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A Concise History of the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA Franchise

By Jennifer Hassan in NBA
| December 5, 2020 4:23 am PDT
History of Cleveland Cavaliers

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.

LeBron James

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.

Season Result
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


 Cleveland Cavaliers Head Coach History

Bill Fitch

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.

Tenure Coach Prior Experience
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


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.

Closing Thoughts

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.



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