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Cavs Cavs Archive Michael Stanley, Throwing Up in Public, and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man
Written by Jonathan Knight

Jonathan Knight

cavs 1992 playoff guideHow many times in the past 50 years has a Cleveland team ended a run through the playoffs with its followers feeling heartbroken and emotionally disemboweled?

Don’t answer that.

No matter what the expectations are going into the postseason, Cleveland teams have an amazing tendency to come in just under them - and usually piss you off along the way.

Not 20 years ago this month. For in the sunshiny, Rodney King-verdict-riot spring of 1992, the Cleveland Cavaliers took us on an exciting, six-week romp through the postseason that ended neither in heartbreak nor fury. It was the rare occasion when a good team put together an enjoyable season, went exactly as far as it should have in the playoffs, and then gracefully stepped offstage to an ovation from an appreciative audience.

Remember that in 1992 it had been a not-so-sweet 16 years since the Cavs had even won a playoff series, let alone done anything truly “special-episode-of-Blossom” memorable in the postseason. Since the Miracle of Richfield, the Cavs had reached the playoffs six times and lost in the first round each turn - four times in the deciding game. Postseason success and the Cavaliers couldn’t have picked each other out of a lineup.

So while the team had improved its record by 24 games in 1991-92 - an incredible turnaround sparked almost entirely by the return of Mark Price after missing the previous season with an exploded knee - there wasn’t a whole lot of excitement about just making the playoffs. Even the Cavs’ otherwise impressive record of 57-25 was less cause for celebration than concern: it matched the franchise-best mark of three years before that went up in smoke to Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the first round. Battle-scarred Cleveland fans couldn’t help but see the 57 wins as a troubling omen.

But this time, the Cavs had a Michael Stanley soundtrack.

One minute before the tip-off of each home game, Stanley’s Cavs PR ballad “Tonight’s the Night” would thump to life over the speakers. And the well-groomed,tonights the night tract-housing fans in the seats at Richfield Coliseum would rise to their feet in appreciation of one of the greatest creations of the Springsteen of Cuyahoga County.

Deep down, you remember it as well as the last four digits of your Social Security Number:

Tonight we’re gonna take no prisoners

This time we’re gonna live a dream

Tonight the orange and blue delivers

Hard-workin’ town, hard-workin’ team

With our toes still tapping to that snappy little tune, the Cavs announced to the world that this trip to the playoffs would be different. The wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am exits of the late ’80s quickly went the way of Terence Trent D'Arby.

They flirted with disaster in the first game of the opening series against a solid New Jersey team - forecasting another disastrous “Springtime for Hitler” in Richfield - but escaped in the final minutes to capture the franchise’s first-ever victory in the opening game of a playoff series. The Cavs went on to win the series in four games, rallying from 15 points down to take a gritty Game Four in the Meadowlands that fans enjoyed intermittently while continually flipping back to the series finale of The Cosby Show on NBC.

Next came the heretofore forbidden kingdom of the conference semifinals and the venerable Boston Celtics with Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish all limping toward the end of their terrific careers on walkers with tennis balls on the legs. Studded with classy individuals on both sides and crisp, fundamental basketball throughout, this series could still be framed and hung in the Cleveland Museum of Art, even though it boasted just one truly exciting game.

But what a slobberknocker it was - a Mother’s Day marathon in rickety Boston Garden in Game Four that saw the Cavs sneak out a two-point overtime victory behind 32 points from high-socked Larry Nance, who hit 13 of 16 shots in his finest performance since winning the inaugural Slam Dunk Contest.

With the series now knotted at two games apiece, the teams took turns doling out home-court smackdowns to close it out. In Game Seven, the Cavs annihilated the Celtics in Richfield, 122-104, in perhaps the most impressive overall performance in team history.

(And it was preceded by perhaps the franchise’s finest bit of fan-induced gamesmanship when somebody rigged up a cardboard sign reading “Larry Bird’s Last Game, Next Right” on I-77 at the Boston Mills Road exit. It would indeed be the final NBA game for the Bird Man, who drove his motorized wheelchair into retirement following that summer’s Olympics.)

Even at the time, this was where the story ended for most Cavs fans. The Game Seven victory over the Celtics was their Super Bowl - like when a Cleveland-area public high school wins its last playoff game before having to face St. Ignatius. There was absolutely no expectation by anybody on the planet that the Cavs would be able to knock off the 67-win, defending world-champion Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals.

That is, until the following Thursday night.

After playing as if they were auditioning for a Snuggle fabric softener commercial in the series opener, the well-mannered Cavs were called every edited-for-TV adjective in the book for “pussies.” Soft. Nice guys. Cream puffs. And...wait for it...marshmallows.

Two nights later, the pissed-off (but still well-mannered) Cavaliers politely ripped the Bulls a new rectum in a 107-81 victory in Chicago that made everyone believe that the choir boys from suburban Akron might actually be able to stand up to the street toughs from the Windy City.

stay puft marshmallow manThis thinking was then amplified just before the tip-off of Game Three at the Coliseum when the classic clip from Ghostbusters of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man stomping through the streets of New York was played on the telescreens. (Well-played, Cavs’ gameday entertainment staff of two decades ago, well-played.)

Unfortunately, the contest that followed was almost as painful to watch as Ghostbusters 2. The Bulls sprinted to a 26-4 lead and coasted to an easy victory to go up two-games-to-one and steal back the momentum. Worse still, Mark Price - the heart and soul of the franchise - spent the following evening in the hospital with a nasty stomach virus, and it appeared this promising season was about to swirl down the toilet along with the half-digested remains of Price’s breakfast. 

On Memorial Day afternoon, a weakened, even-paler-than-usual Price played but continually scurried back to the locker room to yodel the groceries. When he’d return to the court - likely with the taste of good Christian vomit still in his mouth - he’d receive a standing ovation from the sellout crowd. It was the gastrointestinal version of Willis Reed in the 1970 NBA Finals.

With Price providing the will and Pepto Bismol providing the way, the Cavs ground out an impressive victory over the Bulls, who saw a late charge extinguished when lanky Cavs’ forward Mike Sanders chucked up the ugliest three-pointer in playoff history and somehow sank it with two minutes left to put the Cavs in the clear.

Two nights later, the Bulls blew open a ticavs t shirtght game in the fourth quarter to cruise to victory in Game Five, then the Cavs finally bowed out - just as Johnny Carson did on The Tonight Show that week. In another admirable performance at the Coliseum in Game Six, the Cavs took a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter and it looked like a deciding Game Seven in Chicago between MJ and the Hardy Boys might be necessary. But - as it usually did at this stage of the postseason - the tongue-wagging cream rose to the top in the final minutes, and the Cavs lost by five.

Were we sad to see it end? Sure. It had been the Cavs’ best tilt-a-whirl ride since the Bicentennial and one that wouldn’t be topped for another 15 years. But in the postmortem there was no sense of real heartbreak or regret. In 12 months, they’d gone from 49 losses to two wins short of the NBA Finals without the benefit of winning the draft lottery or landing any free agents more talented than backup guard John Battle.

This team went as far as we hoped it would and still provided a few fun surprises along the way. It didn’t shock the world, but it didn’t choke, and we had a helluva good time. In this town, that’s worth both remembering and celebrating.

Today no banners hang in the Q to commemorate that season. Technically, that Cavs team won nothing. 

But make no mistake: that spring, the orange and blue delivered.

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