By Robyn Marcs, Grants Manager at the Western Reserve Historical Society
Most Clevelanders can tell you where they were when our beloved Cavaliers won the 2016 NBA Finals. For me, my family and I had just come back from a Father’s Days barbecue. My mom and I watched the final minutes of the game and then jumped around our living room hugging each other crying while my Pittsburgher father mumbled something about not being able to make fun of Cleveland not having a championship since 1964 anymore. However, forty years before the 2016 championship, there was another miracle in Cleveland.
The Cleveland Cavaliers were a new team in 1976, having only been established six years prior. The team didn’t even have a set place to play until 1974 when the Richfield Coliseum opened with the hope that its convenient location halfway between Akron and Cleveland would draw more fans. The 1976 Cavs were led by Austin Carr, Dick Snyder, Jim Chones, veteran player Nate Thurmond, and Robert “Bingo” Smith.
It’s every sports players’ dream to have a game’s final moments fall on them, and Dick Snyder was no exception. The Cavs had finally made it to the first round of the playoffs, and the seven game series was tied at 3-3 (sound familiar?) on April 29, 1976. The final seconds of the game saw the score tied at 85-85. With four seconds left, Dick Snyder made a crucial two-point basket that put the Cavs in the lead, and when the Bullets tried unsuccessfully to close the gap, the Richfield Coliseum erupted into cheers for the home team. The late Cavs announcer Joe Tait emotionally shouted, “The Cavaliers win! The Cavaliers win! 87-85!” Fans flooded the court, and even tried to tear down the baskets!
While unfortunately the Cavs fell to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals 3-2 after star player Jim Chones broke his ankle, the legacy of the Miracle of Richfield lives on. It was the first time that the Cleveland Cavaliers showed themselves to be more than just an expansion team, and today Bingo Smith, Austin Carr, and Nate Thurmond have had their numbers retired by the team. And forty years later the Cavs brought the championship home in one of the greatest games of the NBA Finals. It just goes to show that you can’t spell “Miracle” without “CLE.”