Remembering Ted Stepien

Stephen Miller of The Wall Street Journal wrote a nice article about the former Cavaliers owner Ted Stepien who passed away Monday at age 82.

Mr. Stephien was sportsman since he starred in basketball and football at Pittsburgh’s Schenley High School but he turned down an athletic scholarship to become a bombardier during World War II.

Tom Nissalke, who was Mr. Stepien’s last coach at Cleveland and who knew him well, said, “He loved athletics so much, and I think he let that love override what would have been more prudent decisions. He wanted to be a player, and since he couldn’t be that, he would have liked to be a coach, but that didn’t work out, so he settled for being an owner….I really liked the guy.”

In the 1970s, he became a minority owner of the Cleveland Indians. In 1980, he paid $2 million for controlling 37% share of the Cavaliers and eventually owned more than 80% of the team.

From the article:
“But the bad luck and bad decisions started early. Among the players traded away were James Edwards and Bill Laimbeer. Mr. Edwards and Mr. Laimbeer went on to start for the 1989 and 1990 champion Detroit Pistons team, coached by another Stepien refugee, Chuck Daly.

One of the beneficiaries of Mr. Stepien’s missteps was the Dallas Mavericks. The team ended up with the Cavaliers’ first-round picks for the 1983, 1984, 1985 and 1986 seasons. Mr. Stepien helped build the Mavericks “into a great franchise,” says Burt Graeff, a sportswriter for the Cleveland Press at the time who later co-wrote a book, “CAVS From Fitch to Fratello.” Mr. Graeff adds that Mavericks coach Dick Motta “said he was afraid to go to lunch because he would miss a call from Ted Stepien.”

NBA Commissioner Larry O’Brien took the unprecedented step of forbidding the Cavaliers from executing any trade without league review. The NBA instituted a rule nicknamed for Mr. Stepien, preventing the trade of successive No. 1 draft picks.

In a rare trade gone well, the Cavaliers acquired World B. Free in 1982 from Golden State. Mr. Free became the team’s biggest star.

Mr. Stepien “had good intentions, but they failed completely,” says Mr. Graeff. To try to keep tickets selling, Mr. Stepien employed a mascot called “Superfan” to sit courtside, where he entertained fans by ripping apart beer cans with his teeth, and a team of scantily clad dancers.

Mr. Stepien had other ideas for the team as well: At one time, he was barred from the locker room for trying to diagram plays.”