NBA History: Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cleveland Cavaliers joined the NBA in 1970 as an expansion team. They struggled coming out the gate, finishing a league worse 15–67 in their inaugural season. The team slowly improved over the years, becoming a winning team in the 1975–76 season under coach Bill Fitch. They finished with a record of 49–33, good enough for the division title and their first playoff appearance. They would advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they would lose to the eventual champion Boston Celtics.

The Cavaliers spent the next two seasons as a semi-competitive team, making the playoffs both years. They would lose in the first round in each year. The following season, the Cavaliers went 30–52 in what would be Bill Fitch’s last with the team.

In 1980, disaster came to the team in the form of new owner Ted Stepien. Stepien was involved with many poor trades and signings. Many of his trades involved giving away first round draft picks. The NBA created a rule that outlawed teams from trading first round draft picks in consecutive years in direct response to the damage Stepien had done to the team. His name would be immortalized following the creation of the rule, as it eventually became known as the “Stepien Rule.”

In the mid-80s, the team was purchased by George and Gordon Gund. They gradually returned to their winning ways under their direction. In 1986, Cleveland added Brad Daugherty, Mark Price, Larry Nance, and Ron Harper to their roster. The four players formed the core of what would become a very competitive team that consistently made the playoffs and won 50 plus games in 3 seasons.

The Cavaliers played as the backdrop in what would become one of Michael Jordan’s most signature moments. In the 1989 Playoffs, the Cavs and Jordan’s Chicago Bulls were tied at two games apiece in the best-of-five first round series. Jordan sank a jumper as time expired, putting the Bulls ahead by one and ensuring they would advance to the next round of the playoffs.

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