When you look up what the NBA was in the 1990’s you see pictures of the Bulls, Knicks, and even the Lakers. If you scroll down farther you will see the Pacers, Rockets and probably the Suns.
There is one team that you won’t see the Cleveland Cavaliers.
As many sports teams have been in Cleveland the Cavaliers were a laughing stock. The Cavaliers were once nicknamed the “Cleveland Cadavers” in the 1980s.
On June 17 of 1986, the Cavaliers franchise fortune turned around. The Cavs robbed the 76ers by trading their second leading scorer Roy Hinson for the number 1 overall pick, in which they selected Brad Daugherty, a center from UNC.
Cleveland would in turn select Ron Harper with their own pick at number 8. With their final pick in the draft they chose point guard Mark Price in the second round.
Under new head coach Lenny Wilkens the Cavaliers would only slightly improve on their record winning only two more games than the season prior.
During the midseason of the 1987-88 NBA season the Cavaliers, who were one game above .500 traded for Larry Nance to help provide more of an inside game with Daugherty. The trade helped to prove that the Cavs could be dominant in the years.
The Cavs would finish the year by posting a winning season, something they had not done in 11 seasons. The Cavs would also make it to the playoffs before falling to in division rival the Chicago Bulls led by none other than Michael Jordan.
The Cavaliers had pushed the Bulls to five games. During this time in the NBA the first round was a best of five series.
“”I remember watching that series,” former Pistons` coach Chuck Daly said to the Chicago Tribune on the Bulls-Cavs matchup, ”and thinking: `Uh, oh, everyone better watch out for Cleveland. They’re going to be tough.`”
Other NBA teams took note of the Cavs rise, as Lakers Superstar Magic Johnson stated the Cavs as the ‘team of the 90s’.
The Cavaliers were destined to be great. They were going to be the team to dominate the Eastern Conference for years to come.
“The Rock and Roll Capital of the World” was on fire the next season, finishing with a league best 35-11 record at the All Star break. The All Star game included 3 Cavaliers’ players, Mark Price, Brad Daugherty and Larry Nance.
The Cavalier would finish with the 1988-89 season with a franchise best 57-25 record, giving them the number three seed in the Eastern Conference.
Mark Price finished the season as a member of the All-NBA Third team. Price would also become the second player in NBA history to make it into the 50-40-90 club. A club which required a player to achieve all three criteria of 50% field goal percentage, 40% three-point field goal percentage and 90% free throw percentage by the end of the regular season. The only player to ever do this before was Larry Bird who had previously done this 2 times in his NBA career.
Mark Price’s ability to shoot and his ability to slash through defenders caused him to be one of the most lethal offensive scorers in the NBA. Along with Price, Ron Harper, Brad Daugherty and Larry Nance all averaged more than 15 points per game.
The Cavaliers were not just offense as Nance was a superb defender, he was even selected to be on the NBA’s All-Defensive first team.
Even with the rise of The Cavaliers’ the number 3 seed in the eastern conference meant they had to rematch the Chicago Bulls. In the 5 matchups the two had faced during the season he Cavs won all 5.
Even with the Cavs favored in the series, the Bulls took Game 1. Cleveland then took game 2. Game 3, saw Michael Jordan drop 44 points putting the Bulls one game away from eliminating the Cavaliers.
In game 4 Michael Jordan scored 50 points, but the Cavaliers still took home the win and forced a game 5, this time in Cleveland.
In game 5 the Cavaliers led the Bulls 75-69 at the end of the third quarter. The Bulls would pull closer to a comeback.
Cavs’ Mark Ehlo scored a layup with 3 seconds left in the game to put the Cavs up 100-99. Meaning the Bulls had one shot to score.
In the words of Dick Stockton this is how it went:
“Sellers has Jordan”.
“Jordan with 2 seconds to go, puts it up and scores!”
“At the buzzer!”
“Michael Jordan has won it for Chicago!”
The Bulls would eventually lose the Eastern Conference Finals to the Detroit Pistons, but the impact of ‘the Shot’ stunned the Cavaliers. Purpose it was the Cleveland Curse? Or maybe just Michael Jordan doing his “thing”.
The Cavalier roster would remain the same for the few years prior and even make it to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1992, before losing to the Chicago Bulls again.
The Cavaliers were supposed to be the team that competed against Michael Jordan, potentially even dethroning him, but they never reached their true potential, and fell in the shadow of the Bulls legacy.