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Not All LeBron's Fault

  • Sep 11, 2012
I continue to be dumbfounded over the fact that the majority somehow believes Cleveland to be the most tortured sports city on the planet. How do you figure? The old Browns (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Cl..._to_the_Dawg_Pound.html) were one of the great dynasties in football history, and the Indians have won the World Series twice and fielded some of the best baseball teams of the past. The Cavaliers have an overall history which isn't too good, but they at least had the best player in the NBA for seven years. Even when he left, his only major crime was making a major, nationally televised spectacle out of it, something which he now believes to be a big mistake.

The Cleveland Cavaliers were created as part of the 1970 expansions, along with the Portland Trail Blazers and Buffalo Braves (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...lipped_and_Trimmed.html). In another one of those name-the-team contests, Cavaliers was chosen over Jays, Foresters, and Presidents. (Who thinks up the finalists in these competitions?) Expansion troubles, yada yada yada, 15-67 record in their first season. In 1971, they drafted Austin Carr, who had set numerous scoring records at Notre Dame, but Carr injured his leg shortly into his career and his potential never got off the ground. They did manage to improve in following years, as is the wont with expansion teams desperate for attention and victories. Players like Bingo Smith, Jim Chones, Jim Cleamons, and Dick Snyder helped them improve up to a 40-42 record by the 1974 season. The next season, the Cavaliers won the division title with a 49-33 record. Coach Bill Fitch was the NBA's Coach of the Year that season, and the Cavs played a hard first go-round in the playoffs, ejecting the Washington Bullets before losing the Eastern Conference Finals to the Boston Celtics (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-The_Big_Green_Men.html).

The Cavs did okay for the next couple of years, making the playoffs and being kicked out of the first round every time. After the 1979 season, Fitch resigned as head coach, and the original owner of the team, Nick Mileti, sold his shares of the team to Joe Zingale. After only a few months, Zingale sold the team to Nationwide Advertising magnate Ted Stepien, who mistook himself for a capable judge of basketball talent and ruined the team. Early on, Stepien tried to expand the team's fanbase by proposing to rename the team the Ohio Cavaliers and play their home games not only in Cleveland, but also in non-NBA cities like Cincinnati - them having lost the Royals some time ago - Buffalo - they having dismissed the Braves a couple of years previous to Stepien purchasing the Cavs - and Pittsburgh. Stepien was one of the first owners - if not THE first owner - to use cheerleaders, but he also introduced a polka fight song.

More importantly, Stepien hired and fired a quick succession of coaches and was involved in making many, many poor free agent signings. What he did with the draft was so bad that the NBA had to introduce a rule because of him which prohibited teams from trading away first-round draft picks in consecutive years. The chaos resulted in some of the shittiest basketball in league history, and during Stepien's short reign, the Cavaliers won 20 games only once. He lost a lot of fan support, so when he threatened to move the team to Toronto, the only two people who really took notice were brothers George and Gordon Gund. Fortunately, the Gund brothers had money, so they bought the team and kept it in Cleveland.

The Gunds didn't help a whole lot. That pretty wine and gold combination the team is known for wearing now was changed to burnt orange and navy blue while the Gunds were in charge, and the team officially adopted the name "Cavs" for marketing purposes. The Cavs made a brief appearance in the playoffs in 1985, which lasted until Boston booted them from the first round. It was their only showing in the playoffs for seven years, a stretch in which they employed a whopping nine head coaches, including two tenures with Bill Musselman in charge. They did have a few exciting players, including World B. Free and Roy Hinson. In 1986, the Gunds decided it was time for a designed implosion. They brought in Lenny Wilkens to coach and a bunch of great players in the draft followed. Over the next nine years, the Cavs made the playoffs eight times, winning over 50 games three times.

In 1989, the Cavs played a classic first-round playoff series against the Chicago Bulls (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/d/UserReview-Ch...atest_Bullfighters.html). In the final game of the series, Cleveland held a single-point lead with three seconds to go. When the ball was inbounded, it went straight to Michael Jordan, who instantly made a jump shot over Cleveland's Craig Ehlo and into the basket. That moment is known in basketball parlance as The Shot, and is part of Cleveland's most tortured sports city ever argument. The highest summit of Cleveland's success during those years came in the 1992 season, when the Cavs won 57 games and went to the Eastern Conference Finals, losing to Chicago again.

And that, as they say, was that for awhile. Team stars Brad Daugherty, Mark Price, and Larry Nance left. In the 1993 season the Cavaliers won 54 games, lost to the Bulls again, and their coach left to coach the Atlanta Hawks. The replacement coach, Mike Fratello, introduced a more defensive style which was only moderately successful. The team made a bunch of playoff appearance but were never a real contender, and they always lost in the first round.

By the millennium, the Cleveland Cavaliers had had it. The were getting an influx of players which included Andre Miller, Brevin Knight, Chris Mihm, and Carlos Boozer but were still a common lottery team. In 2003, they bottomed out, went 17-65, and won the first pick in the 2003 draft lottery. That pick was a 17-year-old Akron high school student named LeBron James. Although he originally teamed with Drew Gooden to form the core of the team, he was clearly meant to be groomed as the new leader. Dubbed King James, LeBron became a dominant player. There are players who excel at coming through when necessary, play well seemingly all the time, and are always there to break the hearts of opposing fans. John Elway and Michael Jordan had done that to Cleveland many times in the past, as did players for the Florida Marlins. Now, for the first time since Jim Brown impersonated a combination of a sports car and tank back in the 60's, a Cleveland team was the one which had THAT GUY.

