Loyal fans of NBA teams have opposing players and squads which they absolutely despise. Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers die-hards share a mutual hatred for each other. Chicago Bulls had heated battles with the New York Knicks and the Detroit Pistons back in the day. The Cleveland Cavaliers only saw their most successful run as a franchise this past decade. Despite never truly establishing a legitimate title contender, they also had their fair share of rivals throughout their history, especially in the late 1980’s and mid-2000’s.
Here are five of the most hated rivals in Cavs history:
5. LeBron James
Don’t you dare.
As much as Cavaliers fans eternally love LeBron James for bringing them their first championship in franchise history, there came a moment in time when he became the most despised man in northeast Ohio.
This happened when The King left his kingdom in Cleveland in 2010 in arguably the most embarrassing way possible. After years of playoff frustrations in Cleveland, James announced live in a television special ,”The Decision,” his intention to leave the Cavaliers and join his buddies Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the Miami Heat.
James became enemy No. 1 among loyal Cavaliers fans. They called him a “traitor” and even burned his jersey to show their disgust for leaving them high and dry. In his first game back to Cleveland, Cavaliers fans met James with the loudest boos anyone has heard in NBA history. LeBron went on record to say that that was the most hostile environment he ever experienced in his career.
The King did eventually make his triumphant return four years later. Cavaliers fans welcomed their prodigal son back with open arms. James’ sins in the past were finally forgiven after he won Cleveland’s first championship in franchise history with a magnificent come-from-behind victory in the 2016 NBA Finals.
4. ’06 and ’07 Detroit Pistons
The Detroit Pistons became the first hurdle that the Cavaliers had to overcome in the LeBron James era. Cleveland made its first postseason appearance in 2006 after missing out eight years in a row. They took care of the Washington Wizards in the opening round and came face to face with the Detroit Pistons in round two.
With a young King James and an inexperienced supporting cast, the Cavaliers still put up a valiant effort and took the defending Eastern Conference champions to the limit. In the end, however, Detroit’s championship experience proved to be too much and they won Game 7.
The following year, Cleveland and Detroit saw each other again, this time in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Pistons, which held homecourt advantage, won the first two games on their home floor. Cleveland bounced back by winning the next two at The Q. With a pivotal Game 5 in Detroit, Cavaliers obviously needed to steal one on the road if they want to get past their tormentors from the year before.
LeBron James put on one of his greatest playoff performances of all time in Game 5, where he scored Cleveland’s last 25 points and finished with 48 overall. He also made the game-winning layup to get the series lead for the Cavs. Cleveland ended up winning Game 6 on their home floor and advancing to the NBA Finals. More importantly, they finally got past their first major obstacle in the LeBron era.
3. Boston Celtics
After Detroit, the Boston Celtics became the next big hurdle in LeBron James’ career. After making the NBA Finals in 2007, the Cavaliers saw an Eastern Conference powerhouse emerge when the Celtics formed their Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen.
The Cavaliers met the Celtics two times in the span of three years. In both meetings, the Cavs wound up packing their bags home and starting their summer early.
In round two of the 2008 postseason, despite still playing on a Cavs team with a sub-par supporting cast, James managed to lead them to a Game 7 against the heavyweight Celtics. However, Cleveland lost in the decider and bowed two rounds earlier from their finish the year before.
In 2010, after finishing with a league-best record for the second consecutive season, the Cavaliers lost in disappointing fashion to the Celtics in six games. That defeat became the final straw for LeBron James as he left the Cavaliers the following summer to pursue greener pastures in Miami.
The two teams went on to rekindle their rivalry in the mid-2010’s during LeBron’s second go-round with the Cavaliers. With a more experienced James, the Cavaliers won all three times they faced each other in the playoffs in the span of four years.
2. Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls
The Cleveland Cavaliers fielded a great team in the late 1980’s. However, they couldn’t seem to get past a certain Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls over one of their great stretches as a franchise.
After nine consecutive losing seasons, the Cavaliers put together a winning campaign in 1987-88 with a 42-40 record. They faced the third-seeded Bulls in the opening round and lost in five games.
In 1988-89, the Cavaliers vastly improved their record to 57-25 and finished as the No. 3 seed in the East. They faced the Bulls once again in the first round, but this time, they held homecourt advantage. Unfortunately, despite putting together their best season in franchise history at the time, the Cavaliers lost to Chicago once again in the first round.
Cleveland had a legitimate shot of knocking off Jordan and the Bulls in this series. With a one point lead with three seconds remaining in the deciding Game 5, the Cavaliers needed just one defensive stop to avenge their loss from last year. However, the Bulls had Michael Jordan and unfortunately for Cleveland, he sank their hearts with one of the greatest clutch shots in NBA playoff history. Many consider this as one of Jordan’s greatest moments and it simply became known as “The Shot.”
I guess it’s fair to say that “The Shot” will haunt Cavaliers fans forever.
1. Golden State Warriors
Despite all that’s been mentioned above, the Golden State Warriors are undoubtedly Cleveland’s most hated rival of all time. The freshest rivalry in the NBA, the Cavaliers and Warriors met four consecutive times in the NBA Finals.
They first faced off in the 2015 Finals, with LeBron James’ first season back in Cleveland and Golden State’s emergence as a true championship contender. The Cavaliers were extremely short-handed in those Finals, with All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love both out with injuries. LeBron James needed a superhuman effort to overcome the best team in the NBA. In the end, King James’ efforts weren’t enough as they succumbed to the Warriors in six games.
The two heavyweight teams met again in the 2016 NBA Finals. Golden State, which set an NBA record 73 wins that regular, just came back from a 3-1 hole against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the West Finals. Meanwhile, Cleveland strolled their way to the Finals after losing just two games through the first three rounds.
Golden State raced to a 3-1 lead and looked well on their way to winning their second consecutive title. However, the Cavaliers staved off elimination in Game 5 and managed to defeat the Warriors at Oracle Arena. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving put together stellar performances in Game 5 with 41 points each to keep their season alive.
The Cavs wound up winning Game 6 at The Q and set up a dramatic Game 7 in Golden State. The championship was still up for grabs until the Cavaliers made some iconic championship-winning plays down the stretch. With game still hanging in the balance, LeBron James made a crucial chase down block on Andre Iguodala’s fastbreak layup attempt. A couple of possessions later, Kyrie Irving nailed the dagger three-pointer to break the 89-all deadlock and ultimately win the championship for the Cavaliers. Cleveland finally won their first championship in NBA history.
Of course, the Warriors added Kevin Durant the following summer and became practically unbeatable. The Cavaliers were still the undisputed top team in the East and still emerged to challenge the Warriors in 2017 and 2018.
Though the Finals match-up between Golden State and Cleveland reads 3-1, nothing can ever take away that 2016 championship from Cavs fans.