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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Legend of Bill Davison

The following articles describe the legend of Bill Davidson.

  1. http://www.nba.com/pistons/history/william_davidson_profile.html
  2. http://www.freep.com/article/20090314/SPORTS03/90313096
  3. http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?id=3979385
  4. http://www.freep.com/article/20090314/SPORTS03/90314055/Pistons-reflect-life-Bill-Davidson
  5. http://www.pistonpowered.com/2009/03/davidson/

Flashback Fridays Celebrate Detroit Pistons Legends

William Davidson

  During the 2003-04 sports year, Detroit Pistons Managing Partner William Davidson became the first owner in sports history to win championships in three different professional leagues. The Pistons returned to glory, winning the organization’s third championship in franchise history, the Tampa Bay Lightning won their first Stanley Cup and the Shock won its first WNBA Championship.

Recognized as one of the most successful owners in the National Basketball Association for over 30 years, Davidson can be credited for a majority of the success the organization has enjoyed.

Detroit's 1989, 1990 and 2004 World Championships can be directly attributed to Davidson, the club's majority owner since 1974, and under his direction, the Pistons have been considered one of the league's elite franchises for over 15 years.


He continues to keep the team at the league's forefront with such amenities as a state-of-the-art practice facility, solely designed for the Pistons. Team members are able to use the facilities all summer long while working on personal off-season conditioning goals. It will be used for the team's training camp for the 11th straight year, alleviating the need to go off-site for the preseason.

Davidson’s world champion Pistons were the first professional sports team to own their own plane, Roundball One. Roundball Two, a newer, larger, multimillion-dollar aircraft was purchased and refurbished in the summer of 1998 for the organization. Its 42 luxury seats and state-of-the-art video system allows the Pistons to fly in true, first-class comfort.

Davidson became one of just a few multi-sport, major players in 1999, when he, along with Palace Sports and Entertainment partners David Hermelin and the late Robert Sosnick, purchased the Tampa Bay Lightning of the National Hockey League. Davidson’s vision for duplicating the success of the Pistons and their home, The Palace of Auburn Hills, came to fruition during the 2003-04 season in Tampa, when the Lightning hoisted the Stanley Cup in front of a capacity crowd at the St. Pete Times Forum, one of the United States’ finest new venues.

The Shock joined the Washington Mystics as the first two expansion teams in the WNBA in 1998 and the team was an immediate success in the upstart league, finishing with a 17-13 record in the Eastern Conference in their inaugural season. The 2003 season was a banner year for the Shock as they recorded a league-best 25-9 record and were crowned WNBA Champions by defeating the Los Angeles Sparks 2-1 in the WNBA Finals. The Shock set a WNBA attendance record (22,076) in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals and was the first team since 1890 to go from the worst team in a professional sports league to the best team.

With the busiest amphitheater in the country, DTE Energy Music Theatre, purchased in 1990, Palace Sports and Entertainment now has the ability to bring the best in summer entertainment to its clientele. In 1988-89, the Pistons began play in The Palace, a state-of-the-art arena built with Davidson's financial support: a facility, which when combined with the Pistons, forms the foundation of his entertainment business. The company also added management of the Meadow Brook Music Festival in the summer of 1994, further developing the entertainment division of Palace Sports and Entertainment.

The Pistons have played in the postseason in 16 of the past 22 years, including eight of the past 10 seasons. Davidson acquired the Detroit Pistons in 1974 from the late Fred Zollner, the man who founded the team in Fort Wayne, Indiana in the 1940s. Zollner later moved the franchise to Detroit before the 1957-58 season.

Interested in a wide variety of sports, Davidson is one of the most knowledgeable heads of a NBA franchise. He can usually be found sitting courtside at all Pistons home games, and has studied many players and coaches in the league and is able to make some very astute observations.

Davidson's athletic history dates back many years and has continued alongside his business career. He was a high school and college trackman and played football in the Navy during World War II. Davidson was an inaugural inductee into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

The Pistons' majority owner likes success and has known it in his business interests. That's why now, the success of the Detroit Pistons comes as no surprise to those who are aware of Davidson's ability to manage people. His secret is simple: Hire competent managers and place the responsibility on them.

Educated in Business Law, Davidson received a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration from the University of Michigan and earned a Juris Doctor's Degree from Wayne State University.
After three years, Davidson gave up his law practice to take over a wholesale drug company. He rescued it from bankruptcy and turned it around in three years. After this success, he did the same with a surgical supply company. The next step was to take the Guardian Glass Company, the family business, pay off all debts and head it into the profitable direction the company now enjoys. Today, Guardian Industries remains the flagship of his corporate interests. Its world headquarters are located on the same property as The Palace and the Pistons practice facility in Auburn Hills, Michigan.
Davidson's previous track record has paved the way for the Pistons, The Palace and DTE Energy Music Theatre. His formula for success, which turned the Pistons around and made The Palace one of the top arenas in the world, carries over into the DTE Energy Music Theatre, now considered one of the top amphitheaters in the country.

