington Wizards, before being defeated by the Detroit Pistons in seven games.
The following year, the Cavaliers defeated the Washington Wizards and New Jersey Nets to reach the Eastern Conference Finals, where they met the Detroit Pistons once again. Despite losing the first two games, the Cavaliers won the next two, setting up two of the most memorable games in Cavalier history. In game six, LeBron James scored 29 of his team's 30 final points, including its last 25, to defeat the Detroit Pistons in double overtime. In the the following game, rookie Daniel Gibson's thirty-one points helped the team defeat the Pistons, and advance the Cavaliers to their first NBA Finals appearance. LeBron James, however, struggled to score in the NBA Finals against the Spurs, and the Cavaliers were swept in four games.
The following season, the Cavaliers won five fewer games than the previous season, but managed to take the eventual NBA Champion Boston Celtics to seven games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The following off-season, the Cavaliers added point guard Mo Williams, who finally gave the Cavaliers a much-needed scorer to support James. The move helped the Cavaliers win an NBA-best and franchise-high sixty-six games. That year, Mike Brown was named Coach of the Year, and LeBron James was voted Most Valuable Player. After winning their first eight playoff games, the Cavaliers were defeated by the Orlando Magic in six games. The 2009-10 Cavaliers featured a revamped, starting lineup that included future Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal and two-time All Star Antawn Jamison. That season, the Cavaliers captured the best regular season record for a second straight year, and LeBron James was once again named NBA MVP. After defeating the Bulls in the first round the Playoffs and gaining a two-one series lead against the Boston Celtics, the Cavaliers lost their next three games and were eliminated from the playoffs.
That offseason, coach Mike Brown was fired and General Manager Danny Ferry resigned. Later that offseason, LeBron James announced he was joining the Miami Heat on a one-hour ESPN special which donated the proceeds to charity, Many Clevelanders were angered that the star announced his decision on national television, and had kept fans and the team in the dark about his intentions. Team owner, Dan Gilbert, sent a vitriolic letter to fans and was subsequently fined by the NBA.
The Cavaliers began a new era during the 2010-2011 season with new uniforms, and recently hired coach Byron Scott and General Manager Chris Grant. Nevertheless, the team faced injuries and disappointment. During one stretch, it lost an NBA record twenty-six consecutive games which also tied the worst losing streak for a major American sports franchise. The Cavaliers finished with a poor 19-63 record, but took some consolidation in defeating LeBron James and Miami Heat at home in their final matchup of the year.
The team obtained the first and fourth picks of the draft at the 2011 NBA Draft Lottery and selected Kyrie Irving of Duke and Tristan Thompson of Texas. The next two years showed minimal progress. During the 2010-11 season, the team only managed to win 21 games. The following year, it struggled once more and only won 24 out of 82 games, leading to Coach Byron Scott's dismissal. Scott was replaced by former Cavaliers coach Mike Brown. Despite having the first pick of the draft and obtaining center Andrew Bynum, the Cavaliers only improved to a 33-49 record. Coach Mike Brown was fired after the season. That offseason, the Cavaliers received the first pick of the NBA draft for the third time in four years. In 2014, the Cavaliers drafted Andrew Wiggins and hired David Blatt of the Euroleague as their coach. On July 11th, LeBron James announced in an essay to Sports Illustrated that he was returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Shortly afterward, the Cavaliers traded Wiggins to the Minnesota Timberwolves for all-star forward Kevin Love.
The 2014-15 season began with shaky play and numerous injuries, that at one point led to a disappointing 19 and 20 record. By mid-January of that year though, most injured players had recovered, and the Cavaliers had added additional players through beneficial trades. The Cavaliers won 34 of their remaining 43 games, and finished with the second best record in the Eastern Conference. The Cavaliers defeated the Celtics, Bulls, and Hawks to advance to the NBA Finals to face the Golden State Warriors. Injuries had plagued the team throughout the playoffs, however, and by game two, the Cavaliers were without all-star guard Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Despite taking a 2-1 series lead, the Warriors won the next three games, ending the series 4-2 in their favor.
The 2015-16 season began with high expectations and hopes of winning an NBA championship. In January of 2016, Coach David Blatt was fired, despite achieving the top Eastern Conference record at 30-11, largely without Kyrie Irving who was still recovering from an injury in last season’s playoffs. Assistant coach Tyronn Lue took over Blatt’s coaching responsibilities and the team finished the season with a 57-25 record. After eliminating the Pistons, Hawks, and Raptors, the Cavaliers advanced to the NBA Finals, setting up a re-match with the Golden State Warriors, who had won more games that season than any team in NBA history. The Cavaliers fell to a 3-1 series deficit, but won their next two games to even the series. In the final game, with the score tied, Kyrie Irving hit a key three-point shot with under a minute left to carry the team to a four-point victory.
The series was among the most notable in NBA Finals history. Prior to it, no team had overcome a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals, and only three teams had previously won an NBA Finals game seven on the road. LeBron James was also the first player to lead an NBA playoff series in scoring, assists, steals, blocks, and rebounds. Perhaps most notably, it was the first time in 52 years that a team representing the city had won a title in the country’s four most popular professional team sports leagues. On June 22nd, 2016, over a million people were estimated to have attended a victory parade in downtown Cleveland to celebrate the championship, a remarkable number considering the metropolitan area’s population of about 2.1 million people.
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Associated Press. "Cavaliers defeat Warriors in Game 7 of NBA Finals to win first championship." Fox News Sports. June 20, 2016. http://www.foxnews.com/sports/2016/06/20/cavaliers-defeat-warriors-in-game-7-nba-finals-to-win-first-championship.html.
Basketball-Reference.com. "Cleveland Cavaliers Franchise Index." Accessed June, 2016. http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/CLE/.
Basketball-Reference.com. "2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers Roster and Stats." Accessed June, 2016. http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/CLE/2015.html.
Pasko, Scott, "Cavs NBA championship parade 2016: As it happened," Cleveland.com, June 24, 2016, http://www.cleveland.com/cavs/index.ssf/2016/06/cavs_nba_championship_parade_2.html.