Stepien thought he could quickly assemble a competitive team, however, he proved to be a poor judge of basketball talent. He spent the then lavish sum of $2 million on salaries for Scott Wedman, James Edwards and Bobby Wilkerson. While satisfactory role players (Wedman had been an All-Star but was injured and on the downside of his career), none were the stars Stepien envisioned them to be.
In the last days of the 1980-81 season, Stepien made headlines by firing popular team play by play announcer Joe Tait, replacing him with Paul Porter. Stepien claimed that "announcers were a dime a dozen", but it is widely believed that Tait was fired due to his on-air criticism of Stepien's ownership. This was also believed to be the reason that Stepien moved the Cavaliers games from WWWE (3WE) 1100AM (featuring Stepien critic Pete Franklin) to WBBG 1260AM.
By this time, Stepien's popularity in Cleveland was at an all-time low. For the final home game of the 1981 season, the largest Cavaliers crowd in two years showed up to honor Tait and heap abuse on the Cavs now-despised owner. The angry crowd used the occasion to not only show support for the broadcaster Stepien was running out of town, but also voice their discontent over the fact that Stepien was staying behind to run the team.
Over the course of the 1981-82 NBA season alone, Stepien fired three head coaches and hired four: Don Delaney, who had taken over for Musselman with 11 games remaining in the 1980-81 season; assistant coach Bob Kloppenburg, who filled in for a game after Stepien relieved Delaney of his duties; Chuck Daly, who left the Philadelphia 76ers where he had been an assistant to take over as head coach of the Cavs, who went 9-32 with him at the helm; and Bill Musselman, who returned to the bench after serving as the team's director of player personnel since being fired the previous season.
According to a March 27 1982, story in The Sporting News, Stepien said he brought back Musselman after having time to reflect on the job he did the previous season. "Bill won 25 games with a team of Mike Bratz, Roger Phegley, Mike Mitchell, Bill Laimbeer and really, no bench."
Stepien, who was an All-City basketball and football player at Schenley High School in Pittsburgh, infamously made multiple questionable transactions with his teams, such as trading away several future high draft picks for mediocre players. One of the picks whom Stepien traded away turned out to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 1982 NBA Draft, James Worthy, for the Los Angeles Lakers.
In fact, all of these questionable moves led the NBA to institute what is commonly known as the "Stepien Rule," which states that a team cannot trade its first-round pick in consecutive years.
In a December 6 1982, New York Times article by Ira Berkow, Musselman explained that Stepien "wanted a playoff team right away, and that's what he kept talking about." In the same article, Stepien is quoted as saying: "We made mistakes, and I take the responsibility."
During his ownership, attendance at Cavaliers games began to sharply fall due to the team's poor play and questionable moves. Stepien thought about renaming the team the "Ohio Cavaliers" and playing portions of its home schedule in nearby non-NBA cities such as Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Toronto to increase the fan base. He had also threatened to move the team to Toronto and rename them the Toronto Towers, but ultimately Stepien decided to sell the team to Cleveland businessmen George and Gordon Gund prior to the 1983-1984 season for $20 million. During his tenure as Cavaliers owner, the Cavaliers went 66-180, had five different coaches, and had losses of $15 million.
After selling the Cavs, Stepien went on to own teams in the Continental Basketball Association and Global Basketball Association, which operated during the early 1990s. In 1987, he was fined $50,000 by the CBA after allegedly failing to cooperate with the league office's investigation of salary-cap violations.
Early in 2003, Stepien founded the United Pro Basketball League (UPBL), which featured just four teams, including three in Kentucky (Lexington, Louisville, and Frankfort) and one in Mansfield, Ohio. Stepien also opened a series of private dining rooms called "Competitors Clubs" in Cleveland. He owned a professional softball team known as the Cleveland Competitors.
Stepien died in 2007.
Related Family Members:
Stepien had a large extended family, including child prodigy, Krystal Stepien, who had performed at Carnegie Music Hall at age 10 and mastered piano at age 8.