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Sunday was a very special, and historical, day at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
Five individuals who played core roles in the early years of the Cleveland Cavaliers were honored unlike anyone before them: by being inducted into the new Cavaliers Wall of Honor.
Wayne Embry, Bill Fitch, the late John Johnson, Nick Mileti and the late John “Hot Rod” Williams make up the inaugural class of the Wall of Honor, and they were officially welcomed into the exclusive society at an induction ceremony on Sunday morning.
Embry and Mileti were in attendance on Sunday; Johnson’s son, Mitch, represented his father; and Williams’ daughter, Johnna, was on-hand to represent Hot Rod and the rest of their family. A Cavs Legend introduced each inductee, with the gathered crowd hearing from Austin Carr, Larry Nance Sr., Brad Daugherty, Jim Chones and Campy Russell.
Many other Cavaliers alumni were in attendance for the ceremony, and also joined the inductees on court for a special halftime recognition.
Each inductee was honored at center court during halftime, including a very moving surprise for Mileti: the man who was responsible for bringing the Cavs to Northeast Ohio was given a 2016 Championship ring.
Making its debut for the Cavs 50th season in 2019-20, the Wall of Honor program was created to recognize deserving former members of the franchise and serve as a special, permanent way to honor those who have played such a distinguished, pivotal role in Cavs history.
The Wall of Honor resides prominently in the new North Atrium area of the FieldHouse. The large 12’x44’ wall features a mosaic of custom designed tiles that represent each honoree. Each inductee has two silver tiles: one engraved with their name, photo, years with the organization, and their jersey number or role with the team; the other with their name, list of major accomplishments and jersey number/role.
The Wall includes tiles for the eight individuals who have previously had their jerseys retired by the Cavs: Austin Carr, Brad Daugherty, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Larry Nance Sr., Mark Price, Bobby “Bingo” Smith, Nate Thurmond and Joe Tait (Cavaliers Hall of Fame radio broadcaster for 39 seasons). Each individual is represented with two gold tiles.
“These five great Cavaliers represent a wonderful inaugural class and debut for the Wall of Honor program,” said Cavaliers and Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse CEO Len Komoroski. “We can look at each of their unique contributions to the franchise and clearly see the significant impact they had and the special place they hold and deserve as part of our history. We also look forward to the continuation of the program in years to come and future recognition for others that have earned their inclusion as part of this very special place of honor within the Cavaliers franchise.”
Embry served in the Cavs front office from 1986 to 1999, during which time the team reached the playoffs nine times. During his time with the organization, he held roles of vice president and general manager, and executive vice president, before becoming the first African-American team president and chief operating officer of an NBA team in 1994. Embry was the first Cavalier to be named the league’s Executive of the Year, which he won twice (1991-92 and 1997-98).
Fitch was the first head coach of the Cavaliers and went on to be the longest tenured coach in franchise history (1970-79). He led the team to the playoffs three times (1976-1978), including “The Miracle of Richfield” season in 1975-76, a season in which the team had their first winning season (49-33) and won their first division title. Fitch was named the NBA Coach of the Year in 1976, the team’s first franchise win of the league-wide award. He was elected to The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2019.
Johnson recorded many franchise firsts during his three seasons (1970-73) with the Cavaliers: first draft pick ever (7th overall, 1970), first triple-double (33p/12r/12a – 12/26/70) and first All-Star (1971, 1972). The small forward averaged 15.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.5 assists in 231 games for the Cavs. The Iowa alum played 12 seasons in the NBA, tallying 11,200 points (12.9 ppg), 4,778 rebounds (5.5 rpg) and 3,285 assists (3.8 apg) in 869 games with four teams. He won the NBA Championship with Seattle in 1979. Johnson passed away in 2016.
Mileti, a Cleveland-area lawyer who purchased Cleveland Arena in 1968, led a group that brought a dream to life with the purchase and creation of the Cavaliers in 1970. The team entered the NBA as an expansion franchise that year. Mileti had a larger and grander vision for the team’s future, though. He built the Richfield Coliseum and the team opened play there in 1974. It was the largest arena in the NBA when it opened. The Cavs would go on to play at the Coliseum for 20 years. Mileti owned the team from 1970 to 1980.
Williams was selected by Cleveland with the 45th pick overall in the 1985 Draft. The Tulane alum played nine seasons for the Cavaliers (1986-1995), reaching the playoffs seven times, advancing as far as the Eastern Conference Finals in 1992. The power forward/center played 661 games as a Cavalier, averaging 12.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.8 blocks per game. Williams played 13 seasons in the NBA, totaling 9,784 points (11.0 ppg), 5,998 rebounds (6.8 rpg) and 1,456 blocks (1.6 bpg) in 887 games with three teams. He remains in the Top 10 of multiple Cavaliers franchise statistical records. Williams passed away in 2015.
The five Wall of Honor inductees were selected earlier this year by a diverse committee made up of longtime Cavaliers staff, broadcasters and Cavalier player legends, who provided decades of perspective and deep understanding and appreciation of the candidates and their respective roles and impact. Additional, eligible honorees will be considered for induction to the Wall of Honor on a yearly basis.
The honorees were chosen based on the following criteria:
They must also exhibit two or more of the following traits as hallmarks of their tenure with the organization: