Ted Stepien owned the Cleveland Cavaliers during what was arguably the most tumultuous years in the Cavaliers’ history.
In April 1980, Stepien paid $2 million for 37 percent of the Cavaliers and soon became the majority shareholder. The Cavaliers went 66-180, dropped to the bottom of the league in attendance and lost $15 million during Stepien’s three years as the owner.
He went through six coaches during that span, including four during the 1981-82 season — Don Delaney, Bob Kloppenburg, Chuck Daly and Bill Musselman. The team finished 15-67.
Because of his habit of trading draft picks for mediocre players, the league passed what became known as the “Stepien Rule”, which restricts teams from dealing future first-round selections in consecutive years.
In his last year of ownership, he attempted to relocate the Cavaliers to Toronto, Canada.
In an effort to keep the Cavs in Cleveland, Gordon and George Gund purchased the Cavaliers from Stepien for $20 million in 1983. Because of the dire situation the Cavs were in during the sale of
the team, NBA owners elected to award the highly respected Gunds and their newly acquired team bonus first-round picks for each year from 1983-1986 to help compensate for the ones Stepien traded away.
“I don’t feel I failed,” Stepien later said. “I rescued a bankrupt organization.”
The son of a railroad inspector, Stepien joined the Army Air Forces in 1943 and was a navigator-bomber during World War II. After the war, he worked as a clerk in an advertising company in Pittsburgh.
He moved to Cleveland in 1947. With $500 borrowed from his father, Stepien started Nationwide Advertising Service Inc., running ads from prospective employers and home sellers in 80 Ohio weekly newspapers at $5 each. Nationwide expanded to 31 offices in three countries.
After selling the Cavaliers, Stepien owned several minor league basketball teams, including the Toronto Tornadoes and the Mississippi Coast (Biloxi) Jets.
Although his time as owner has come under much scrutiny, he was a very innovative owner. Introducing now commonplace NBA staples such as cheerleaders, between action promotions and in game entertainment.
He died Monday September 17, 2007 at his home in Willoughby Hills. He was 82.