Actor and lifelong Cleveland Cavaliers fan Jake Robinson co-hosts Collectable’s podcast, The Point After. He’s appeared in The Carrie Diaries and American Odyssey.
During an era when I was a fledgling basketball fan, every couple of months, our family would drive up dreary I-71 North to visit my Grandma Robinson, an avid and lifelong Cleveland Cavaliers fan. In all my visits, the one constant was that the Cavs would be on the tube. I became a Cavaliers fan by osmosis, a fandom that was solidified with the arrival of the King himself, LeBron James.
Still, I’m a big enough person to own the fact that the Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t exactly the most illustrious franchise the NBA has seen. In fact, one could argue that without the stellar good fortune of landing James in 2003, they’d have ridden on the treadmill of mediocrity for the entirety of the 21st Century. Or possibly the treadmill of blechhhh, if that was a thing.
Fortunately for my fellow Ohio natives, our boys have had some success sans The King—a few of their squads from the late-20th Century were legit contenders—but being a life long Cavaliers rooter has not been the most rewarding occupation. That said, there were plenty of excellent players who donned the Cavs uni before LeBron, Kyrie, and K-Love brought my Cleveland Cavaliers a ring. Here are ten of my favorites.
10. WORLD B. FREE
Lloyd Bernard Free, a.k.a. the Prince of Midair, is known for the best name-change in NBA history—sorry, Metta World Peace, you know it’s true—but let’s not let that overshadow his mad skills. A flamboyant guard known for his high arcing rainbow jumpers, risky shot selection, and badass dunkery, Free had four solid seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers…but truth be told, his best seasons came with the Clippers and the Warriors. Nonetheless, he made enough noise in Cleveland—we’re talking 23.0 points a night in four seasons—to merit inclusion here.
9. ANDERSON VAREJAO
The man known as Mr. Hustle spent 12 seasons in Cleveland, each grittier than the last. Thanks to his ability to annoy the hell out of opposing centers, Varejao earned solid playing time in his rookie year, and went on to be a major contributor during the first LeBron-era playoffs runs. Thanks in part to his uncanny resemblance to Sideshow Bob and his knack for taking painful charges, Varejao is a personal favorite, thus he lands on the list over the likes of Ron Harper and Austin Carr.
8. JOHN WILLIAMS
Hot Rod was a fine player—during his nine years with the Cavs, the dude averaged 12.9 points, 7.1 boards, and 1.8 blocks a night—but at heart, he was a hard-hat, lunch-pail guy, and earns his relatively high spot on the list in part because he sported the second-best nickname in Cavs history. (H/T to World B. at number one.)
7. TRISTAN THOMPSON
The glue guy in the during Cleveland’s 2015-2018 NBA championship runs, Thompson is a modern-day iron man who once played in 447 consecutive games. Double-T may be a double-double machine, but, truth be told, most know him as Khloe Kardashian’s paramour.
6. CRAIG EHLO
Yeah, yeah, I know, I know, the towheaded swingman is most remembered for getting singed by Michael Jordan during the 1989 Playoffs, but he was a lock-down defender and a key component of the tough late-80s and early-90s Cavs squads—which, IMHO, would’ve made a trip or two to the NBA Finals had the aforementioned Mr. Jordan not existed.
5. LARRY NANCE
Owns the NBA record for most blocked shots by a non-center. Out-jammed Julius Erving in the NBA’s inaugural Slam Dunk Contest. Three-time All-Defense. Three-time All-Star. Retired uni hangs in the Cavs rafters. The kind of guy you love when he’s on your team, and hate when he’s an opponent. We had him for just half of his 14-year career, and we were lucky for it.
4. TERRELL BRANDON
Tee Bee was an undeniably solid baller—during his six seasons in Cleveland, most of which were spent backing up Mark Price (more about him in a bit), his per-36 averages were 17.1 points and 6.6 assists—but he holds a special place in my heart due to his work in the community. Also, fun fact: When he was in seventh grade, LeBron James attended Brandon’s basketball camp.
3. BRAD DAUGHERTY
Known as Big Dukie (the worst nickname in Cavs history) and The Hooch (the second-worst nickname in Cavs history), Daugherty came into The Association with a reputation for softness, and left with a reputation for double-doubling all the damn time. Not only was he a five-time All-Star, and not only did he retire as the leading scorer and rebounder in Cavs history, but he made a cameo in the 1996 Whoopi Goldberg vehicle, Eddie. In addition to being a well-respected television broadcaster and businessman, Brad currently co-owns and runs a NASCAR Cup Series team called JTG Daugherty Racing, which is flat-out dope.
2. ZYDRUNAS ILGAUSKAS
I’ll go on record as saying that had it not been for early-career injuries that permanently jacked up his feet, Big Z could’ve been a Hall of Famer. During his rookie season, he put up 13.9 points and 8.8 boards in just 29 minutes a night, and there’s little doubt that had he remained healthy and averaged, say, 35 minutes, the statistical sky would’ve been the limit. The 7’3” behemoth was so beloved by former teammate LeBron James that The King spent several thousand dollars chartering a plane in order to attend Ilgauskas’ jersey retirement ceremony. Seriously, LeBron rules.
1. MARK PRICE
I was five years old when the Cavs shipped Price to Washington in 1995, so I never had the opportunity to see him play live and in person, but I’ve watched the highlights, and my goodness, the little guy had game. The sleepy-eyed floor general is a borderline Hall of Famer who, along with Daugherty and Ehlo, was screwed over, playoff-wise, thanks to the presence of that Jordan fella. Price finished his career as one of only five members of the 50-40-90 club, the others being Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash, and Dirk Nowitzki. (Nice company, right?) And like about half of the dudes on this list, he was annoying af…unless you’re a Cavs fan, in which case, he was one of your favorites.