XL Memories

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This year, the Cleveland Cavaliers are commemorating the season with two letters – XL.

Of course, that can mean that this season is destined to be Extra Large. (And it's destined to be.) But in reality, it’s the Roman numerology to symbolize the franchise’s 40th season.

With that in mind, here’s an unofficial, non-chronological list of 40 – (or XL) – moments from four decades of Cleveland Cavalier basketball …


I LeBron James put on one of the great playoff performances in NBA history, scoring 29 of the Cavaliers’ final 30 points – including the final 25 – in a thrilling 109-107 double-overtime win over Detroit. LeBron finished with 48 points and the victory put the Wine and Gold one win away from their first trip to the Finals.

II After finishing 15-67 the previous season, the Cavaliers – (along with every other lottery team) – coveted a kid from Akron who experts considered one of the greatest players of his generation. When NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik announced that Memphis won the No. 2 pick, the fate of the franchise would be changed forever.

III After being trounced by Boston in Game 6 of the 1992 Eastern Conference, the Cavaliers came back to crush the Celtics in Game 7 – 122-104 – shooting nearly 60 percent from the floor and moving on to the East Finals in the final game of Larry Bird’s illustrious career.

IV The Miracle of Richfield was unofficially consummated April 29, 1976, when veteran guard Dick Snyder blew past Washington’s Wes Unseld and kissed a five-footer off the glass with four seconds to play, giving the Cavaliers an 87-85 lead and sending them to the Eastern Conference Finals.

V Trailing by 21 points in the second half in the 55th All-Star Game in Houston, LeBron James keyed the Eastern Conference’s comeback – finishing with 29 points and six boards and becoming the youngest ever All-Star MVP at just 21 years of age.

VI After putting together one of the greatest individual seasons in NBA history – all while leading his team to a 66-16 record in 2008-09 – LeBron James became the first Cavalier to be named Most Valuable Player, running away with the voting after averaging 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists per contest.

VII One game after LeBron James dropped 48 points on Detroit in Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, “Boobie” Gibson became a household name when the rookie guard almost singlehandedly eliminated the Pistons – scoring 19 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter to give Cleveland the 98-82 win and its first trip to the NBA Finals.

VIII On June 19, 1986, the Cavaliers hired GM Wayne Embry, who – days later – would trade Roy Hinson and cash considerations to the Sixers in exchange for the top pick in the Draft. Embry used that pick to select a center from North Carolina named Brad Daugherty. With the eighth pick, the Cavs tabbed Ron Harper, a guard from Miami, and later acquired the draft rights to Georgia Tech point guard Mark Price.

IX The Cavaliers began the 1984-85 season with nine straight losses and went 2-19 before resurrecting their season under 33-year-old rookie head coach, George Karl. On April 9, the Cavs notched a dramatic comeback win over New Jersey to complete one of the greatest runs in franchise history, clinching a playoff berth for the first time in seven seasons.

X Midway through the 1979-1980 season, the Cavaliers played one of the most incredible ballgames ever witnessed at the Coliseum, a 154-153 quadruple overtime win over the World Champion Lakers. Three Cavaliers – Mike Mitchell, Dave Robisch and Randy Smith – scored 30 points or more in the epic victory.

XI After winning only 15 games in their first season in existence, the Cavalier drafted Notre Dame scoring machine Austin Carr with the No. 1 overall pick of the 1971 Draft. After averaging 34.5 ppg in three seasons with the Irish, A.C. went on to average 21.2 ppg in his first three years with the Wine and Gold.

XII After dropping their first 15 games, the expansion Cavaliers finally notched their first victory on November 12, 1970 – topping the fellow expansionist Trail Blazers, 105-103. Cleveland would then go on to lose their next 15 straight.

XIII After playing their first four years at downtown’s Cleveland Arena, the Cavaliers moved to “The House That Nick Built” – the Richfield Coliseum, constructed by team owner, Nick Mileti. On October 29, 1974, the Cavaliers dropped the opener to the World Champion Boston Celtics, but they would go on to win 29 of 41 at home that year.

