Sports2022 NBA All Star Weekend


The humble beginnings of the Cleveland Cavaliers and a look at the team's transformation

Posted at 6:29 PM, Feb 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-18 18:54:32-05

CLEVELAND — This may be the NBA’s 75th Anniversary but for more than two-thirds of that time, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been there as part of it. The Cleveland Cavaliers of 2022, the game they play and the palace they play it in, are a far cry from the humble beginnings at the old Arena on Euclid Avenue.

It was a building owned in 1970 by Nick Mileti who was looking for dates to fill beyond his main tenant, the Cleveland Barons hockey team, when the opportunity arose to land an NBA expansion team. It was a franchise that would come into the Association with a whimper under Coach Bill Fitch, losing its first 15 games. But losing in 1970, though would lead to winning something in '71, the number one overall pick in the NBA Draft.

The Cavaliers would use it to select Austin Carr, the Notre Dame standout who would go on to be known as “Mr. Cavalier.” Carr became a key piece in the building of the first Cavaliers team to make the playoffs. Something they would do a year after moving into their new home in Richfield, the site of what would become known as the "Miracle of Richfield," a playoff series win against the Washington Bullets in 1976.

The playoff series win was a franchise first and unfortunately last for a period of the next 16 years. A span that included the disastrous 1980 to '83 reign of new owner Ted Stepien, who proceeded to trade the Cavalier's future 1st round picks in the '83, '84, '85 and '86 to the Dallas Mavericks. Picks that they would use to build the team that went to the Western Conference Finals in 1988.

His actions would force the league to put in place the “Stepien Rule” that prohibited teams from trading or selling first-round picks in consecutive years. After a tumultuous three years and a threatened move of the team to Toronto, Mileti sold the team to the Gund Family, which at the time owned the Coliseum in 1983.

Gordon Gund would become the face of the team and with draft picks, the league allowed the team to buy to get out of its Stepien induced hole, they began to build a roster that would make the playoffs six out of seven seasons starting in '88. The talented team though would be sent packing by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls five of those times, the most painful of which the last-second buzzer-beater at home in '89 known simply as "the shot." Jordan’s last-second buzzer-beater at the Coliseum.

It's a pall that would hang over the franchise until they bottomed out in 2003. The worst record in the NBA again led them to a first-round pick on May 22, 2003, when the lottery balls fell the franchise’s way landing them the number one overall pick. It would be the most obvious and impactful draft pick in recent memory. The kid from Akron, LeBron James who would lead the team back to the playoffs in his third year and to the NBA Finals his fourth, losing in four straight to San Antonio.

Despite the regular-season success, the next three seasons there was postseason disappointment that followed and then in the summer of 2010 those nine words. "I'm going to take my talents to South Beach,” James would tell a national audience.

In his absence, the Cavs would struggle to make the playoffs but by 2014 with Kyrie Irving as the team's star, James reversed his decision returning home to lead the team to the success in the playoffs that evaded the team in his first run. Four straight NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors including the moment etched in the hearts of Cleveland sports fans forever, the improbable comeback from a 3-1 deficit in 2016 to upset the Warriors.

It is the high watermark in the history of this franchise and in the memory of its fans making the pain of another James' departure less stinging in 2018. Four years later, though, this generation of Cavs is poised to write its own chapter, on their own terms, in the history book of this franchise. One we all look forward to reading but first witnessing in the months and years ahead.

Download the News 5 Cleveland app now for more stories from us, plus alerts on major news, the latest weather forecast, traffic information and much more. Download now on your Apple device here, and your Android device here.

You can also catch News 5 Cleveland on Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, YouTube TV, DIRECTV NOW, Hulu Live and more. We're also on Amazon Alexa devices. Learn more about our streaming options here.