The Cleveland Cavaliers, often referred to as the Cavs, are an American professional basketball team based in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavs compete in the National Basketball Association (NBA) as a member of the league’s Eastern Conference Central Division. The team began play as an expansion team in 1970, along with the Portland Trail Blazers and Buffalo Braves. Home games were first held at Cleveland Arena from 1970 to 1974, followed by the Richfield Coliseum from 1974 to 1994. Since 1994, the Cavs have played home games at Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland, which is shared with the Cleveland Gladiators of the Arena Football League and the Cleveland Monsters of the American Hockey League. Dan Gilbert has owned the team since March 2005.
The Cavaliers opened their inaugural season losing their first 15 games and struggled in their early years, placing no better than sixth in the Eastern Conference during their first five seasons. The team won their first Central Division title in 1976, which also marked the first winning season and playoff appearance in franchise history, where they advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. The franchise was purchased by Ted Stepien in 1980. Stepien’s tenure as owner was marked by six coaching changes, questionable trades and draft decisions, and poor attendance, leading to $15 million in financial losses. The Cavs went 66–180 in that time and endured a 24-game losing streak spanning the 1981–82 and 1982–83 seasons.
George and Gordon Gund purchased the franchise in 1983. During the latter half of the 1980s and through much of the 1990s, the Cavs were a regular playoff contender, led by players such as Mark Price and Brad Daugherty, and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1992. After the team’s playoff appearance in 1998, however, the Cavs had six consecutive losing seasons with no playoff action. Cleveland was awarded with the top overall pick in the 2003 draft, and they selected LeBron James. Behind James and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the Cavaliers again became a regular playoff contender by 2005. They made their first appearance in the NBA Finals in 2007 after winning the first Eastern Conference championship in franchise history. After failing to return to the NBA Finals in the ensuing three seasons, James joined the Miami Heat in 2010. As a result, the Cavaliers finished the 2010–11 season last in the conference, enduring a 26-game losing streak that, as of 2017, ranks as the longest in NBA history for a single season and second overall. Between 2010 and 2014, however, the team won the top pick in the NBA draft lottery three times, first in 2011 where they selected Kyrie Irving, and again in 2013 and 2014.
LeBron James returned to the Cavs in 2014 and led the team to three straight NBA Finals appearances. In 2016, the Cavaliers won their first NBA Championship, marking Cleveland’s first major sports title since 1964. The 2016 NBA Finals victory over the Golden State Warriors marked the first time in Finals history a team had come back to win the series after trailing three games to one. Through the 2016–17 season, the Cavs have made 21 playoff appearances, and won six Central Division titles, four Eastern Conference titles, and one NBA title.
The Cavaliers began play in the 1970–71 NBA season as an expansion team. They set losing records in each of their first five seasons before winning their first division title in 1976. That team was led by Austin Carr, Bobby “Bingo” Smith, Jim Chones, Dick Snyder, Nate Thurmond, and head coach Bill Fitch, and was remembered most for the “Miracle at Richfield”, in which the Cavaliers defeated the Washington Bullets 4–3 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. They won Game 7, 87–85, on a shot by Snyder with four seconds to go. The Cavaliers moved on to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time, but were without Chones after he broke his foot in a practice right before the series opener. As a result, the Cavaliers went on to lose 4–2 to the Boston Celtics. They made playoff appearances in the following two seasons before going on a six-year playoff hiatus.
The early 1980s were marked by Ted Stepien’s ownership, who had a disastrous run as owner and de facto general manager between 1980 and 1983. During Stepien’s reign, the Cavaliers made a practice of trading future draft picks for marginal veteran players. His most notable deal sent a 1982 first-round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Dan Ford and the 22nd overall pick in 1980. As a result of Stepien’s dealings, the NBA introduced the “Ted Stepien Rule”, which prohibits teams from trading first-round draft picks in successive seasons. The Cavaliers went 66–180, dropped to the bottom of the league in attendance and lost $15 million during Stepien’s three years as the owner. He went through six coaches during that span, including four during the 1981–82 season. The team finished 15–67, and between March and November 1982, the team had a 24-game losing streak—one of the NBA’s all-time longest losing streaks. George and Gordon Gund purchased the Cavaliers from Stepien in 1983.
The Cavaliers made the playoffs ten times between 1984–85 and 1997–98. In 1988–89, the Cavaliers had their best season to date, finishing the regular season with 57–25 record behind the likes of Brad Daugherty, Mark Price, Ron Harper and Larry Nance, and head coach Lenny Wilkens. They had their second 57-win season in 1991–92 and reached the Eastern Conference Finals for just the second time in franchise history. However, between 1998–99 and 2004–05, the Cavaliers failed to make a playoff appearance. The 2002–03 season saw the Cavaliers finish 17–65, tied for the worst record in the NBA.
- Cleveland Arena (1970–1974)
- Richfield Coliseum (1974–1994)
- Quicken Loans Arena (1994–present)
Quicken Loans Arena