Today in Sports History: April 12th


(Ted Stepien in 1999. File photo by the Cleveland Plain Dealer)

4/12/1958 - Pettit's revenge

One year after a devastating loss to the Boston Celtics in finals, one in which they lost the seventh and final game in double overtime, the St. Louis Hawks get their revenge. In Game 6 of the NBA Finals, Bob Pettit, who won the first two MVP awards in league history, scored a then-record 50 points -- tying Bob Cousy for the most ever in a playoff game. Pettit dominated Celtics center Bill Russell all game long, in part because Russell was playing with a severe ankle sprain. But not even a healthy Russell may have been able to stop him.

"That was the best game I ever played," Pettit said years later. "Especially because of what it meant."

Pettit scored 19 of his team's final 21 points to put the game away, giving the Hawks a hard-fought 110-109 victory. Bill Russell became the first player in history to win the regular season MVP award but lose in the finals. Just four years later, Pettit's finals scoring record was surpassed by Elgin Baylor, who notched a 61-point game for the Los Angeles Lakers.

4/12/1980 - Stepien becomes Cavs' owner

Ted Stepien, the president of the Nationwide advertising company and a one-time minority owner of the Cleveland Indians, purchases 37% of the Cleveland Cavaliers, making him the principle owner of the team. Stepien, who later purchased enough stock to assume control of the team's day-to-day operations, immediately caught people's attention for his brash way of doing things. Unfortunately, Stepien's methods proved disastorous, and his reign as the owner of the Cavaliers was marked not only by failure, but by mismanagement so egregious that future rules were adopted because of it.

Stepien did numerous things that made people question his judgment. He named Don Daleney -- a businessman with no prior basketball experience -- as his general manager, and allowed Daleney to desimate the team's roster for the sake of salary deductions. The team began dealing nonstop and even did something no rebuilding team would ever do: give away first round draft picks in consecutive years. One of those picks was used to draft future Hall of Famer James Worthy. The Cavaliers made so many trades with little to no intention of on-the-court success that NBA commissioner Larry O'Brien once suspended all trading in the league, fearing that the Cavaliers would complete more transactions.

Faced with limitless criticism, amongst them that some of his comments were denegrading to minorities, Stepien did not change. He asserted his desire to see more white players on his team, considered renaming them the "Ohio Cavaliers," flirted with moving the team to Minneapolis, Louisville, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, and was once so close to moving them to Toronto that the Cleveland Plain Dealer described the move as "imminent." Stepien himself asserted that if the team were to move, they would be renamed the "Toronto Towers."

But by far his most unorthodox moves came at the coaching position. After Stan Albreck bolted to coach the San Antonio Spurs before the '80-81 season, Stepien hired Bill Musselman. In March, with the team doing badly, Stepien awarded Musselman the vice presidency position while swapping the coaching duties to Daleney, whose meager credentials included coaching basketball at Kirtland High School, Lakeland Community College and Dyke College. In the 81-82 season alone, four different people were handed the coaching job: Daleney, Bob Kloppenburg, Chuck Daly and, on his second tour of duty, Bill Musselman. With an utter lack of continuity between the players and coaches, Cleveland lost a record 24 straight games from the end of the '81-82 season to the beginning of the '82-83 season.

Finally, after three seasons, Stepien agreed to sell the team to George and Gordon Gund. The Cavaliers had lost roughly $16 million during those seasons thanks to an abysmal attendance average. The NBA later created the "Stepien Rule," forbidding teams from trading their first round picks in consecutive years, and compensated the Cavaliers with extra first round picks for each of the ones Stepien traded away.

4/12/2004 - Sura (briefly) posts third triple-dip

One year after Ricky Davis attempted a triple-double by shooting at the other team's basket, another fraudulent attempt at a triple-double was made. With only a few seconds left in the contest, Hawks guard Bob Sura was a rebound shy of posting his third straight triple-double -- a feat that hadn't been accomplished in seven years. At his teammates' urging, Sura pulled a modified Davis; he intentionally missed a layup at his own basket and collected a rebound right before the buzzer sounded.

Had it not been a blatant attempt at a triple-double, the NBA might've ignored Sura's stunt. Instead, the league wiped Sura's shot from the record books, stating that because he missed it on purpose, it wasn't a legitimate shot and therefore there was no rebound. Sura finished with 22 points, 11 assists and nine -- not 10 -- rebounds.

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