This week, the Cavaliers are commemorating the 40th anniversary of what’s known in Cleveland sports history as the Miracle of Richfield. In April, 1976, the Cavs surged to the playoffs and won an epic seven-game series at the Richfield Coliseum. Members of that team will reunite at Friday’s game at the Q.
WKSU commentator Terry Pluto says today, the site of the Richfield Coliseum is on open field owned by the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It opened in 1974 and was razed by the park in 1999.
“I would doubt there’s ever been any stadium, any arena anywhere that after it was knocked down, a national park took it over. You would have never believed there was a 20,000-seat arena and you would have never believe that, for 20 years, the Cavs played there. The interesting thing is nothing ever grew around it. When Nick Mileti took the team from downtown Cleveland out to Richfield, he got a deal on all this land. He had dreams of a hotel, shopping mall and all this developing around it.”
But that didn’t happen. Now, all that remains are the memories, some of which hang from the rafters at Quicken Loans Arena where the Cavs play now.
“I remember people said, ‘Miracle of Richfield, what IS that?’ You look up to the rafters and you see some great players up there, [like] Mark Price and Larry Nance. Then you see Bingo Smith and you see Nate Thurmond, who was a great player but played for Cleveland for a year and a half. [Former radio announcer] Joe Tait has his banner up there,” Pluto says.
“Basketball started in Cleveland in 1970 in the old downtown Cleveland area on Euclid around 30th -- that’s long gone, too. Nick Mileti, who owned the Cavaliers, tried to get Cleveland to ante up with land and money, [but] couldn’t do it.
"Then he got this vision to put the Richfield Coliseum way out there. [He] put it together, then they moved. The Cavs were terrible in 1970-1974; 1975-76, all of the sudden they finished 49-33, [and] finally made the playoffs. At mid-season that year, they traded for Nate Thurmond, and the team just took off. They had a seven-game series with Washington, all these close games."
In the second round, the Cavs faced the Boston Celtics. “Jim Chones, who was their center and leading scorer, breaks his foot in practice. That’s it. They lose to the Celtics; no title.”
“Every broadcaster I know who becomes a legend in their hometown, there’s a team or a player that makes them the legend. Joe Tait was a very good announcer in 1971, 1972, 1973 -- but the Cavs were always losing by 20 or 30 [points]. All the sudden, they’re winning these close games and his voice is matching the moment.” Listen to a clip here.
“It was a team that was not a great team, but it was a team with a moment in time. And the moment ended with a broken foot. But what it did is it brought people to the Richfield Coliseum, who thought it was too far ever to go. It established Joe Tait as a broadcaster. It endeared some of these players to Cavs fans’ hearts.”
Pluto gives the Cavs organization credit for organizing a 40th anniversary half-time commemoration because he thinks most fans today don’t know much about the “Miracle of Richfield.”
“It’s a pure Cleveland-Northeast Ohio-Akron thing. The NBA is an urban sport played in what was once a sheep field.”