Beautifully engraved unissued Certificate from the Cleveland Professional Basketball Company
dated 1970. This historic document has an
ornate border around it with a vignette of an eagle. This item has the printed signature of the comapny's president and secretary and is
over 37 years old.
The Cleveland Cavaliers joined the NBA for the 1970-71 season. A franchise that has known its share of ups and downs, the Cavaliers have scraped the bottom of the barrel at times, both on and off the court. Still, after struggling through much of its first two decades of existence, Cleveland turned itself around in the late 1980s to become a consistent Central Division contender.
The Cavs joined the league as part of an expansion that also included the Portland Trail Blazers and the Buffalo Braves. Expansion forced the NBA to realign into two conferences, with two divisions in each. The Cavs were put in the Central Division along with the Baltimore Bullets, the Atlanta Hawks and the Cincinnati Royals.
1970-71: A Less Than Memorable Debut
The first-year Cavaliers were a motley crew, even by expansion team standards. Coach Bill Fitch, who had been hired away from the University of Minnesota, had his work cut out for him. The cast of characters included Luther Rackley, Johnny Egan, Len Chappell, Larry Mikan (son of NBA great George Mikan), and Gary Suiter. The team's regulars were Walt Wesley, first-round draft pick John Johnson, Bobby "Bingo" Smith, and John Warren. After looking over the team, Fitch was reported to have said, "Just remember, the name is Fitch, not Houdini."
Cleveland entered the league with a thud. The squad played its first seven games on the road because the Cleveland Arena had been booked by the Ice Capades. The team dropped all seven outings by an average of 17.3 points per game. Fitch may not have been amused, but he was amusing. "We're the only team who could play back-to-back games on What's My Line and stump the panel," he told the press. "Mission Impossible didn't even want us on their show."
The Cavaliers finally got to play in Cleveland and lost their home opener on October 30 to the San Diego Rockets, 110-99, before 9,119 spectators. The losses continued to mount, but Fitch's sense of humor didn't flag. "I phoned Dial-a-Prayer, but when they found out who it was, they hung up," he quipped.
The losing streak ran to 15 games before the Cavaliers finally posted their first victory by beating the expansion Trail Blazers, 105-103, in Portland. The Cleveland squad promptly dropped a dozen more before the schedule gave the players a home-game crack at Buffalo, the third expansion team. Cleveland beat the Braves by a single bucket before only 2,002 fans to claim the franchise's first home victory.
The rest of the season continued in a similar vein. The club was 2-34 at one point and stood at 3-36 before engineering a three-game winning streak with victories on December 25, 26, and 27. Cleveland reached its nadir for the season when guard John Warren, in a game against Portland, converted a layup into the opposing team's basket. But Portland wasn't faring much better-Trail Blazers center LeRoy Ellis tried to block Warren's shot.
The final tally for the first season was 15-67. The only thing the Cleveland faithful had to cheer about was rookie John Johnson, who earned a spot in the NBA All-Star Game on his way to a fine first campaign in which he averaged 16.6 points. The team struggled at the box office, as well. A four-game home stand in early January drew a total of 13,214 fans, and on three occasions fewer than 2,000 people showed up to watch the action.
A list of the first-round draft selections by the Cleveland Cavaliers:
1997: Derek Anderson, Kentucky; and Brevin Knight, Stanford
1996: Vitaly Potapenko, Wright State; and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Lithuania
1995: Bob Sura, Florida State
1994: No first-round selection
1993: Chris Mills, Arizona
1992: No first-round selection
1991: Terrell Brandon, Oregon
1990: No first-round selection
1989: John Morton, Seton Hall
1988: Randolph Keys, Southern Mississippi
1987: Kevin Johnson, California
1986: Brad Daugherty, North Carolina; and Ron Harper, Miami University
1985: Charles Oakley, Virginia Union
1984: Tim McCormick, Michigan
1983: Roy Hinson, Rutgers; and Stewart Granger, Villanova
1982: John Bagley, Boston College
1981: No first-round selection
1980: Chad Kinch, N.C.-Charlotte
1979: No first-round selection
1978: Mike Mitchell, Auburn
1977: No first-round selection
1976: Chuckie Williams, Kansas State
1975: John Lambert, Southern California
1974: Campy Russell Michigan
1973: Jim Brewer, Minnesota
1972: Dwight Davis, Houston
1971: Austin Carr, Notre Dame
1970: John Johnson, Iowa