The Cavaliers began play in the 1970–1971 season as one of three expansion teams in the NBA (along with the Portland Trail Blazers and the Buffalo Braves - now known as the Los Angeles Clippers), playing their games at the Cleveland Arena. Under owner Nick Mileti and GM/head coach Bill Fitch, the Cavs lost their first 15 games in team history, and struggled through their first few seasons.
By 1974, the Cleveland Arena had fallen into disrepair, prompting the Cavaliers to move to the new Coliseum in Richfield, Ohio (roughly halfway between Cleveland and Akron). The location was picked in part in an effort to draw fans from a wider radius of Northeast Ohio. The team had their first winning season in 1975–76, winning the Central Division title, and being known in Cleveland sports lore as the "Miracle of Richfield". The "Miracle" team had advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, but after starting center Jim Chones broke his ankle in practice, the team would lose in the conference finals to the Boston Celtics 4 games to 2. After two more playoff seasons, the team would go into a playoff drought.
In 1980, businessman Ted Stepien purchased the team, and in his three years of ownership, the team would suffer from what was viewed as Stepien's questionable trades (especially regarding draft picks - leading the NBA to institute what was known as the "Stepien Rule" - in which a team could not trade their first round pick in consecutive years), as well as numerous head coaching changes and persistent rumors of the team moving to a new city.
Cleveland businessmen George and Gordon Gund bought the team in 1983, with it bringing some stability. From the mid 1980s to the early 1990s, under GM Wayne Embry, head coach Lenny Wilkens, and a core group of players including Brad Daugherty, Mark Price, John "Hot Rod" Williams, Larry Nance, and Craig Ehlo, the Cavs were a consistent playoff team, though were constantly stymied by the Michael Jordan led Chicago Bulls (including the infamous buzzer beating jumper by Jordan in the 1989 playoffs known in Cleveland sports lore as "The Shot").
Mike Fratello would take over as coach in 1993, and the following year, the team moved to the downtown Cleveland based Gund Arena (later known as Quicken Loans Arena and currently as Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse). The Fratello years were known for the slow, defensive oriented, grind-out style that the team played, which resulted in usually low scoring games. Fratello had moderate success, making the playoffs several times but never advancing out of the first round.
After some lean years in late 90s and early 2000s, the team's fortune changed in 2003, when with the number one pick in the NBA draft, the Cavs chose Akron high school phenom LeBron James. After businessman Dan Gilbert bought the team in 2005, the James-led Cavs made the playoffs in 2006, and the following year became Eastern Conference Champions for the first time, though would be swept in the NBA Finals by the San Antonio Spurs. After three more playoff seasons, James would sign with the Miami Heat during the infamous Decision TV special, resulting in tremendous fan backlash, and the Cavs struggling for four seasons (including setting a then NBA record 26 game losing streak in 2011).
However, James would return to the Cavaliers in 2014 as a free agent, and along with All-Star forward Kevin Love (who came in a trade shortly after James came back to Cleveland), and young point guard Kyrie Irving (who the Cavs took with the #1 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft), the "Big Three" would lead the Cavs to three straight NBA Finals from 2015–2018, culminating in winning the NBA Title in 2016, scoring the first major sports championship for Cleveland since the Browns' 1964 NFL Championship, and ending the period of time between championships known in Cleveland sports lore as "The Curse".
Irving left in 2017, but the Cavs would make one more Finals appearance in 2018, losing to their nemesis the Golden State Warriors. James would leave for the second time following the 2018 Finals, signing with the Los Angeles Lakers, but this time under friendlier terms than when he left for Miami years earlier.
- Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse - Cleveland, Ohio (1994–present - previously known as Gund Arena and Quicken Loans Arena)
- Cleveland Clinic Courts - Independence, Ohio (2007–present - team headquarters and practice facility)
- Cleveland Arena - Cleveland, Ohio (1970-1974)
- Richfield Coliseum - Richdield, Ohio (1974-1994)
- Dan Gilbert - Governor/Chairman
- Gordon Gund - Minority owner
- Usher Raymond IV - Minority owner
- Len Komorowski - CEO
- Koby Altman - GM
- Bernie Bickerstaff - Senior Advisor
- Jim Beilien
- 7 - Bobby "Bingo" Smith
- 11 - Zydrunas Ilgauskas
- 22 - Larry Nance
- 25 - Mark Price
- 34 - Austin Carr
- 42 - Nate Thurmond
- 43 - Brad Daugherty
Longtime announcer Joe Tait also has a banner alongside the retired numbers, honoring his tenure with the team.