XIV In an otherwise difficult season, forward Mike Mitchell was one of the lone bright spots and was selected to play in the 1981 All-Star Game, held at the Richfield Coliseum. Playing in front of his home fans, Mitchell responded by scoring 14 points in 15 minutes.

XV After leading the club to a 49-33 record and its first playoff berth, the architect of that team – Bill Fitch – was named the league's Coach of the Year.

XVI After being the league’s doormats through their first few seasons, Bill Fitch’s Cavaliers reached the postseason for the first time in franchise history, securing a spot with a March 31, 1976 win over New Orleans. Less than two weeks later, Cleveland topped the Knicks on national television to clinch the Central Division crown.

XVII Appropriately enough, it was the only original Cavalier on the “Miracle” team, Bobby “Bingo” Smith, who gave the Cavaliers their first franchise playoff victory – canning a 30-footer with two seconds to play to give the Wine and Gold the thrilling 80-79 Game 2 win over the Bullets at the Coliseum.

XVIII The litany of players introduced at the 1997 All-Star Game at Gund Arena was the greatest collection of basketball talent ever assembled under one roof. Living legends like Jerry West, Julius Erving and Oscar Robertson joined the new generation of stars such as Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal. In the game itself, guard Terrell Brandon scored 10 points in only 17 minutes off the bench.

XIX After LeBron James and Boobie Gibson’s heroic performances to vanquish the Pistons, the Cavaliers reached the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. On the other end awaited Coach Mike Brown’s former squad – the San Antonio Spurs. Unfortunately, that’s where the party ended, with Tim Duncan and Co. sweeping Cleveland in four games.

XX Under the new ownership of George and Gordon Gund, the new-look Cavaliers inked one of the game’s most exciting, prolific scorers – World B. Free – at the start of Training Camp. In just four years with the Cavs, the “Prince of Midair” – who averaged 23.0 ppg – is often credited with saving basketball in Cleveland.

XXI Unprecedented since the inception of the Rookie Challenge, the Cavaliers placed four rookies – Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Cedric Henderson, Brevin Knight and Derek Anderson – in the game, held on All-Star Saturday at Madison Square Garden in 1998. Big Z won MVP honors after going 8-for-10 for 18 points and seven boards.

XXII In just his fourth year at the Cavaliers helm, Mike Brown was named the NBA’s 2008-09 Coach of the Year – joining Bill Fitch as the only Cleveland coaches to win the award. Brown’s squad led the league in several defensive categories and won 21 more games than they had the season before.

XXIII On December 23, 1991, Craig Ehlo provided one of the greatest moments in team history, sinking a three-pointer at the buzzer to hand the Utah Jazz a 113-112 loss and give Cavalier fans an early Christmas present. The shot and victory were immortalized by Joe Tait's legendary call: "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus! And he comes from Lubbock, Texas!"

XXIV Hedo Turkoglu’s runner gave the Magic a 95-93 lead with exactly 1.0 second to play, and it looked like Orlando would take a 2-0 lead in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals. Instead, LeBron James received the ensuing in-bound pass, took a small jab-step and unloaded a three-pointer that rattled home at the buzzer – giving Cleveland the 96-95 victory, evening the series at one game apiece and sending 20,562 fans at The Q into a frenzy.

XXV After missing the postseason in his first two years, LeBron James scored 46 points as the Cavaliers thumped Dirk and the Dallas Mavericks, 107-94, to clinch their first playoff berth in eight years – Zydrunas Ilgauskas rookie season. As they would in the next three seasons, Cleveland tipped off the first round against the Washington Wizards.

XXVI Only two other rookies in the history of the league (Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson) put up numbers comparable to LeBron James in their rookie seasons, and for that reason James became the youngest player – and the only Cavalier – to win the Rookie of the Year award. James finished his freshman season averaging almost 21 points and six assists per game and the Cavaliers more than doubled their win total from the previous year.

XXVII The young Cavaliers grew up in a hurry when seven-time All-Star and future Hall of Famer, Nate Thurmond was acquired on November 27, 1975. The Akron native galvanized an already-strong frontline and led the franchise to its first playoff appearance.

