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"Is Cleveland going to be on the cover?" David Hertz asked me. David does work on behalf of an advocacy group called Cleveland+, which is trying to rebrand the Cleveland area—the website Trip Advisor named Cleveland one of the 10 most underrated destinations!—and tell people all the good things happening. Getting Cleveland on the cover of Sports Illustrated would be a huge boon. But still... David grew up in Cleveland.
"I'll be honest with you," he said. "I don't know how I feel about it all."
"Every year we played there, Cleveland led the nation in stolen cars. And half of them came out of our parking lot."
On this visit everybody told me a different story about Richfield Coliseum, the arena where the Cavaliers played when I was young. Some thought it had been turned into a flea market. Others thought it had become a retirement home. Zev had heard it was a jail.
It turns out Richfield Coliseum is gone—it was torn down in 1999. I drive by where it used to be, and there's no hint that anything was ever there. All around is parkland. I would not even know where I am except, down the road, they still have the Country Maid Ice Cream and Orchard, where they have been making Northeast Ohio's (and the world's) best ice cream since '48.
I so vividly remember those Cavs games at Richfield. The team showed up to Cleveland more or less uninvited in 1970. Bill Fitch used basketball cards to make the team's first draft. At first the Cavaliers played at old Cleveland Arena—the place was so dumpy that visiting players would dress at the Midtown Sheraton and walk across Euclid Avenue in their sweats. The Cavs moved out to Richfield in '74, and while it was the middle of nowhere, the arena was beautiful, new. "It was like going to a mall," says Plain Dealer columnist and Cleveland leading light Terry Pluto.
The Cavaliers won their first playoff series, in 1976, and it so stunned us that, to this day, that team is known as the Miracle of Richfield. But the teams that stick with me most followed the Miracle. Those teams, from '80 to '83, were owned by an advertising guy named Ted Stepien, who was so patently insane that at some point the NBA literally forbade him from making any more trades without league approval. Even now, teams are not allowed to trade their first-round picks in back-to-back years because of what is known as the Stepien Rule.
The Cavs in those years were, of course, comically bad. Every year they traded for hopeless players like Richard Washington or Jerome Whitehead, and every year they seemed on the verge of folding or moving to some place like Toronto. Mostly, I remember the halftime shows. My favorite was the appropriately named, "Fat guy eating beer cans." The show was a fat guy who ate beer cans.
Yes. Frisbee Dog brought back memories.
Then Stepien sold the Cavaliers, and in the mid- to late 1980s, the team got good. This led to the most famous moment ever at Richfield Coliseum: when Michael Jordan hit his last-second shot over Craig Ehlo in '89 to beat the Cavaliers in the playoffs. Yes. So Cleveland.