DeBartolo developed shopping malls as part of his father's company, the Edward J. DeBartolo Corporation, which became one of the largest public real estate businesses in the United States – "at one point controlling over 2 billion square feet of retail real estate space nationwide."
Beyond his real estate background, DeBartolo was actively involved in franchise ownership and sports management, becoming one of the most successful and generous owners in professional sports. His ownership of the 49ers proved especially notable. During his twenty-three years owning the team, beginning in 1977, the 49ers won an unprecedented five Super Bowls under coaches Bill Walsh and George Seifert, Super Bowl XVI, Super Bowl XIX, Super Bowl XXIII, Super Bowl XXIV, and Super Bowl XXIX. From the early 1980s through the 1990s, DeBartolo presided over a team that had the winningest decade in football history.
DeBartolo was beloved as an owner, and many of his former players, including Hall of Famers Joe Montana, Steve Young, and Jerry Rice, still think of him as the most generous owner in NFL history, often affectionately referring to him as "Mr. D." 
DeBartolo was involved in the corruption case of former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards. He pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to report a felony, and received a $1 million fine and two years of probation in return for his testimony against Edwards. Edwards was on trial for extortion and other charges, among which were the $400,000 he demanded from DeBartolo to gain a river boat casino license. DeBartolo never received the license, was fined by the NFL, and barred from active control of the 49ers for one year.
That legal battle led to another, and as part of a settlement, DeBartolo gave up control of the 49ers in 2000, ceding control of the team to his sister Marie Denise DeBartolo York. York had previously been the president of the DeBartolo family-owned Pittsburgh Penguins. In 1991 he arranged to sell the NHL franchise to assist the DeBartolo Corporation in the aftermath of the real estate collapse of 1987. Many shopping malls were sold to the Simon Property Group in 1996, which operated for a few years as the Simon DeBartolo Group.
DeBartolo is the son of Edward J. DeBartolo, Sr., a real estate pioneer who garnered success in the development of shopping malls. His mother was Marie Patricia Montani DeBartolo, in whose honor the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center at the University of Notre Dame was posthumously dedicated. He has three daughters, Lisa, Nicole, and Tiffanie. Tiffanie DeBartolo is an author and the director of the film Dream for an Insomniac (1996).
In 2008, DeBartolo was inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame, the first person to receive this honor who did not coach or compete in a professional sport. In 2009, he was inducted into the 49ers Hall of Fame. In the same year, DeBartolo was named a semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a contributor to the game. He was documented in NFL Network's A Football Life.
- "DeBartolo Holdings History". DeBartolo Holdings. http://www.debartoloholdings.com/history.php. Retrieved 2010-05-18.
- "DeBartolo Holdings". DeBartolo Holdings. http://www.debartoloholdings.com/history.php. Retrieved 2010-05-18.
- Rick Reilly (1990-09-10). "To Eddie DeBartolo Jr., the most generous owner in – 09.10.90 – SI Vault". Sportsillustrated.cnn.com. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1136481/1/index.htm. Retrieved 2010-05-18.
- "Historical Highlights". 49ers.com. 1944-06-06. http://www.49ers.com/team/history/historical-highlights.html. Retrieved 2010-05-18.
- "49ers Honor Former Owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr.". espn.go.com. 2009-09-20. http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=4490259. Retrieved 2011-01-24.
- Dietz, David; Arceneaux, Howard (1998-10-07). "DeBartolo Guilty of Felony / $1 million fine, 2 years of probation". Sfgate.com. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/1998/10/07/MN4647.DTL. Retrieved 2010-05-18.
- Cole, Jason. "Is DeBartolo worthy of spot in Hall? – NFL – Yahoo! Sports". Sports.yahoo.com. http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/news?slug=jc-debartolohof080108&prov=yhoo&type=lgns. Retrieved 2010-05-18.
- Knapp, Gwen (2008-04-22). "DeBartolo: 49ers on right track". Sfgate.com. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/04/21/SPFD10974C.DTL. Retrieved 2010-05-18.
- "Homepage News Article » Road to Canton (via South Florida)". Profootballhof.com. 2009-10-14. http://www.profootballhof.com/2009/10/14/road-to-canton-via-south-florida-ST-C-Cont/. Retrieved 2010-05-18.
- "NFL Network's A FOOTBALL LIFE to Return 9/12". tv.broadwayworld.com. http://tv.broadwayworld.com/article/NFL-Networks-A-FOOTBALL-LIFE-to-Return-912-20120828. Retrieved 2012-09-11.
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