Cavaliers Live Up to Their Contest-Winning Name

Jerry Tomko's words ring truer than ever.

When the Cleveland Plain Dealer co-sponsored a contest in 1970 to name the city’s new NBA franchise, more than 11,000 entries were received. Among them, one from a 29-year-old Eastlake resident, Jerry Tomko, who wrote in his essay: ‘The name Cleveland Cavaliers represents a group of daring fearless men whose life’s pact was never surrender, no matter what the odds.’

Tomko, whose words ring truer than ever following the Cavaliers becoming the first team to win an NBA Finals after falling behind 3-1, was no doubt cheering the team last night from San Diego, where he is now retired. When the Plain Dealer announced his contest entry was victorious, the headline of the article read: “Cavaliers Wins by a Landslide.” A few years ago, the team’s original owner recalled the contest:

“There were piles of them [entries],” Cavs founder Nick Mileti, said by phone from Palm Beach, Fla. “We had everything under the sun. You want the most interesting one? The Good Gnus.” Imagine trying to keep James on a team called the Gnus.

Mileti whittled the names to five: The Jays, after his son; the Towers, for the Terminal Tower; the Presidents, because Ohio has had so many; and the Foresters, because Forest City had stuffed the ballot box, Mileti said. The fifth was Tomko’s.

For weeks, The Plain Dealer published ballots, asking readers to vote on the five.

On April 5, 1970, more than a third of the 6,000 votes cast were for the Cavaliers. But Mileti, who raised $3.7 million to buy the franchise, wasn’t sure anyone actually counted.

So how did “Cavaliers” win?

“Well,” he said, “because I liked it.”

Belatedly, in 2010, Tomko finally received a basketball autographed by Cavaliers players that he says he was originally promised by Mileti. He won a pair of season tickets as part of the contest.

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@hollywoodspin Richard Horgan is co-editor of Fishbowl.