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A Concise History of the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA Franchise
Cleveland is such a thriving sports city now that it’s tough to remember a time when the NBA—or any major league—had to be convinced to grant the city a team.
However, very few things can stop one committed person, and professional basketball came to Cleveland in the form of the Cavaliers.
Cavaliers History Overview
To buy the Cavaliers, the founding group had to pay nearly $4 million, back in 1970. Nowadays the team is worth $1.5 billion, according to Forbes.
The team has made several trips to the NBA finals, defeating the Warriors in 2016 to take the title and make Cleveland proud.
Here is the team’s history.
Who Founded the Cavaliers?
Although the city where an NBA franchise team is located is deemed to have “won” the franchise from the league, there is always one or more committed investors that work tirelessly to bring the team to their city.
In the case of Cleveland and the Cavaliers, this individual was Nick Mileti. He was so passionate about bringing professional sports to Cleveland, that at one time he owned the Cleveland Indians, the Cavaliers, the professional ice hockey team the Cleveland Crusaders, and even the Cleveland Arena.
It is Mr. Mileti—lawyer, author and sports fanatic—that corralled a group of locals to invest in the Cavaliers franchise. They were successful in convincing the NBA that Cleveland was ripe for hosting a successful professional basketball franchise, and the Cavaliers began play in 1970.
When Did the Cavaliers Join the NBA?
Although other NBA teams played for other leagues, such as the BAA and the ABA, before joining the NBA, the Cavaliers did not.
As a franchise team, the Cavaliers never played outside of the NBA. Therefore, the team did join the NBA so much as they were born within the league, in 1970.
Cavaliers Playoff History
Four back to back trips to the NBA finals in the seasons from 2015 through 2018 is significant, win or lose. Particularly since the team hadn’t been in the playoffs at all in the preceding four years. In this period, US sportsbooks were on fire with Cavaliers action.
Of course, LeBron James had just returned to the team in the 2014-15 season, coinciding perfectly with the Cavs’ four-year breakout streak that took the team to the finals in consecutive years, and always to face the Warriors.
Coincidence? I think not.
The Cavs had only made it to the NBA finals once before, in 2007, when they could not take a game against the Spurs and lost the series 4 – 0.
But they had had a taste of making it all the way, and now that they knew they could do it, it was only a matter of time before they returned.
|1975 – 1976||Lost to Celtics in conference finals, 4 – 2|
|1976 – 1977||Lost to Bullets in opening round, 2 – 1|
|1977 – 1978||Lost to Knicks in opening round, 2 – 0|
|1984 – 1985||Lost to Celtics in opening round, 3 – 1|
|1987 – 1988||Lost to Bulls in opening round, 3 – 2|
|1988 – 1989||Lost to Bulls in opening round, 3 – 2|
|1989 – 1990||Lost to Sixers in opening round, 3 – 2|
|1991 – 1992||Lost to Bulls in conference finals, 4 – 2|
|1992 – 1993||Lost to Bulls in conference semi-finals, 4 – 0|
|1993 – 1994||Lost to Bulls in opening round, 3 – 0|
|1994 – 1995||Lost to Knicks in opening round, 3 – 1|
|1995 – 1996||Lost to Knicks in opening round, 3 – 0|
|1997 – 1998||Lost to Pacers in opening round, 3 – 1|
|2005 – 2006||Lost to Pistons in conference semi-finals, 4 – 3|
|2006 – 2007||Lost to Spurs in NBA finals, 4 – 0|
|2007 – 2008||Lost to Celtics in conference semi-finals, 4 – 3|
|2008 – 2009||Lost to Magic in conference finals, 4 – 2|
|2009 – 2010||Lost to Celtics in conference semi-finals, 4 – 2|
|2014 – 2015||Lost to Warriors in NBA finals, 4 – 2|
|2015 – 2016||Defeated the Warriors in NBA finals, 4 – 3|
|2016 – 2017||Lost to Warriors in NBA finals, 4 – 1|
|2017 – 2018||Lost to Warriors in NBA finals, 4 – 0|
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Cleveland Cavaliers Head Coach History
The Cavaliers’ first coach, Bill Fitch, is considered one of the top 10 NBA coaches in the history of the league. He stayed with the young team for nearly a decade, and yet it still took the Cavs several seasons to make it to the NBA playoffs (although when they did arrive, they made it all the way to conference finals).
