Why, then, did he trade away a No. 1 1975 draft choice to Los Angeles in 1974 for the right to negotiate with Chones? The slender 6'11" All-America center from Marquette had spent the two previous seasons in the ABA, never reaching stardom, usually sulking. Fitch says, again, that he knows people and never gambles.
"I didn't know where I was or where I was going," says Chones, who has become one of the quicker centers in the NBA. "Coach Fitch gave me a chance. We had long talks, and he told me if I played hard enough he would keep me on the floor. In the ABA I hurt myself because I didn't have what you'd call a pro attitude. Maybe the big thing now is that I'm married and I'm staying home more.
"You know what I did last summer?" he asks. "I played basketball. And when I wasn't playing, I was running. People who know me don't believe that. I want this team to improve. We had the club's best record last year and a lot of people got excited. But looking at it realistically, we didn't make the playoffs and we didn't even finish with a .500 record."
In its first five seasons the Cavaliers lost $4.6 million plus the $3.7 million it put up just to join the league. Still, last season was encouraging. Cleveland lost only $517,272, and from early February on, as the team made a good run at a playoff spot, attendance climbed dramatically. This year the Cavs opened with more than 3,000 season tickets sold, and in their last five home appearances have averaged better than 17,000 per game.
The city is starving for a winner. Cleveland has not had a champion in any sport since the NFL Browns and AHL Barons in 1964, unless you count Chet Ob-lock's Pyramid Café slow-pitch team that won a national tournament last year. Still, as Fitch says, things can always be worse. Last season the Cavs moved into their magnificent $35 million palace after playing four years in the dank old arena that Boston's John Havlicek made famous with his remark, "Every time I leave the locker room I'm afraid I've caught an incurable disease." To show this season's players how much better off they are, Fitch, with great glee, chartered a bus before the first game and took them all on a tour of the old arena.
"We made that place historic," says Fitch.
By losing so many games?
"No, by losing so many cars. Every year we played there, Cleveland led the nation in stolen cars. And half of them came out of our parking lot!"
Maybe there's hope for Fitch the comic yet.