Welcome to #CavsRank, the illustrious ranking of the best all-time Cleveland Cavaliers players from some of your favorite Cavs bloggers. At #6, Stepien Rules has the honor of presenting Mr. Cavalier himself, Number 34, Austin Carr…
It beats inside your chest about 36,400,000 times a year. It moves 2000 gallons of blood through arteries and veins and through the body, to the arms and legs and fingertips which are in constant motion as Austin Carr is shooting the ball, he is racing up the court to beat the defense on fast breaks; his eyes are on the rim as he spots up to shoot and score again and again. His hands and his eyes and his heart spit pure fire.
Carr is everything that the City of Cleveland deserves in a basketball player and a human being. He is as real as any athlete that has ever worn any uniform that has had the name “Cleveland” on it or that has ever called Cleveland home. His accomplishments are formidable, but it is the heart and the blood and the soul of Austin Carr that will never be matched by any human being who plays basketball for a Cleveland team.
This heart, this blood, has always been true: Sincerity is the end and the beginning of everything. Without it, there would be nothing at all.
This is Mr. Cavalier, Austin Carr. In that measure, he is everything.
MR. CAVALIER, AUSTIN CARR
It started in Washington D.C. where Carr attended a small boys-only school of about 400 students which was too small to have it's own football team. In 9th grade he tried out for the basketball team. When the player in front of Carr got the flu, Carr took that students spot and never relinquished it.
His father worked in the supply department at the Pentagon, and his mother was a nurse, and Carr became the basketball messiah for a formerly non-descript Notre Dame college basketball program. He became greatest scorer in the history of the school. He carried Notre Dame to a victory over the unbeatable UCLA team. He set the standard with the highest scoring average in an NCAA tournament (41.3 points per game) and with the highest single scoring game in an NCAA tournament game with 61 points against Ohio University. Carr owns three of the top five and five of the top 12 scoring games in NCAA tournament history. No player since Carr has averaged over 30 points per game in the tournament.
It was impossible to stop Austin Carr. His feet seemed to move faster than anyone else to find the exact spot on the court where they needed to be. Carr’s shots seemed to skip the air between his hands and the basket like layups from 20 feet away.
At the insistence of his family, Carr stays all 4 years in college. He is on the Dean’s List for his senior year. He receives a degree in economics.
NICK MILETI IN THE CAVALIERS 1971 DRAFT ROOM
It is 1971. Nick Mileti, the owner, Bill Fitch, the head coach and Jim Lessig, the head scout are sitting behind a table in a wood paneled room. The table is covered in microphones and pieces of paper with notes, scouting reports and a small off-white speakerbox that is connected to a conference call with other team owners. They speak to each other softly, holding hands up to cover their mouths and to keep thoughts private.
The Cavaliers have won a coin toss with the Portland Trailblazers, winning the first pick of the 1971 NBA Draft in the only form of draft lottery that existed at the time. The Trailblazers pay the Cavaliers $250,000 for a promise to not pick Sidney Wicks, a bruising UCLA power forward – with that first pick. There are rumors that the Cavaliers will select Elmore Smith, a 7 foot tall center from Kentucky State.
Every single period of real success for the franchise over the next forty years will be tied to a successful draft. This is the first one. Austin Carr was drafted to be an immediate impact player, to be the franchise, to take the team to a next level of relevance.
He is and will remain one of the greatest college athletes ever to play any sport. He has set records for scoring that will go unmatched for almost half a century. His shooting will forever be compared to some of the greatest basketball players that ever played.
“Cleveland drafts, Austin Carr.” – Lou Mileti.
Mileti smiles, takes the black pen in his right hand and scratches down notes. Instantly, Austin Carr is the greatest player in the one year history of the franchise. Mileti might be writing down the name of the greatest Cavalier that will ever play for the franchise and perhaps a name that sits beside any as synonymous with the city from that day in 1971 to the rest of his life and beyond. The man with that name that Mileti is quickly scribbling will never walk down these streets unrecognized.
