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Ted Stepien, 82; NBA owner inspired new rule

September 11, 2007|From the Associated Press

Ted Stepien, a former owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers whose propensity for trading away draft picks resulted in an NBA rule change, died Monday at his home in Willoughby Hills, Ohio. He was 82.

The cause of death was not announced.

Stepien paid $2 million for 37% of the Cavaliers in April 1980 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 of ownership.

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 the "Stepien Rule," which restricts teams from dealing future first-round selections in consecutive years.

One of the picks Stepien traded away turned out to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 1982 NBA draft, James Worthy, a future Hall of Famer for the Lakers.

Stepien sold the team to George and Gordon Gund for $20 million in 1983. NBA owners awarded the Cavaliers bonus first-round picks for each year from 1983 to 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 grew up in Pittsburgh. He joined the Army Air Forces in 1943, and was a navigator-bomber during World War II with the rank of lieutenant.

After the war, he moved to Cleveland in 1947 and graduated from Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University) in 1949. He earned a master's degree there 10 years later.

With $500 borrowed from his father, Stepien launched Nationwide Advertising Service Inc., running ads from prospective employers and home sellers in 80 Ohio weekly newspapers at $5 each. He grew Nationwide into 31 offices in three countries.

After selling the Cavaliers, Stepien went on to own teams in the Continental Basketball Assn., Global Basketball Assn. and United Pro Basketball League.

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