Davidson's management talents are continually on display in NBA circles, where he served as Chairman of the Board of Governors and has been active on several committees, including the one that selected former NBA Commissioner Lawrence O'Brien in 1975.

Davidson's involvement in the Detroit community is well documented. In 1997 he was honored for his lifelong philanthropic efforts, locally, nationally and internationally, by the Council of Michigan Foundations. The same year, he was listed in a New York Times article as one of America’s most generous donors. Davidson was also one of the "founding fathers" who originated the Pistons/Palace Foundation, a charitable vehicle that has donated more than $20 million dollars in cash and merchandise since 1989. In January, 1995 the foundation worked in conjunction with the City of Detroit’s Parks and Recreation Department to establish the Partnership to Adopt and Renovate Parks for Kids (PARK) Program. The program provides for restoration of Detroit parks, basketball courts, baseball diamonds, running tracks and playground equipment.

In 1992, he donated $30 million to his alma mater, the University of Michigan's School of Business Administration. The grant to establish the William Davidson Institute will provide assistance in a special program to help develop market economies throughout the world. He has also endowed the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York with a $15 million gift, and the American Technion Society to establish the world’s first educational institution entirely dedicated to the international management of technology-based companies at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. In 1999, the Davidson Institute of Science Education was established at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. His $20 million gift was the largest private donation ever given to the Institute that is a leading international science research center and graduate school.

Locally Davidson has donated a renewable $2 million gift to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra that enables the organization to make long-term touring plans both in the U.S. and internationally and pledged to fight cancer with a gift of $1 million to support collaborative research, prevention and early detection programs in breast and pediatric cancers at the Karmanos Cancer Institute and Children’s Research Center of Michigan.


The Detroit Pistons ownership group includes Legal Counsel Oscar Feldman, and Advisory Board Members Warren Coville, Milt Dresner, Bud Gerson, Dorothy Gerson, Miriam Mondry, Eugene Mondry, Ann Newman, Herb Tyner and William Wetsman.

Davidson and his wife, Karen, currently reside in Bloomfield Hills. He has two grown children, Ethan and Marla.


Detroit Pistons owner Bill Davidson dies

Bill Davidson
Bill Davidson / ERIC SEALS/Detroit Free Press
BY DREW SHARP AND VINCE ELLIS

Six months after he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, Detroit Pistons owner Bill Davidson died Friday at the age of 86.

Davidson became majority owner of the Pistons in 1974. He also owned Palace Sports & Entertainment and the WNBA's Detroit Shock. He owned the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning until 2008.

Services are scheduled for noon Tuesday at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, according to the Ira Kaufman Chapel Funeral Home.

The Pistons players and coaches learned of Davidson's death shortly after the team's victory over the Raptors in Toronto. Many expressed disbelief and declined comment.

“We are all deeply saddened by the news of Mr. D's passing,” Pistons coach Michael Curry said in a statement. “He's been a great owner who genuinely cared for players, coaches and employees.
“He will not only be remembered as a great owner but also as a person who made a difference in many people's lives. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mrs. D and the entire Davidson family.”
Davidson died at his Bloomfield Hills home, team spokesman Matt Dobek said. A cause of death was not immediately known. Davidson has been in ill health the last few years, but he leaves behind a legacy of innovation and excellence.

Nobody told Davidson what to do. He remained his own man.

Many thought he was crazy buying the majority interest of the Pistons. It was considered a dying franchise, playing before sparse crowds at Cobo Arena in downtown Detroit. It had its stars in Dave Bing and Bob Lanier, but NBA basketball never captivated any more than a niche interest in Detroit during those days. The Pistons were basically a laughingstock when Davidson purchased them.
Davidson proved the doubters wrong, eventually turning the Pistons into one of professional sports' more profitable and more identifiable brand names.

He bought the Pistons from automobile parts magnate Fred Zollner for $7 million. The franchise is reportedly now worth more than $500 million.

Many questioned his judgment once again when he insisted that his new palatial arena in a previously anonymous suburb north of Pontiac be fully privately funded.

That's not how it was done. Owners demanded some taxpayer subsidies in constructing their profitable playpens, but Davidson wanted the Palace of Auburn Hills privately financed so that he didn't have to answer to anybody else.

Twenty years old, the Palace remains a state-of-the art facility.

The man affectionately called “Mr. D” created an entertainment empire that also included the DTE Energy Music Theatre (formerly Pine Knob) and the Meadowbrook Music Festival, but Davidson will be remembered most for making NBA basketball credible in Detroit - even if it meant moving “the city game” out of the city. The Pistons left Cobo Arena for the Silverdome before the Palace opened in 1988.

The Pistons were the first team to have its own private plane because Davidson thought if his players could travel more comfortably, their on-court performance would improve.

And Roundball One was born.

Other teams soon followed Davidson's lead.

He became the first owner to win championships in three professional sports with the Pistons, the WNBA's Shock and the NHL's Lightning. In fact, the Pistons and Lightning won championships within days of each other in 2004.

