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  • Classic Cavs: The 50 Greatest Games in Cleveland Cavaliers History
  • Murry Nelson
Knight, Jonathan. Classic Cavs: The 50 Greatest Games in Cleveland Cavaliers History. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2009. Pp. xiii+201. Photographs. $18.95 pb.

I am not a big fan of the x number of greatest anythings since these lists are generally subjective and lack any real context. Thus, this book was going to have to really dazzle me in order to make a review very positive. It didn’t. Jonathan Knight is the author of The 50 Greatest Games in Cleveland Browns History and The 50 Greatest Games in Cleveland Indians History. What Knight has done is rely on newspaper articles and box scores to present his list of the top games in Cleveland Cavaliers history. Despite my initial weariness with this format, Knight could have added some things to make this book more than just the typical fanatic’s assertions.

One of the first needs here was some sort of criteria, even very subjective criteria, that the author shared with the reader regarding how he came to the conclusions that he did as to the selection and order of the games. Some games had obvious significance—the first Cavs’ win in franchise history, the first playoff win, the first time beating a championship team, the win that propelled them into the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals. The rest of the games, and their specific order, seem almost random in selection. Knight’s brief preface of less than three pages provides no hint to the games’ selections. Rather, it focuses on the young Knight with his ear pressed to the radio, beginning in 1970 when the franchise began, and his subsequent “love affair” with the Cavs over the nearly forty years since.

Each of the small articles (they run generally one to two pages, but the last few are three or four) is accompanied by a box score, drawn from a local Cleveland newspaper. Knight often quotes one of the local beat writers like Hal Liebovitz, Bob Dolgan, or Bill Livingstone but with little year-by-year context this method does not provide much tension or significance. Knight’s organization would be considerably enhanced by some additions. First, a time line would help greatly, one that includes parallel NBA feats and those of the Cavs. Second, a “cast of characters,” including key players, coaches, general managers, owners, beat writers with sketches of these folks would draw in the reader much more. Third, a larger context within the sketches regarding wins and losses for the selected Cavs’ games would help. Fourth, better box scores should be provided. Admittedly, Knight has simply reproduced the box scores that were available in the newspapers of the time, but the earliest ones often did not print assists or, in some cases, even rebounds. This is a key omission and one that could largely be rectified by using better archival sources. In some essays, Knight notes number of assists or rebounds by a player or two, but they are not in the box score. Clearly, the named data came from somewhere; he should have made a greater effort to find and provide those data. In addition, some box scores list players alphabetically, so knowing the starters is not easy. Knight should have provided that, also.

Then there is the selection of games, as noted earlier. At least six of the contests are in the fall, when the NBA teams often seem to coast through the games. Sometimes there is some intensity, but, generally, it is hard to label almost any game in this period significant. [End Page 306] Three of the games are Cav losses and that is appropriate, considering the subtitle of the book, i.e., “the 50 greatest games in Cleveland Cavaliers history.” Certainly great games do not always result in victory for one’s favorite team. Making sense of the games’ significance is difficult, even with Knight’s help. Seasons have real ebb and flow to them and pulling games out of context destroys much of that. Any one game can simply be a “bump in the road,” not necessarily a season-changer. Knight acknowledges this...


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pp. 306-307
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