Paying tribute to the NBA's first 26-game skid and the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cleveland Cavaliers still have a piece of NBA history. They just have a bit more company now.
The Philadelphia 76ers matched the 2010-11 Cavaliers' NBA record by losing their 26th straight game Friday night. Rather than claim the record all to themselves with another defeat, the 76ers took out two months of frustration on the Pistons, beating them 123-98 on Saturday to snap their skid and preserve the Cavs' place in the record books. We figured this would be as good of a time as any to reflect on just how difficult it is to lose 26 straight games in the first place.
When you follow a good team, even if you miss the game the night before, you typically assume they won. You wake up, check your phone and are actually a bit surprised when you see a loss. That's what it was like when LeBron James was with the Cavs in his final year. Losses were actually kind of shocking. That next season – his first with the Heat – in the midst of that giant streak of futility, the wins were out of place. A win became an event.
It got that way again this season with Philadelphia. While no one (or I would hope no one) was actively rooting for the 76ers to keep losing, the streak still felt jinxable. The win on Saturday had to be a relief. Sure, the Sixers are tanking. Sure, their roster is a mishmash of guys who actively represent what tanking tries to be. But they're still professionals and losing isn't exactly fun.
We haven't had much time to gauge how Philadelphia feels, but it has been three years since the Cavaliers had their historically horrible season. SI.com decided to check in with some writers who cover the Cavaliers to see exactly what they remember:
For me, the streak really comes down to one game when the Cavaliers got absolutely obliterated by the Lakers. That told the real story of the team from that year, including the streak. I had to go back and look just to verify that my memory was correct, but the Cavaliers started Manny Harris, Antawn Jamison, Mo Williams, J.J. Hickson and Ryan Hollins that day. Ryan Hollins.
It was a return to my past as a delusional Cavs fan. Through the 90's I always thought the Cavaliers had a chance to be better year-in and year-out with the oft-injured Zydrunas Ilgauskas and guys like Chris Mills, Bobby Phills, Terrell Brandon and names like those. There was no chance. I was lying to myself.
Prior to the start of the 2010-11 season there were all these thoughts that it was a 60-win team that lost its best player, but they still had the pride and muscle memory of a 60-win team, right? Apparently only on opening night with a "fool's gold" win over the Boston Celtics.
Fans were sweating that losing streak, but it didn't matter to me, really. No streak could have embarrassed me more as a fan than the 112-57 drubbing by the Lakers. I'm not even talking about LeBron's "karma" tweet either. That game exposed the Cavaliers and I felt that it exposed me as a fan of the team for having all these delusions that the teams I was watching weren't really as bad as everyone said they were.
They were that bad. I was forced to face it night after night, but never more-so than that one game.
Christian Eyenga made his NBA debut during the Cleveland Cavaliers 26-game losing streak. He’d also work past Jamario Moon, Joey Graham and Alonzo Gee to make his first of 18 career starts. On February 11, 2011, the high-flier from the Congo would measure his freakish athleticism against Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers.
I had successfully distracted myself from the very real pain of a 26-game losing streak by chronicling Eyenga’s every basket that season. I remember when he scored 12 points against the Indiana Pacers to move past Jay Guidinger on the Cavaliers all-time scoring list. I also watched the previous game against the Detroit Pistons knowing Eyenga would need all eight of the points he scored to continue past Jason Kapono.
Before that historic clash with the Clippers, I told Christian he had moved into the top-200 on the Cavs all-time scoring list. In 17 games, he had scored more points than Kapono did in 41. Now he just needed a win. I openly rooted for Skyenga that night from my seat on press row. He logged 19 minutes of brilliance, totaling six points to go along with four demonstrative rebounds. When the game ended, the losing streak was finally over. Skyenga had done the impossible. The rest is all a blur.
Scott Sargent, Editor and Co-founder of Waiting For Next Year:
There was a moment. It was a Wednesday night in early February. A hellacious winter storm had rendered downtown Cleveland even more of a ghost town than it typically is during such a time, save for the 10,000 or so fans who piled into Quicken Loans Arena in hopes that their team, the Cavaliers, would snap what was a 21-game losing streak. The Indiana Pacers were in town. Danny Granger was a star in the making; Paul George was coming off of the bench; Tyler Hansbrough, Jeff Foster and Josh McRoberts were all receiving key minutes. Having lost the previous two games by 16 and 27 points, respectively, the Cleveland Cavaliers were somehow winning.
As the fourth quarter ticked away, fans rallied, standing and shouting as a means of encouragement. Byron Scott stood by -- patiently. Clad in a dark grey suit and extra-wide grey and white-striped tie, his arms were crossed as he looked on. His team -- and what a team it was -- was attempting to hold on. As J.J. Hickson and Antawn Jamison both missed mid-range jump shots, however, the Pacers would regain the lead.
