As we begin a new era in Cavaliers basketball, we can refer to it as The Fourth Run as in the fourth time in their history the Cavs have accumulated enough talent to be taken seriously. Run 1 was the mid-to late 70s, punctuated by the Miracle of Richfield. How sad is it that we refer to a trip to the conference finals as a “Miracle?” Back then only eight teams made the playoffs, so the Cavs only needed to win one series to qualify as a miracle. Anyway, Run 2 was the Brad Daugherty/Mark Price/Larry Nance teams of the late 80s/early 90s, and Run 3 was the LeBron years. As we know, none of these runs resulted in a title. In order to purge any bad karma left over from those days and begin anew, I present the ten biggest villains that played the biggest role in costing the Cavs a title.
This is the second part of a two-part series, featuring villains Nos. 5-1:
5) Michael Jordan: He not only kept the Cavs ringless, he haunts the dreams of Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, and countless other Hall of Famers who retired ringless because of him. Probably would have been higher on the list if he hadn’t been so much fun to watch. Even when he was breaking your heart, part of you loved him.
4) LeBron James: Ask yourself this: How many guys who played with LeBron on the Cavs ever started a game after they left Cleveland? We all spent several years trying to make a case for Mo Williams as a top-5 point guard, or for Delonte West as a poor man’s Chauncey Billups. Hell, I was even on the Drew Gooden bandwagon for a while. The fact was that we just never put enough talent around LeBron, and he made the smart move. Just remember it wasn’t us he was dissing, it was the guys running the team. The only thing I can really be mad about was that if he had no intention of staying he could have told the Cavs that so they could have planned for it, but do you think they would have traded the best player on a 60-win team?
3) Jim Brewer: If ever the Cavs looked like a team of destiny, it was 1976. In the first round of the playoffs they took on a Washington team that had three legit Hall of Famers in Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes, and Dave Bing. The Cavs won Game 2 on a desperation heave by Bingo Smith. I was listening on a staticky radio in Pittsburgh. Joe Tait called out “Bingo from 25. BINGOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!” I loved that guy. They then won game five on a tip in by Jim Cleamons after Hayes gakked on two free throws that would have iced the game, and game seven on a running, lunging floated by Dick Snyder. They then prepared to face a Celtics team that was not one of the scary good teams that Boston usually had back then. In other words, the series looked winnable particularly because the Cavs had been doing everything right and getting every break for about two months. Then, during practice before game one, somebody stepped on Jim Chones’ foot during a fight for a rebound and broke his foot. That left the Cavs with Nate Thurmond, who was awesome for fifteen minutes a night but was 62 years old and had no chance of handling starter minutes; and Luke Witte, who was seven feet tall and about 190 pounds and never played serious minutes as a pro unless somebody fouled out. In all the stories you read about Chones’ injury, there is no clarity as to who stepped on his foot, but any Ohio State fan who is old enough to remember when the Minnesota Gophers beat the crap out of Witte when he was at Ohio State knows that Brewer was on that Minnesota team. Blaming this on him seems to balance the scales for that. Actually, Brewer was a really good player for the Cavs and several other teams, and is generally known as a good guy.
2) Carlos Boozer: Probably the most talented teammate LeBron had in Cleveland, and the only decent draft pick the Cavs made between LeBron and Kyrie, unless you count Hickson. What Boozer did to screw the Cavs is so much worse than what LeBron did that it’s like a felony and a misdemeanor. For those of you who weren’t there, Boozer was a second round pick so the Cavs had the right to extend his deal or decline the option and make him a restricted free agent. He went to John Paxson, who was the GM at the time, and told him that if the Cavs declined the option he would sign a long-term deal. Bear in mind that these under the table negotiations were and are prohibited by the collective bargaining agreement, so even having the conversation should have made both guys squeamish. If the Cavs had exercised the option, Boozer could have been an unrestricted free agent in a year, so Paxson thought this was a good deal for him. As soon as he declined the option, though, Boozer went and signed a six-year offer sheet with the Jazz for 66 million dollars. In retrospect, the Cavs would have been better off matching the offer than spending the money on Larry Hughes, and Boozer, when he was healthy, was good enough to be a legitimate second banana to LeBron. I don’t know who should be considered the villain here, Boozer for being a scumbag liar or Paxson for trusting a scumbag liar. Blame who you want, but I think if Boozer stays the Cavs win a title before LeBron leaves.
1) Ted Stepien: Unlike most of the guys on this list, Stepien never cost the Cavs a title. If he had owned the team for one more year, though, it is likely there would be no NBA team in Cleveland today. That’s how bad he was. The NBA obviously felt that way because they essentially bribed the Gund brothers with draft picks to buy the team before it was completely destroyed. Stepien screwed up in every way possible. He traded every draft pick away, never getting anything more than journeyman talent in return. He believed that the Cavs would be contenders when it came time to make those picks so they would have little value, but one of those picks turned out to be James Worthy (for Don Ford, for God’s sake!) and the Dallas Mavericks built a very good team with guys they drafted with Cavs picks, including Detlef Schrempf, Derek Harper, and Sam Perkins. Stepien also went through six coaches in two season, including firing Chuck Daly and replacing him with Bill Musselman. Not only is this the same Chuck Daly who would later win titles and coach the Dream Team, but Musselman was the guy who coached the Minnesota (yeah, that again) during the Luke Witte game and was more or less credited with instigating the assault by baiting his players into it. Not only did Stepien shove that guy in our faces, he did it twice, so by the time he was hired to replace Daly, we know that he was both an obnoxious asshole and a lousy coach. By Stepien’s third year as owner, the Cavs were referred to in the national media as the Cadavaliers and drawing four thousand a night at the Coliseum. Not only was I certain they were leaving town, at that point it didn’t even bother me. Any list of the worst sports owner in the history of the world would have to include Ted Stepien in the top five, behind only people who actually murdered someone or ran a child sex ring.