In LeBron's first season, the Cavaliers went back to their old wine and gold look to celebrate their rebirth and more than doubled their win total from the previous season. Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert clearly meant business now, and he hired coach Mike Brown. Two years after LeBron's arrival, the Cavs went 42-40 and only missed the playoffs because the New Jersey Nets owned the tiebreaker. In 2007, the Cavaliers reached the greatest success they would ever know after winning the Eastern Conference Championship. Their first-ever trip to the Finals was short because they ran into the deeper, more talented, and just plain better San Antonio Spurs, who killed them in just four games. Still LeBron James had come of age and was there to lead the team to glory! In the 2009 season, James led the Cavaliers to their best-ever regular season record, 66-16, and with a home record of 39-2, were only one win away from the 40-1 home record set by the 1986 Boston Celtics. Despite everything, though, they lost the Eastern Conference Finals to the Orlando Magic (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...-Oh_oh_it_s_Magic_.html). In the 2010 season, the Cavs had the league's best record again, 61-21.

During the offseason, LeBron James lost his head and turned from the league's greatest hero into its greatest villain literally overnight. It wasn't that he decided against returning to the Cavs; that's the sports business now, after all. It was that he embarrassed his old team - his old home - by going on a one-hour, nationally televised special called The Decision in order to tell everyone about it, cruelly teasing Cleveland fans with hints of a return in the process. In Cleveland, he's now a sports villain frequently mentioned in the same breath as Art Modell. He went to the Miami Heat (http://www.lunch.com/reviews/sports_team/Use...mer_Heat_is_Brutal.html) for less money than he would have made in Cleveland, but there were motivators other than money. King James wanted a supporting cast which could help him win a ring, and the Cavs just didn't seem capable of providing it, though they tried. He won his ring two years later but, on turning down the opportunity to be the head honcho in order to go ring chasing, also turned down any comparisons to Jordan, Magic Johnson, or any other players who reached the top by being cornerstones to their teams his play will ever warrant.

Fans responded by burning LeBron James in effigy. Stores set the price of his jerseys to $17.41, which was the birth year of Benedict Arnold. Although Dan Gilbert tried to save face with a hotly-worded public letter to LeBron, he also embarrassed the team by guaranteeing the Cavaliers would win a title before LeBron did. To which people who are even half-awake in NBA matters all collectively replied "yeah, him and WHAT army?" LeBron and his new bigshot teammates, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade, quickly showed how valuable LeBron was to Cleveland. After a slow start, Miami visited Cleveland, where LeBron was loudly booed and the Heat battered the Cavs and went on a tear, going to the Finals. The Cavaliers lost 63 games and tied the longest losing streak in all of professional sports when they went 26 games without winning even once. They won the draft lottery again and selected the 2012 Rookie of the Year, Kyrie Irving, but Irving will probably never be LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers suddenly look like a bottom feeder for the next few years.

LeBron James dominates the team records, but there's a surprising number of players besides him who dealt significant damage in Cleveland too. LeBron doesn't lead any of the rebounding categories or assist categories. While he does lead the Cavs in three-point attempts over the course of his time in Cleveland, the career Cavalier record for threes actually made belongs to Mark Price. LeBron does dominate a lot of the Cavaliers' history, though. He's the only player to have ever won an MVP award in Cleveland, one of only two to win Rookie of the Year (the other being Kyrie Irving last season), and the only one to have ever been the NBA's Player of the Month (which he won 15 different times during his tenure in Cleveland).

Besides LeBron James, many other great players have suited up for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Brad Daugherty is probably their greatest player outside of LeBron, and he was a five-time All-Star. 15 players overall have been All-Stars in Cleveland, including Shawn Kemp in 1998. Bingo Smith, Larry Nance, Mark Price, Austin Carr, Nate Thurmond, and Brad Daugherty have all had their numbers retired by the team. We'll see if they can forgive LeBron to the extent needed to retire his old number.

Most of the great stories and history of the Cavaliers can be seen in the Daugherty and LeBron years. That's when most of the team's success took place, and even though The Shot was a loss, it was a big moment which revealed a lot about the team's character. And even bad history can mean great stories, and Ted Stepien, the losing streaks, and Dan Gilbert's letter are also memorable marks for the team. What they can't do, though, is lay claim to a lot of great rivalries. Certainly rivalries exist; they do with every team. But it seems like Cleveland's rivals are always the most concerned about teams other than Cleveland.

Being a willing Cleveland Cavaliers fan means having it tough for awhile. Generally, their average division finish seems to be fourth. Sometimes they'll get into the playoffs, sometimes not. Sometimes they're contenders, sometimes not. The sure thing can tell about the Cleveland Cavaliers is that when they're not good, they're just another team playing in a forgotten backwood.

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review by . March 05, 2009
How about those Cleveland Cavaliers...Wow This is a for real team headed by Labron James. This team will take it all this year. The new addition of Mo Williams can't be beat. We will own everyone in the Playoffs. Even Boston !  Coach Brown has been named Coach of the Year. Lebron James is a Lock for MVP.  Fasten your seat belt and enjoy the ride on the L Train ( Lebron for those who do not yet know of the L Train) Choooooooooooo Choooooooo Ha, TZC in the house !  
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Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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