1986 was both a terrible year and a great year for the Cleveland Cavaliers. The 1985-86 NBA season went miserably for the Cavs. While Larry Bird was leading the Boston Celtics to the NBA championship, winning his third consecutive MVP award, the Cavs were finishing three games ahead of the last placed Indiana Pacers in the Central Division. Fortunately for the Cavs, two great things happened at the end of that season.
The Philadelphia 76er’s traded a first-round draft choice they had obtained from the San Diego Clippers in 1979 for Joe Bryant to the Cavs for 24-year-old Roy Hinson, who averaged 19.0 points and 7.8 rebounds as an undersized power forward/center. The Cavs had selected Hinson with the 20th overall pick of the 1983 draft. The money conscious 76er’s were interested in Hinson because he was a productive young player earning just $220,000 per year. The Clippers finished the 1985-86 season with a 32-50 mark.
As I said, two fortunate things happened for the Cavs at the end of the 1986 season. The first was that the NBA was in its second season of using a lottery format to determine which team would draft first overall. The Cavs had two chances to win and struck gold as they wound up winning the first selection overall with the San Diego pick obtained via Philadelphia, plus the eighth overall selection with their own lottery pick. The Cavs were now positioned to be able to select college basketball’s most electrifying player, Len Bias of Maryland.
The second fortunate thing that happened for the Cavs was that they opted to pass on Bias and drafted Brad Daugherty, a 7-foot, 245-pound center out of North Carolina. This turned out to be a fortunate move, as two days later on June 19th, 1986, Len Bias died of heart failure brought on by the use of cocaine. Bias would never play a single game for the Celtics, whose fans were dreaming of matching explosive Bias with Larry Bird in Boston’s frontcourt. The Cavs had dodged a bullet and in the process obtained perhaps the greatest center to ever don the wine and gold uniform for the team.
Daugherty, like most Tarheel players, was well schooled in the fundamentals of the game, playing for Dean Smith, who eventually would set the all-time record for most NCAA victories by a Division One coach. Smith had a way of selecting talented, intelligent players who were of a high moral character. Daugherty was no exception. At North Carolina, he was a two-time First Team All-ACC selection, as well as a Second Team All-American in 1986. Eventually he was selected for the 50th Anniversary All-ACC team and inducted into the North Carolina Hall of Fame in 2002.
Brad Daugherty was a building block that laid the foundation for one of the greatest Cavalier teams of all time. With the eighth overall selection, Ron Harper, a small forward from Miami of Ohio, was taken. Point guard Mark Price was added to the mix, as the Cavs swung a trade with the Dallas Mavericks, who had drafted Price with the 25th overall selection to start the second round. A few picks later, the Cavs put the finishing touches on their haul by selecting small forward Johnny Newman from the Richmond Spiders with the 29th pick.
This group of newly drafted players joined power forwards John “Hot Rod” Williams and Phil Hubbard, shooting guard Craig Ehlo, point guard John Bagley and centers Mel Turpin and Mark West to form a squad that would become one of the most competitive teams in Cavaliers history. Daugherty, Harper and Williams would be named to the All-Rookie team following the 1986-87 season.
During Daugherty’s eight-year career with the team, the Cavs would go 364-294 for a 55.4 winning percentage. Three times during this span, the team would win over 50 games, finishing second to their nemesis Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls each time. This group played for the Eastern Conference championship in 1992, with Jordan hanging in the air seemingly forever. As gravity brought Ehlo back to Earth, Jordan released the shot with the ball hitting nothing but net as time expired. Many feel that this was arguably the most exciting single play in NBA history and in Jordan’s career filled with accomplishments. The play was dubbed “The Shot,” as a result of its importance and notoriety, with posters sold worldwide capturing the moment when time stood still for the Cavs.
Daugherty had a per game average of 19 points and 10 rebounds for his eight seasons in the league and retired as the Cavaliers all-time leading scorer (10,389 points) and rebounder (5,227). Both records stood until 2008, when LeBron James broke the scoring mark and Zydrunas Ilgauskas set a new rebounding high. Daugherty was a five-time All-Star and one of the greatest players in Cleveland Cavaliers history. As part of the Cavaliers’ 30th anniversary in 1999-2000, Daugherty was a unanimous selection to the All-Time Cleveland Cavaliers team.
1993-94 was Daugherty’s final season in a Cavs uniform, as back problems ended his career early. He officially retired in 1996 with his No. 43 retired and hung from the rafters in memory of his fine play and accomplishments while wearing the Wine and Gold of the Cleveland Cavaliers.