The Cavaliers came into existence in 1970, when the NBA granted the city of Cleveland an expansion team under the ownership of an ambitious entrepreneur named Nick Mileti. Over the years, the team has utilized several talented rosters. However, when it comes to the greatest squad in Cavs history, there can be only one answer.
In their early days, the Cavs sent out sneaky-good players, such as Jim Chones, Austin Carr, Campy Russell and Jim Brewer. Though they were a young franchise, Cleveland managed to play its way to an Eastern Conference Semifinal matchup against the Washington Bullets in 1976. The Cavs made it past the Bullets in what became known as the “Miracle of Richfield,” but they would fall to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.
In 1985, Wayne Embry took over as the team’s general manager and hired Lenny Wilkens as the Cavs’ head coach for the 1986–87 campaign. With Brad Daugherty, Mark Price and Larry Nance Sr. aboard, Wilkens molded the team into an Eastern Conference power. In fact, Cleveland won 42 games in the 1987-88 season and advanced to the playoffs. However, they were ultimately eliminated by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the first round. Cavs fans know the moment well — Jordan’s shot over Craig Ehlo.
Though these Cavs teams of yesteryear were great in their own right, they were unable to reach the NBA’s proverbial mountaintop. That would finally change in 2016, however, as LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson would go on to lead the team to its first championship in franchise history.
In what became one of the greatest playoff series’ in NBA history, the Cavs managed to climb from the depths of a 3-1 deficit in the 2016 Finals, defeating a 73-win Golden State Warriors team and ending a 52-year championship drought for the city of Cleveland. Cavaliers fans around the globe know exactly where they were when LeBron cried out after delivering on his promise to the city of Cleveland.
“Our fans gave us everything. We gave it back to them. … I’m coming home with what I said I was gonna do,” James, who returned to the Cavs in 2014 after four seasons with the Miami Heat, told Sam Amico of SI.com after winning the 2016 NBA Finals.
From “The Shot” from Irving, to “The Stop” from Love, to “The Block” from James, the moments leading up to the final horn will live on in the hearts of Cavs fans forever. To this day, Cleveland is still the only team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals. For this reason, we’re dubbing the 2016 Cavaliers as the greatest in franchise history.
The celebration that ensued was of epic proportions. In fact, reports indicated that roughly 1.3 million people lined the streets of downtown Cleveland during the Cavs’ championship parade. On a beautifully sunny June day, adoring fans packed tightly together, filling parking garages and vacant buildings to get a glimpse of their beloved players as they passed by. Naturally, J.R. Smith was shirtless throughout the event — a fact that former U.S. President Barack Obama joked about in a congratulatory phone call to then-head coach Tyronn Lue.
Simply put, it was a magical time in the city. James — “The Kid from Akron” — had put the Cavs on top.