It was the Miracle of Richfield, spring of 1976. Cavaliers Fever gripped Northeast Ohio. The six year old Cavs franchise was growing up. Behind a deep, solid team led by Austin Carr, Bingo Smith, the venerable Nate Thurmond and others, they were on their way to defeating the Baltimore Bullets in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Many felt that a Jim Chones broken foot was all that kept these upstarts from upsetting Boston in the next round and ultimately advancing to the NBA title.
A key defensive and rebounding force coming off the bench for the Cavs during that era was the man we fans called "Broooooooo." This cascading cheer would erupt when he left his chair to enter the game. It would recur throughout his stints on the floor after key rebounds, and especially his blocked shots (no, the "oooo" cheer did not in fact begin in Big D with Daryl Johnston).
Jim Brewer was known as a gentle personality who possessed a gentle smile to match. It belied his tough, physical game. This was a contradiction that drew appreciation from observers stretching back to his high school days at Proviso East High School in Illinois, a school also known for producing other NBA players such as his nephew, current Celtics coach Doc Rivers, as well as former Cavalier Shannon Brown.
Jim Brewer starred at the University of Minnesota. Bill Musselman, the deeply intense coach from the Cleveland area, was the Gophers' head coach. The team also included several players who would go on to play in the NBA. Dave Winfield, future MLB hall-of-famer, was on the team as well and recalled, "First thing I learned about Musselman was, while he let his teams warm up like the Harlem Globetrotters, he never let them play like them. His players weren't loosey-goosey shootists and stylists. They were defensive specialists. Defensive with a capital D." (The University of Minnesota, 1945-2000)
The incongruence between Brewer's personality and his play followed him to Minnesota.
In 1972, they were hosting Ohio State, and on that day, Musselman had worked his players into a frenzy prior to the game. Observers noted he was encouraging extra-physical play. At the end of the first half, OSU missed a shot, and Gopher Bobby Nix raised a fist in celebration. Accounts are that OSU forward Luke Witte elbowed Nix in the head on his way off the court. In the final minute of the game, Witte attempted a layup and was given a hard foul. Gopher Corky Taylor offered his hand to Witte, and when Witte took it, Taylor kneed him in the groin and punched him in the head. While back down on the floor, Minnesota player Ron Behagen came over and kicked and stomped Witte. When Buckeye Dave Merchant came to Witte's aid, Jim Brewer let him have it multiple times in the face. Buckeye Mark Wagar was approached from behind by Winfield, who punched Wagar in the face five times. A Sports Illustrated photo sequence recorded the disgusting violence.
Luke Witte was beat up the worst. After the referees forfeited the game to the Buckeyes, Witte was carried off the court while Minnesota fans booed and hurled debris. Witte and two other Buckeyes spent time in the hospital; Witte was in intensive care for a time, and many felt his eye injuries impaired him long-term.
Interestingly, the Cavaliers drafted both Jim Brewer and Luke Witte in the 1973 NBA draft (Brewer was chosen with the second pick of the draft, and Witte was taken in the fourth round). Cavalier fans who cheered for "Brooooo" at every home game also implored coach Bill Fitch to send in "Luuuuuuuuuke" at the end of games whose outcomes had already been decided. Another story of interest involved Jim Brewer. At the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany, the United States were defending their record of never having been beaten in basketball (62 games and counting). For the gold medal game, they were to face the Soviet Union. This was in the middle of the Cold War- the tense, competitive conflict between the two countries that was reflected in areas such as weapons development, an arms race, espionage...and sports. Doug Collins of the US (who would be the No.1 NBA draft pick ahead of No. 2 Brewer in 1973) hit two free throws in the waning seconds of regulation. The US was leading, 50-49, and it looked like they were about to win gold. The Soviets immediately inbounded the ball with 3 seconds remaining, but the referee blew the whistle with one second on the clock: the Soviet coach had called a timeout. They were given the ball again, to inbound with three seconds remaining. They heaved a half court shot that missed, and the USA team began celebrating wildly- gold medal!!! But hold on. The Soviet coach claimed that the clock had been reset incorrectly. The FIBA Secretary-General, Renalto William Jones of Italy (the international basketball federation head), immediately got involved. Never mind that he had no jurisdiction in the matter- he insisted the clock be reset to 0:03 and the Soviets got a third chance to win the game. This time, the ball was fed to the Soviets' best shooter, Aleksandr Belov, and he hit the shot to win gold. The US team felt they were jobbed, and the official scorekeeper declined to sign the scorebook in protest. There was an appeal, and the US lost a 3-2 vote by a panel which was split along Cold War lines. The US declined to accept their silver medals. "We hadn't earned the silver medal," Brewer said afterward. "We had won the gold medal. That's the medal we had earned, so why accept something else." (www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Basketball) (Photos at right chronicle the U.S.'s joy, incredulity and then despair.)
From guiding his high school team to a state title, to helping the Minnesota Gophers to a Big Ten title, to being a leader of the US Olympic basketball team, to winning a Euroleague and an Intercontinental Cup after his NBA days, Jim Brewer was a winner.
This included his final NBA season, in 1981-82. He played alongside Magic Johnson and Kareem Jabbar for the champion Los Angeles Lakers.
It also included his contributions to The Miracle of Richfield, an era when the Cleveland area embraced the Cavaliers in a manner befitting their passion for the Browns. Jim Brewer represented what Clevelanders prize in their heroes: toughness and a winning attitude. He could "score the basketball", as they say nowadays, but his intent from high school until he was through playing was to just do whatever it took to win games. Setting aside his ego and having his determination to win resulted in Jim Brewer becoming one of the toughest and most effective defensive players in Cleveland Cavalier history.
Thank you for reading.