Austin Carr, Cleveland Cavalier. From that moment, until his name is written on a banner that hangs in Richfield and in Cleveland, for as long as there is a franchise.
Head Coach Bill Fitch says, with more immediacy than that banner erected a decade later, “I think he can be a superstar in his first year.”
THE 1971 PRESEASON
In 1971, before he could play a single game that season, Carr suffered a stress fracture in his foot in the preseason and missed a month of his first year.
Two days after the fracture, September 16, 1971, Carr is interviewed in the gym, he eyes are looking down and he speaks slowly, deliberately:
Reporter: Is this one of the bigger disappointments in your life?
Austin Carr: As far as I’m concerned it is. Because I was really looking forward to starting the season out and you know and I, now I stand to miss about 15 games.
It is difficult to imagine that Austin Carr missing those first 15 games could bear that much weight on him, but it is impossible to hear his voice say those words without feeling that pulling gravity. There’s a narrative born in those words, and a notion that will unjustly resonate for decades.
Austin Carr came back from that rookie preseason foot injury on November 16, 1971 for an 18 point loss to Jerry West and the Los Angeles Lakers at the Forum in Inglewood, California. He only scored 5 points in his first game as a Cavalier. But by the end of November, Carr had two 30 point games.
He missed another month, from December to January, but in 56 games that season, Carr showed that was the force, the energy and the talent that the Cavaliers needed. He was infernal. He hit shots from anywhere, he drove the basket hard, he was fearless, and he was a powerhouse. He was the beating pounding thumping pace of the franchise with a mind that probed and attacked the weaknesses of any defense. In just 56 games he had shown and proven that he was one of the best young scorers in the league and that this mind-boggling collegiate talent had boiled over into the NBA.
Even with a losing record, the Cavaliers with Carr had the appearance of a team that could compete, a team on track to become something great, something special. Carr was named to the NBA All-Rookie team and had the appearance of what every team that takes a big man for the front court instead of an incendiary scorer needs to fear.
Carr was explosive. He was a human powder keg, the sky was limitless and he belonged to a City that, like Notre Dame, was ready to embrace his excellence and his promise.
(Players Association postcard)
“Lenny was very instrumental in me becoming a better guard… I was more of a shooting machine when I was in college. I had to learn how to conserve my energy because I had to play a lot of minutes. At the same time, I had to learn how to get the other four guys involved, because I was so used to everything coming to me. Lenny taught me a lot about how to make passes. I had a problem making backdoor passes and Lenny taught me how to do that and when to do it – little things like if I am going to pass the ball but don’t quite have the angle, always pass the ball at the guy’s head or at his ear, because he has to react to that. That gives you just enough time to get the pass through. I learned those kinds of little things from Lenny that really helped me throughout the rest of my career…”
(quote via HoopsHype.com)
When the Cavs brought in star free agent Len Wilkens to play the point guard next to Austin Carr in his second year, Carr, who had also had offseason surgery to repair his foot, improved immediately. Struggling to win early in the season, the Cavaliers were led by Carr’s scoring to a 6 game late March winning streak in 1972-73 that showed glimpses of a team that could win led by 24 year old Carr, 25 year old John Johnson and center, defensive stopper Rick Roberson.
Carr played all 82 games that season. His 20.5 points per game were as many as Wilkens and were boosted by a 22.1 scoring average in home games and a 40 point scoring game early in the season. Wilkens, who had been a serious MVP candidate in 1971-72, was 10 years Carr’s senior. Matched up with Carr’s catch and shoot ability, they formed one of the greatest backcourts in franchise history and set a standard for how quickly a backcourt could mesh.
Carr’s range seemed limitless. There was no 3 point field goal in the NBA until 1979-80, but if the Wilkens/Carr backcourt had been able to take advantage of the extra point shot, Carr’s deep shooting ability and Wilkens ability to find him in the offense would have taken the pair to the next level during those two years they were teammates.
