History Section

Record Breaking Now a Broken Record

“Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it,” said former Notre Dame and South Carolina football coach Lou Holtz.

From 1986 to 1993, the Lenny Wilkens-guided Cavaliers had all those ingredients to compete year after year, and, in the process, shattered the Cavaliers’ record books and cemented their place in franchise history.

Those teams were undeniably rich in talent. First-round finds, such as Ron Harper, Larry Nance, Brad Daugherty, Danny Ferry, and Terrell Brandon, paired with second-round steals Mark Price and John “Hot Rod” Williams formed a solid foundation. Sharp shooters Craig Ehlo and Steve Kerr, along with a host of other role players, had the Cavaliers stacked one through twelve.

“We had some special and talented teams here in Cleveland,” said Mark Price, who now is a Cavaliers’ analyst for Fox Sports Net. “And we knew we could compete with that talent with anyone in the league.”

However, talent doesn’t always translate into victories or consistent success. Under the stewardship of Wilkens, the Cavaliers channeled their raw ability into winning and dominant seasons over a seven-year span.

“What made those teams special besides their superior ability was they were a team that came to compete every night,” said Wilkens, now coach of the New York Knicks. “They wanted to show their fans and the league what they could do on the basketball court.”

And could they do a lot.

The Cavaliers reached the playoffs in five of seven seasons under Wilkens, including the Eastern Conference Finals in 1992. They won 50 or more games in three seasons (1988-89, ‘91-‘92, and ‘92-’93) and set the record for most franchise wins with 57 during the ’91-’92 campaign. Their biggest win—a 148-80 triumph over the Miami Heat during the ’91-’92 season—is still the NBA record for largest margin of victory. Larry Nance still marvels at the dominance those teams achieved.

“We were always winning and playing well, so well that no one could stop us when we were healthy,” said Nance. “What Wayne Embry and Gordon Gund put together—I can’t explain it—but with the way guys play now, you’ll never see another team like it, playing as a team.”

Those Cavaliers were the antithesis of the me-first generation of basketball players—concerned first and foremost about their stats and team-success second. Nance said the team’s cohesion, like true Cavaliers, on and off the court was one of the main reasons for their success.

“When I first got traded to Cleveland [in the Kevin Johnson deal], we lost the first four or five games,” said Nance, who admitted to developing stomach pains from the initial losing. “But after a short while, we started to know each other and we started winning. Not only were we teammates, but we were friends, like brothers.”

The motivation to succeed built into their character, Nance and company hit the hardwood with due diligence every day in practice. With the battle-tested and even-tempered Wilkens looking on, he turned their attitude into achievement.

“I wasn’t a screamer, but I was demanding,” said Wilkens. “They knew that if we worked hard, we didn’t have to spend all day [in practice]. But in case we did, I had no place to go. Since it was easy to communicate with them and they wanted [to win] so badly, they responded very well.”

In addition to the team success the Cavaliers enjoyed, they also benefited from it. They smashed long-standing franchise records. They engraved their names in the record books along the all-time Cavalier greats, becoming ones themselves. But, at the time, they never knew how substantial or deep-rooted their impact on the franchise was.

“At the time when we were playing so well, I don’t think we paid that much attention to statistics,” said Price, who ranks first among Cavaliers in three-point field goals made (802) and attempted (1,960), assists (4,206), steals (734), and free throw percentage (.906 ).

“It’s something that’s nice to look back on now, and say we did some things that no one else [in Cavaliers’ history] has ever done. We just concentrated on winning games, competing, and doing as well as we could. That’s something special for us, too.”