The first Wall of Honor class was announced on Thursday by the Cleveland Cavaliers, and they set the right example with it.
KJG contributors have touched on how the Cleveland Cavaliers will be now featuring a Wall of Honor of individuals that made a big difference in the franchises’ history this season as a tribute to the team’s 50th season in 2019-20, and the inaugural class was announced on Thursday.
When it comes to the names, it’s evident that the team got it right in setting the right example for years to follow.
Per a Cavs press release, the inaugural Wall of Honor class includes former owner Nick Mileti, former head coach Bill Fitch, former wing John Johnson, former general manager Wayne Embry, and former big John “Hot Rod” Williams; for the record, as we’ve touched on, the players/individuals that have their names in the rafters already in now-to-be renovated Rocket Mortgage will already be on the Wall of Honor, too.
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As was also hit on in the press release, the criteria involved individuals having to be with the Cavs for at least two seasons, and individuals have to have been retired from “playing or working” for Cleveland for at least five.
From there, the individuals had to have at least two of essentially having strong character and a positive impact on those around them, a key impact on the community around them, “standout” personal performance that always helped others and/or be reflective of the team commitment overall.
The team tweeted out a nice clip involving those names on Thursday as well, which was a good move.
Fitch got the Cavs going on the floor
We’ve touched on Bill Fitch some here at KJG, and he was another no-brainer choice for the organization’s inaugural Wall of Honor class I’d say.
Fitch was the first Cavs head coach, and remained with the squad until the conclusion of the 1978-79 season (per Basketball Reference).
He was a coach that was more than willing to take on the expansion Cavs, which was anything but an easy task, and he gradually built them into a winner. Under Fitch’s direction with a team that got up and down, the Cavaliers would make the postseason in three straight years, which was no small feat.
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Fitch led the aforementioned Miracle at Richfield team all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, and the coach would eventually have his imprint all over several other rebuilds to follow after his time with Cleveland.
Fitch was reportedly at the forefront of using film study to prepare his teams for opponents, and it showed, as current Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle, who was on Fitch’s staff on the then-New Jersey Nets, highlighted earlier this year (courtesy of the Akron Beacon Journal‘s Marla Ridenour).
Fitch would go on to take five NBA teams to the postseason, as Carlisle emphasized (again, per Ridenour) and again, the Cavs’ first postseason appearance is largely due to how he was able to put the likes of Austin Carr, Bingo Smith, Jim Chones, Dick Snyder and Campy Russell in the right spots to be successful and have favorable matchups throughout games.
Fitch would win the NBA championship as the Boston Celtics head coach in 1981, and his rebuilding prowess landed him an induction in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this year.
Johnson was Cleveland’s first All-Star
John Johnson was the Cavs’ first draft pick in their history back in 1970, and he was a rock solid wing for them during his tenure in Cleveland.
Johnson was a player that was a very good jump shooter, had the occasional sweeping hook, and was able to get his share of drives as well. Johnson was also a very good passer as well, and his feel for the game was at an advanced level from the getgo with how he was able to consistently time his passers to cutters and get bigs the ball in their sweet spots.
He was the Cavs’ first All-Star, and would be one in his first two NBA seasons. In three years with the Cleveland Cavaliers, “J.J.” would put up 15.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game (per Basketball Reference).
He would go on to play for the Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets and would be a significant part of the Seattle Supersonics’ NBA championship team in 1979 with the likes of Jack Sikma, Dennis Johnson, Gus Williams and others.
Most importantly in Cleveland’s case, Johnson was a key piece for the Cavs in the early going, and helped get Fitch and company on the right path to contending for the postseason, so him being in the inaugural Wall of Honor class is warranted.
Hot Rod was a key contributor to the Cavs in the 80’s/90’s
Hot Rod Williams was an integral piece for predominantly head coach Lenny Wilkens and the Cavaliers in the late 80’s and into the early 90’s. Williams was a player that often finished with authority as a roller/cutter at the rim and was consistently able to get buckets along the baseline as a mid-range shooter, too.
Initially a starter and then mostly a bench sparkplug, Williams put up 12.9 points on 48.2% shooting, to go with 7.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.8 blocks in 31.5 minutes per game (per Basketball Reference).
He was a part of seven postseason runs with the Cavaliers, and proved to work well with the likes of Mark Price and Craig Ehlo in the pick-and-roll/off-ball situations, and meshed with bigs such as Brad Daugherty and Larry Nance when called upon, too.
Hot Rod would go on to play for the Phoenix and Dallas Mavericks to end out his career, but for his play with the Cavs, there’ll always be fond memories of him in Cleveland.
Embry built the Cavs into a contender
Embry was a former GM and vice president, and executive VP, and as per the press release, he became the “first African-American team president and chief operating officer of an NBA team in 1994.”
Embry was an executive from 1986-99, and played a significant role in a team that was consistently in the thick of the postseason picture in the Eastern Conference, and had it not been for the really for the likes of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, the Price, Daugherty, Williams, Nance and largely Ehlo-led teams in the late 80’s/early 90’s could be maybe won a championship.
He has had a consultant role for the Toronto Raptors for the last 15 years now, too, as of June of this year, per the Plain Dealer‘s Terry Pluto.
There would be no Cavaliers without Mileti
Last but absolutely not least, as the press release hit on, Mileti “led a group that brought a dream to life.”
He was the first owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and did so for ten years, and he was responsible for the Richfield Coliseum, which had its place in Cleveland lore, and at the time, was the NBA’s largest arena (per the release).
The reason that the Cavaliers have primarily sported the Wine and Gold colors in their existence is also Mileti.
Those were the colors of his high school, John Adams, colors back when he was there (as Cavshistory.com noted), and with all that the Wine and Gold has meant to the franchise with the “Miracle at Richfield” playing a significant role in team history, and with the way it those colors were brought back in 2003 when the team originally drafted LeBron James, too, Mileti was a simple choice to be in the first Wall of Honor, really.
The Cavs’ first formal induction of the Wall of Honor will be on Nov. 17 against the Philadelphia 76ers, as was highlighted by the team, and again, the organization hit the ball on the barrel of the bat with their inaugural class.
Good on you, Cleveland Cavaliers, for setting the right example going forward.