1973-74 would be Austin Carr’s best season statistically, although Austin would always probably defer to the 1976 Miracle team as his best year because the team’s accomplishment was each player’s accomplishment, but before that right knee injury, he was young and maybe capable of anything.
“It was almost like I was indestructible up until my knee injury.”
DICK SNYDER MAKES A GAME WINNING FIVE FOOT RUNNING JUMP SHOT
The right knee of Austin Carr has been replaced. The old one gave everything it had for the Cleveland Cavaliers. The old one felt all the weight and all the power of the greatness in the body that it inhabited and supported. The old one was a beast until one night in December 1974, in the season that Austin Carr seemed destined to become an overwhelming dominating scoring force.
“Mentally, it was devastating. I lost a whole step. And to lose a step in this game, you lose a lot. I was able to recover and play another five years on a leg and a half. That was probably my worst time.”
But Austin Carr’s right knee transformed him from a blue chip prospect that became a NBA All-Star in just 3 seasons, groomed by playing with a Hall of Fame point guard, into the leader of the most explosive scoring bench in basketball. On “a leg and a half”, Carr molded himself into the key piece that the 1976 Cavaliers balanced starting five needed.
The 1975-76 Cleveland Cavaliers remain one of the most beloved group of Cleveland athletes ever assembled. They were a team in the truest sense. No less than seven players averaged double figures scoring for the season. Three players, Carr, Bingo Smith and Nate Thurmond had their jersey numbers retired by the franchise, and no one would be shocked to hear an argument anytime from anyone that Jim Chones and Campy Russell should have their numbers retired as well. Jim Brewer, Jim Cleamons, Dick Snyder and Foots Walker will always be associated with that team and this franchise.
That season was one of the most transformative and exciting times to be a Cleveland Cavaliers fan. To be a Clevelander at that time was to witness the birth of a dedicated, heart lifting franchise at the time that the city needed something to believe in. Carr was back from his injury, but limited to 19.7 minutes a game, and coming off the bench. There was All-Star talent, but there were no All-Stars on the Cavaliers in 1976. They all sacrificed for one goal.
“Basketball is a team sport. It was better for me to play 6th man, because that was better for the team.”
That was the Miracle team. The Cavaliers, they shocked the Washington Bullets in the first round and took the eventual champion Boston Celtics to 6 games even without starting center Jim Chones. That final game, Game 6 against Boston, Carr scored 27. Maybe he could have scored 27 any night he wanted to, if Fitch had asked him for it.
THE END OF THE MIRACLE SERIES WAS THE LOUDEST CROWD CARR EVER HEARD
Fitch would explain the tactic of eventually bringing both Carr and Campy Russell off the bench:
“It’s like I push a button that says offense; when Austin and Campy get into the groove, there’s no stopping them.”
Carr understood his role. In 1979, he laid it all out after an offensive explosion brought the Cavaliers back against the Nets in a February game:
“I know I had sort of a reputation as an offensive player when I first came into the NBA; that’s why I’ve worked on the rest of my game trying get more respect as an all-around player…
… sometimes, I don’t have time to improve on the other parts of my game because when I come in we may be behind or just in need of someone to put some points up on the board. If that’s what the coach wants, that’s what I’ll do; I can still shoot it.”
#34 AUSTIN CARR
That’s what Cleveland’s greatest basketball team ever looked like. That’s how its best player played. The city, whose dreams sat in gas lines down the block while it bled out through the smokestacks pumping clouds and burning on water on a river, needed him to be exactly that.
That’s the story. It’s Carr’s connection to this magnificent Midwestern city that needed him, about his career as an announcer that continued as an extension of that decision. About how every NBA city has Clevelanders that still ask to shake his hand and feel with honestly, with purity, and with unblemished sincerity that he, Austin Carr, is one of them. That he is the city and the people of Cleveland. That he is the public square and the skyline and the river and the weather and the flowing gemstone on the lake that is his home. He is the living breathing heart that beats again and again for us, with us.
Just wanted to give a shout to the guys at CavsTheBlog for including us in the #CavsRank! Thanks guys.