This is testament to how difficult it is to get the ball rolling with a new team. The players were new to Cleveland, as were many of the staff. They had arena issues to figure out, housing issues, the players had to learn to get along and have synergy on the court, and coach Fitch had to develop an understanding of the inner workings of each and every play.
When you see a well-oiled machine winning its way through the season, consider how many variables there are that must cooperate to make that happen.
|1970 – 1979||Bill Fitch||Univ. of Minnesota coach|
|1979 – 1980||Stan Albeck||Lakers asst. coach|
|1980 – 1981||Bill Musselman||Virginia Squires coach|
|1981||Don Delaney||Kirtland High School coach|
|1981||Bob Kloppenburg||SuperSonics asst. coach|
|1981 – 1982||Chuck Daly||76ers asst. coach|
|1982||Bill Musselman||see above|
|1982 – 1984||Tom Nissalke||Jazz coach|
|1984 – 1986||George Karl||Nuggets coach|
|1986||Gene Littles||player, Kentucky Colonels|
|1986 – 1993||Lenny Wilkens||Hawks coach|
|1993 – 1999||Mike Fratello||Knicks asst. coach|
|1999 – 2001||Randy Wittman||Timberwolves asst. coach|
|2001 – 2003||John Lucas||76ers coach|
|2003||Keith Smart||Fort Wayne Fury coach|
|2003 – 2005||Paul Silas||Hornets coach|
|2005||Brendan Malone||Raptors coach|
|2005 – 2010||Mike Brown||Lakers coach|
|2010 – 2013||Byron Scott||Hornets coach|
|2013 – 2014||Mike Brown||see above|
|2014 – 2016||David Blatt||Dynamo Moscow coach|
|2016 – 2018||Tyronn Lue||Celtics asst. coach|
|2018 – 2019||Larry Drew||Bucks coach|
|2019 – 2020||John Beilein||Univ. of Michigan coach|
|2020 – present||J.B. Bickerstaff||Grizzlies coach|
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8 ½ Million Facebook Fans
The Cavs have more than eight million fans on Facebook, and millions more on Twitter.
These may seem like pointless statistics to the casual reader, but they are indicative of a healthy team that need not move cities or even shut down in the foreseeable future.
Although NBA teams are worth billions of dollars, all of that revenue—advertising at games, selling of merchandise, and even concession sales at the arena—rely utterly on the fan base.
Teams that cannot fill their arena, can’t make money. An unpopular team won’t sell merchandise, and expensive tickets to regular season games go unpurchased.
A healthy social media account is an important metric for any major league team, but especially the NBA, the league in which players make millions more than players in other leagues.
Two Rookies of the Year
The Cavaliers have benefitted from the presence on their roster of two different players voted Rookie of the Year by the NBA. One was LeBron James, and the other was Kyrie Irving.
LeBron James played for the Cavs from 2003 to 2010. He was 2004’s Rookie of the Year. James, while with the Cavs in 2006 he averaged 31 points and seven rebounds per game. He was elected All-Star Game MVP in 2003.
James is still an active player in the NBA, currently on the roster of the Los Angeles Lakers. So far, he has been voted to the All-Star team 16 times in 16 consecutive years. He was the league’s scoring champ in 2008, the league’s assist leader in 2020, and the Sportsperson of the Year (as determined by Sports Illustrated) twice.
Kyrie Irving wore a Cavaliers uniform from 2011 through 2017. With the team, Irving averaged more than 18 points per game in his rookie season. In this same first season with Cleveland, Irving made an impressive 40% on his three-point shots.
In his third season with Cleveland, Irving made his first triple-double (10 rebounds, 12 assists, and 21 points) in a game against the Jazz. Later that season, Irving had a 44-point game against the Bobcats.
In his career, Irving has been a six-time NBA All-Star player, and the NBA All-Star Game MVP in 2014, in addition to a number of other league honors.
The Cavaliers have had their share of high highs and low lows.
However, it is safe to say that between LeBron James and Kyrie Irving and the several other round one draft picks the team has scored, the play at the Cavs’ home arena is always worth watching.