Friday, February 19, 2010

Forgotten Superstars-The 1975-76 Cavaliers

So,how can a team that didnt even reach their league finals be Forgotten Superstars?
Easy,when it is a team that revitalized an ailing area for a short time,was the Cleveland areas only real shot at a championship over a 20 year span and made me a fan for life.

Don't get me wrong,there was a long period of time that the Cleveland Cavaliers were more important than the Devils or any other hockey team to me.
As I have aged,the NHL and the Devils have sped by the Cavaliers and the NBA in my life,but that doesn't mean that I don't still care about the Cavaliers and come playoff time,I like to think that I am as passionate as anyone about Cavalier basketball.
Yesterday's Cavalier trade that brought Antawn Jamison to Cleveland in an attempt to not only bring the elusive world championship to town,but show LeBron James that winning is the focus of the team before he tests free agency next season,brought to mind the team of my youth-the 75-76 Cavaliers.

To most fans,the names of Bingo Smith,Campy Russell,Jim Chones,Jim Cleamons,Dick Snyder and Jim Brewer would be unknown.
If you are an NBA fan over 50,Hall of Famer Nate Thurmond should be remembered,but might not be and Austin Carr is still well known,but more because he is the color analyst of Cavalier local games than his career.
But to Cleveland fans over 40,those names are well remembered because those names brought winning hoops to Ohio.

Why is a team filled with less than all time greats that won just one playoff series such a big deal?
Some of it was the great buzzer beaters in the series over Washington,some could be the great calls by radio man Joe Tait (Still the voice of the Cavs) and more could be nostalgia for a time that saw awful Indian team,non-contending Browns teams and the first ever playoff appearance for the Cavaliers.
Check the driving Game 7 game winner by the "gritty" Dick Snyder and the reaction from the Coliseum crowd after the Bullets final shot.

I also think the team is remembered for what might have been and a few bad breaks.
First and foremost of those was the broken foot suffered by Jim Chones in practice before the Eastern finals series against Boston started.
Chones was really coming into his own and the Boston Celtics were really on their last legs as contenders and I don't believe the Celtics could have handled Chones and the aging Nate Thurmond with both playing reasonably fresh at center.
With Chones injured,Thurmond had to play more minutes,wearing the veteran down.
Had Jim Chones played in the series,I truly believe that Cleveland would beaten Boston and then moved onto Phoenix in the finals.
The Suns were making their own Cinderella run,but I dont think they matched up well with the Cavaliers at all with undersized center Alvan Adams against the larger Chones and Thurmond.

The second bad break?
The Cavaliers picked the worst possible time to get really good as at the conclusion of the season.the ABA merged with the NBA and since the Cavaliers were picking near the bottom,they watched as other teams improved themselves with ABA stars and they stayed stagnant.

The team really was a team,not a collection of individuals as seven players averaged double digits in points ranging from Jim Chones at 15.8 to Austin Carr at 10.1.
As entertaining as LeBron James is as the star,watching a team concept can be just as enjoyable to watch.

Being the only Cavalier fan in my country area,it was always easy to be one of my favorite Cavaliers at the old closed school with two battered and ratty hoops.
I was usually Campy Russell or occasionally Bingo Smith,I suppose it depended on my teammates,but usually the other guys were Bullets,Sixers or Celtics,so I didn't have to argue much!
Bingo Smith sure could drain it from the outside and his long bomb that beat Washington in Game 2 of the playoffs was huge to me even though I didn't see it!
You often remember things in the context that you first see them and Bingo's bomb hit me in the backseat of the car listening to the game on the way to Ohio and that is how I will always reference it.
Check Bingo out above dusting Doug Collins in the CBS halftime show H O R S E.

Campy Russell and Austin Carr were the players that most resembled todays game,as both could get to the rim and yet score from the outside.
I could see either of those players being 20+ scorers in the current game.
Jim Chones and Nate Thurmond both would be solid centers,but Thurmond might have to be a Tim Duncan center/power forward hybrid today.
Jim Cleamons was the classic point guard,but would leave after the following season as a free agent to the Knicks.
The replacement?Walt Frazier became a Cavalier as compensation for losing Cleamons.
Walt Frazier in Richfield?No way,Mr Gray!

The loss of Cleamons and retirement of Thurmond led to two first round exits in the following two seasons and then a playoff drought of six years before another "miracle" of sorts resulted in one playoff appearance.
But what a playoff appearance it was.

Stay tuned for another Cavalier piece coming soon from the old days,a future post on my other pro basketball love of my youth and I am also working on another Cavalier related surprise.
Until then,take a look at the demolition of the old Richfield Coliseum.


Ryan Heimberger said...

Bingo Smith and Austin Carr ARE household names to me...but I guess that's the exception that proves the rule :)

Shawn said...

LOL<I suppose in this household they are!