While other owners have assailed Stepien for destroying the NBA's salary structure, he pleads guilty to nothing but being the victim of geographical bias. "Was Red Auerbach crazy for giving $650,000 two years ago to Larry Bird, an untried rookie?" Stepien asks. "Is Jerry Buss crazy for paying Magic so much? No, they're coastal geniuses. Me, I'm a Midwest jerk."
"The difference between the Lakers and Mr. Stepien's team is that we can afford the salaries we're paying," says Buss. "If Cleveland can clear a profit, O.K. If not, he's cheating by borrowing money from his business. He thinks he can make money. I think he's wrong."
Stepien reportedly was obliged to borrow $3� million from his company, Nationwide Advertising, to cover his team's losses last season, but he says, "The Cavaliers have paid all their bills since I've been here, and as long as that continues I expect to be treated like any other owner." When some of Stepien's players become free agents, he will be.