With 27 seconds remaining, Scott drew up a play that would, in an ideal world, put his team on top with nothing but a prayer left for the opposition. Players scurried about as the official handed the ball to Jamison for the inbounds pass. The ball would wind up in the hands of the player who was called upon to save the day. Unfortunately for Cleveland, that player was a 35-year old Anthony Parker who would proceed to lob a five-foot floater off of the back of the rim as guys named Christian Eyenga, Samardo Samuels and Manny Harris were watching from the team’s bench. The Q went silent as the Cavs would drop their 22nd straight contest despite the pleas from fans toting signs that begged for the alternative. They would go on to lose four more before pulling out an overtime thriller.
How we didn’t see this train barreling down the tracks -- one where Anthony Parker is to ever play the role of hero -- I’ll never quite understand.
(I vaguely remember the Cavs owned this record upon receiving this request, but not much else. Thus, a short recounting of an important moment in my life that has resonant and related value to the Cleveland Sports Lifestyle.
For those not familiar -- although if you’re reading this you probably are -- that means seeking various mental band-aids and distractions elsewhere in life. For me, that meant foregoing deep discussions on the virtues of Ryan Hollins in favor of consulting businessmen on their deepest dilemmas and most internal of conflicts.
While it didn’t equate to the joy that comes from a successful NBA franchise, it was something.)
George had wanted soft pretzels.
Knowing him as well as I did, I knew a simple Auntie Annie's wouldn't cut it, and thus stayed up all night making his favorite customizations of the frozen Super Pretzel brand from the grocery. His unique combination of common man and elitist tastes had always endeared George to me, even as it frustrated.
The "caviar-dipped with crumbled Frosted Flakes" customized Super Pretzel was my favorite example of this, when attempting to explain George to others.
He'd eaten three of these on this particular morning, and halfway through his fourth, he finally spoke. It was hard to gauge his exact emotions - the old dock of the bay we were sitting on faced the water in such a way that we were nearly blinded.
He was squinting, is the point.
"Not us us. Lucasfilm," he took a hard swallow, and pretended he was choking for a few seconds. My non-reaction told him I wasn't falling for that again, and he continued. "Star Wars, plus certain non-film rights to Indiana Jones and related properties."
I stared out at the water for 37 minutes, running the various scenarios through my head. What did it mean for today? Not much. 100 years from now? Who knew for sure, but I identified 1,201 positive and 324 negative directions a conglomerate like the Mouse House could take the brand. George was still squinting, and a single tear running sideways (Somehow! Wow!) out of his left eye told me he didn't want to hear even one of those scenarios.
"George," I had a tear happening to me, now, and tilted my head at a full 90-degree angle so it could also run sideways. I was going to be with him in this, as opposed to not with him. "Remember that day out at the old barn of the bay, when my aunt didn't know who you were, and she kept calling you Jim?"
He smiles one of those involuntarily closed-mouth smiles, like on TV.
"Look man, you're gonna wake up tomorrow and do whatever you want to, whether you own Chewbacca or not," I said this in a Southern accent, for affect. If the reader read it like that instinctually, then they get the point. "I can still get you my aunt's number."
George opened that smile and let his teeth reflect the sun off the water. He'd just had an advanced in-office Zoom Whitening treatment. The glare was insane, and inspiring. My left eye's capacity for sight was reduced to 20/10. It didn't matter, because what he said next sealed the proverbial deal, literally, figuratively, and otherwise.
"I prefer email."
Alex Raffalli, One half of PodCAVS and Contributor to CavsZine:
I will always remember Byron Scott during The Streak. He would stand around near the bench, arms crossed, no expression on his face as D-Leaguers gave up 20-point runs and would never call a timeout. Which is what led me to believe that the Cavaliers were definitely losing on purpose. Even when the streak was broken, the one who was hired to try to keep LeBron home wasn't that happy about it, he probably knew he had messed up his career in taking this job that no-one wanted.
Ben Cox, Writer at Waiting For Next Year and Fear The Sword:
What I remember most about the streak was the miserableness of the whole thing. The shadow of LeBron's departure hung over the entire season and the Cavs hadn't drafted high yet, so Manny Harris and Samardo Samuels were overcast as our Players of the Future. We spent the winter watching the gutted skeleton of a playoff team get repeatedly stomped night after cold, dark night. It was awful.
As for specifics, there are two moments that stick out: the nadir of the streak, the 112-57 loss to the Lakers, and end of it, the overtime win over the Clippers.
The Laker game was stunningly bad. The Cavs had lost 20 of 21 at the time (thanks, Knicks!) and I just remember seeing scores like 61-25 and 74-27 scroll across my twitter feed and deciding to turn the game on. I had never seen a team lose by 50 before. I was morbidly curious. Manny Harris finished with a +/- of -57.
The Cavaliers' OTwin against the Clippers is honestly one of the most fun games I've ever attended. My friends and I bought tickets knowing we'd either see the Cavs first win in nearly two months or we'd see a lot of cool Blake Griffin dunks while the Cavs moved into sole possession of the longest losing streak in the history North American professional sports. The crowd was legitimately great and the game was fun. J.J. Hickson had two monster blocks, including one at the buzzer that sent the game into overtime. The game itself was exciting and the win was such a relief (we only tied for worst!). But that crowd, man. I'm smiling now just thinking about it.