One of the luckiest days in Cleveland Cavaliers history was June 17, 1986. On that day, the 1986 NBA Draft was held, and the Cavs acquired North Carolina center Brad Daugherty with the first overall selection, shooting guard Ron Harper out of Miami of Ohio with the eighth overall selection, Johnny Newman, a small forward from Richmond with the 29th selection, and acquired point guard Mark Price from Georgia Tech, who had been drafted by the Dallas Mavericks with the 25th pick. This group laid down the foundation for one of the greatest Cavs teams in franchise history.
Price enjoyed a historic career at Georgia Tech. His first season, he led the ACC in scoring and was named Rookie of the Year. In his junior year, he led the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets to the NCAA championship, beating Daugherty’s North Carolina Tar Heels. Price was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, taking home the Everett Case Award.
Price was named to the ACC First Team three times (1984, 85, 86) and the Second Team once (1983). He is one of only four players in ACC history to make the ACC first or second team in all four varsity seasons, the others being North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough, Virginia’s Jeff Lamp and Duke’s Johnny Dawkins. He was twice named as an All-American and was a finalist for both the John Wooden and Naismith Player of the Year awards in 1986.
A bad rap saying that he was too slow, too short and too deliberate to run an up-tempo offense probably cost Price an opportunity to be amongst the top players in the draft to be selected in 1986. He dropped all the way to the first pick of the second round, where he was taken by Dallas and subsequently traded to the Cavaliers for a 1989 second-round pick (Jeff Hodges). Price would go on to make those GM’s who passed on him regret it big time.
Price, Daugherty, Harper and Newman would join Hot Rod Williams, Craig Ehlo and Phil Hubbard to form the nucleus of a team that would be highly competitive for the next several years, making the playoffs in eight of the next nine seasons including thee 50+ win seasons under the direction of head coach Lenny Wilkens. In the 1987-88 season, the sixth seed Chicago Bulls upset the Cavs 3-2, with the Bulls edging them in the Game 5 final by a single point. Price averaged 21 points, and 7.6 assists, while shooting 56.7 percent from the field for the Cavs.
Unfortunately for the Cavs, history would repeat itself the next season (1988-89), as once again they faced Chicago in the in the first round. With the series tied at two games each, the Cavs took a one-point lead with three seconds left. After a time out, Chicago inbounded the ball to Michael Jordan, who went for the jumper. Ehlo jumped up, arm outstretched to block the shot. Jordan just seemed to hang in the air until Ehlo landed. “The Shot” went in as time expired, giving the Bulls the series three games to two. This was considered to be the most clutch moment in Jordan’s career, the game one of the greatest in NBA history and series as a classic. Price and the Cavs would be eliminated by their nemesis Chicago four times during Price’s years with the team.
Price would lead the Cavs to 439 victories against 381 defeats during his 10-year career with the team. Price made his mark as one of the league’s most consistent shooters with a 90.4 percent mark on free throws, a 40.2 percent success rate on three-point goals and a 47.2 percent field goal mark. In 1990, Price became the second player after Larry Bird to join the NBA’s 50-40-90 club for shooting above those percentage marks for an entire season. Today, only six players have achieved the mark, with the minimum shot attempts in each category. His three-point prowess led to him winning two All-Star Three-Point Shooting contest trophies.
Price made the NBA All-Star team four times during his career. He is still the Cavs all-time assists leader with 4,206 dimes. His 734 steals were also a team record until LeBron James passed him in 2008. In 1994, he played on the US National team, dubbed “Dream Team II,” winning a gold medal in the FIBA World Championships.
One thing that Price will always be known for is his ability to split double teams on the pick and roll. As former teammate Steve Kerr explained:
“Mark really revolutionized the way that people attack the screen and roll. To me, he was the first guy in the NBA who really split the screen and roll. A lot of teams started blitzing the pick and roll and jumping two guys at it to take the ball out of the hands of the point guard. He’d duck right between them and shoot that little runner in the lane. Nobody was doing that at that time. You watch an NBA game now and almost everybody does that. Mark was a pioneer in that regard.”
Price finished up his NBA career playing for the Washington Bullets, Golden State Warriors and Orlando Magic for a season each. Price retired in 1998. Shortly after that, the Cavaliers retired his No. 25 to forever hang from the rafters. Today, he works as a shooting consultant for NBA teams, having been hired just last week by the Charlotte Bobcats to help Michael Kidd-Gilchrest develop an NBA jumper.