If you’ve followed the NBA at all this year, you’ve probably enjoyed the feel good story that is the Cleveland Cavaliers. After 3 abysmal seasons in the wake of Lebron’s (second) departure, J.B Bickerstaff’s Cavs are tied for third in the East with an impressive 35-22 record.
But let’s rewind to 1985.
Bernie Bickerstaff arrived in Seattle after spending the previous 12 seasons as assistant coach for the Washington Bullets. Hired by Lenny Wilkens during Lenny’s season as General Manager, Bickerstaff held an up-close-and-personal history with Lenny and the Sonics. As a Bullets’ assistant, he was on the sidelines for both Finals clashes between Washington and Seattle.
Although Bickerstaff was an accomplished assistant, the Sonics position was his first NBA head coaching job (he was the head coach at the University of San Diego from 1969-1973). The Sonics were a team in transition, having recently moved on from their championship core. Bickerstaff began to build his team around young talent, including Xavier McDaniel and Tom Chambers.
The Sonics struggled during Bickerstaff’s first season, amassing a 31-51 record. No one expected much from Seattle in 1986-87, with the legendary Red Auerbach even predicting that the Sonics would finish last in the entire league.
The story of the 1987 Sonics has been told many times over. Fueled by the addition of Dale Ellis, Seattle snuck into the playoffs as a 7 seed before knocking off both Dallas and Houston en route to their first Western Conference Finals since 1980. The team
Fast forward three decades: Bernie’s son J.B. has built his young Cleveland team into a contender. After going 22-50 in his first full season at the helm of the Cavs, J.B. Bickerstaff and his team have arrived. Behind rookie sensation Evan Mobley, first-time All-Star Darius Garland, should-be All-Star Jarrett Allen, a rejuvenated Kevin Love, and the ever-savvy Rajon Rondo, the Cavs are firing on all cylinders. And yes, the senior Bickerstaff even has a major role in Cleveland’s front office.
Could the 2022 Cavs be the next 1987 Sonics? That remains to be seen. But the parallels can’t be ignored.