XXVIII In back-to-back All-Star Weekends in 1993 and ’94, guard Mark Price was the king of the Long-Distance Shootout – joining Larry Bird and Craig Hodges as repeat winners of the event. Price’s record-setting 24-point performance in 1994 stood for 14 years until former Cav, Jason Kapono notched 25 in 2008.

XXIX Mark Price, who won the Three-Point Shootout the previous day, notched 19 points – going 6-for-9 from long-distance – in the 1993 All-Star Game in Salt Lake City. Larry Nance and Brad Daugherty joined Price on the East squad, the second time in four seasons that the triumvirate was selected to the squad.

XXX The Q was rocking for the first home playoff game in almost a decade and, after LeBron James began the game with an airball, the young King proceeded to notch a triple-double (32 points, 11 boards, 11 assists) in his first playoff game – a 97-86 win over the Washington Wizards. James would go on to average 35.7 ppg in the series.

XXXI On January 5, 2005, Dan Gilbert – founder of Quicken Loans, the nation's largest online mortgage company, purchased the Cleveland Cavaliers from owner Gordon Gund for $375 million. The mortgage magnate went on to change the culture of the organization – hiring first-time coach and GM, Mike Brown and Danny Ferry, renovating and renaming the arena, constructing a state-of-the-art practice facility and orchestrating an unprecedented run of success.

XXXII On March 26, 2008, the voice of the Cavaliers since the team’s inception in 1970 – the great Joe Tait – called his 3,000 game for the Wine and Gold. After a season each with the New Jersey and Chicago, Tait returned in 1983-84 and has been behind the mic ever since.

XXXIII After a sensational run towards the postseason after a 2-19 start, the Cavaliers faced off against the eventual World Champion Celtics in the first round of the 1985 playoffs. Behind World B. Free’s 26.3 ppg, the Cavaliers stuck with Boston throughout the short series, losing each of their three games by two points each.

XXXIV On June 16, 1986 a Louisiana jury found John “Hot Rod” Williams innocent of all five counts of point-shaving, allowing him to play for the Cavaliers – who drafted him in the second round the previous June. Williams went on to play nine seasons with the Cavaliers, holding several records for rebounding, blocked shots and minutes played.

XXXV A 23-59 record in 1982-83 marked the final campaign under the mercurial ownership of Ted Stepien. On April 7, George and Gordon Gund – co-owners of The Coliseum – announced they had secured an option to buy the Cavaliers. And on May 9, after NBA owners awarded the team bonus first round draft choices in 1983, ’84, ’85 and ’86, the Gunds exercised that option and assumed ownership.

XXXVI Damon Jones only played three seasons with the Cavaliers, but he’s responsible for one of the franchise’s greatest moments. On May 5, 2006, the D.J. came off the bench cold in overtime and canned a 17-footer with 4.8 seconds to play at the Verizon Center – giving the Cavaliers the amazing 114-113 over the Wizards and sending Cleveland to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.

XXXVII For a while, it seemed Zydrunas Ilgauskas might never play pro ball again after undergoing several foot surgeries, but instead the seven-footer bounced back to have the best season of his career in 2002-03. The Cavaliers as a team would only win 17 games that year, but Z averaged 17.2 points and 7.5 boards per game and was selected to the first of his two All-Star appearances.

XXXVIII The doubters were out on opening night in Sacramento, hoping the hype would catch up with LeBron James. But on October 29, 2003, the Chosen One put it all to rest in his first night of NBA action. LeBron notched 25 points, six boards and nine assists – the highest point total ever by a high school player in his pro debut.

XXXIX After starting their 25th season in existence with a win, the Cavaliers returned home on November 8, 1994 to open their new gymnasium – Gund Arena. The 20,562-seat venue – later renamed Quicken Loans Arena – has been the home of the Wine and Gold ever since.

XL Less than a month after being eliminated by Dwight Howard’s Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Cavaliers shocked the league on Draft Day 2009 when they traded Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic for 15-time All-Star and future Hall of Famer, Shaquille O’Neal.