Davidson was also a noted philanthropist, donating millions to charities. He graduated from the University of Michigan and earned a law degree from Wayne State University.

“Southeastern Michigan and the Detroit area really lost a visionary and someone who's been very generous to the community and supported a lot of things,” said Robert Kennedy, executive director of the William Davidson Institute. “He also gave away a lot of things that were never in the paper.”
Davidson was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame last September.

Along with basketball greats Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Dick Vitale, Pat Riley, Adrian Dantley and Cathy Rush, Davidson was thanked for his contributions by being inducted.

“It's a much-deserved honor,” Pistons president Joe Dumars said at the time. “He's an innovator and a trailblazer, and in this industry the way you're recognized at the highest level is being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“So I think that it's only fitting that he's a Hall of Famer as of now.”

At the end of his induction speech, Davidson said: “Thank you, I've enjoyed tonight more than you can imagine. Thanks for your attention.”

Davidson's athletic career began when he was a high school and college trackman and played football in the Navy during World War II. Davidson was an inaugural inductee into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Davidson received a bachelor's in business administration from U-M.

After three years, Davidson gave up his law practice to take over a wholesale drug company. He then he did the same with a surgical supply company. Next he took the Guardian Glass Co., the family business, and built it into a global leader.

In 1997, the Council of Michigan Foundations honored Davidson for his lifelong philanthropic efforts locally, nationally and internationally. The honor reflected an ethic fostered by his mother when he was a child.

“For any successful organization or business, you have to have integrity,” Davidson told the Associaed Press. “And you have to make everything as straightforward as you can make it.”
Today, Guardian Industries Corp. is the flagship of his corporate interests. Its world headquarters is located on the same property as the Palace and the Pistons practice facility in Auburn Hills.
Davidson, a resident of Bloomfield Hills, is survived by his wife, Karen, and two grown children, Ethan and Marla.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Friday, March 13, 2009
Updated: March 15, 3:43 PM ET
Pistons owner Davidson dies at 86

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. -- Bill Davidson, the Detroit Pistons' Hall of Fame owner and noted philanthropist, died Friday. He was 86.

Davidson died at his Bloomfield Hills home with family at his side, team spokesman Matt Dobek said. The cause of death wasn't immediately known.


Bill Davidson
Bill Davidson owned the Detroit Pistons, Detroit Shock and, until last year, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"The entire Palace family is mourning the loss of Mr. Davidson," said Tom Wilson, president of Palace Sports and Entertainment and the Pistons. "He was truly a pioneer in so many ways. His legacy will live forever."

Davidson, inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in September, also owned the WNBA's Detroit Shock and Palace Sports & Entertainment, comprising The Palace of Auburn Hills and DTE Energy Music Theatre.

"We are all deeply saddened by the news of Mr. D's passing," Pistons coach Michael Curry said after Detroit's overtime victory in Toronto. "He's been a great owner who genuinely cared for players, coaches and employees. He will not only be remembered as a great owner but also as a person who made a difference in many people's lives. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mrs. D and the entire Davidson family."

Occasionally spotted courtside at Pistons home games, Davidson shied away from the limelight. He granted only a handful of interviews and turned down requests for dozens more while three of his pro sports teams were winning league championships over an eight-month span in 2003 and 2004.

"I just don't want to be a public figure," he told The Associated Press in 2004. "I don't see any point in it."

Davidson was chairman and president of Guardian Industries Corp., a major manufacturer of glass products for the construction and automotive industries and fiberglass insulation products. He also was an honored philanthropist, giving away more than $80 million in the 1990s alone.

Spurned in his bids to buy the NFL's Detroit Lions and NHL's Detroit Red Wings, Davidson became majority owner of the Pistons in 1974 and acquired the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning in 1999, spending lavishly on both teams.

"We always found Bill to be a very personable, friendly and warm person. He was a tremendous businessman, owner and competitor," Red Wings co-owners Michael and Marian Ilitch said in a statement released by the Detroit Tigers, a team Michael Ilitch also owns. "His commitment to our community and his passion for innovation will leave a lasting legacy. "

Davidson bought a plane -- Roundball One -- and built a state-of-the-art practice facility for the club, and used it himself to work out.

The Palace, located less than a half-mile from Guardian Industries headquarters, was built for $90 million -- all of it Davidson's money -- and won instant acclaim as a sports and entertainment venue when it opened in 1988.

"Obviously it's difficult news for those of us that knew him and for his family, but he lived a very rich life and helped untold thousands, and probably millions of people with all of his philanthropic things which frankly he never wanted anybody to talk about," said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, who coached the Pistons for two seasons. "So it was an incredible life that he lived."

The Lightning and the Pistons won the NHL and NBA titles eight days apart in June 2004, making Davidson the first owner of concurrent champions in major North American team sports. Under Davidson, the Pistons also won NBA titles in 1989 and 1990.

The Shock had won the WNBA championship eight months earlier, having risen from last place and the threat of folding in 2002 to first place and league-leading crowds the following year. The Shock also won the league championship in 2006 and 2008.

Davidson sold the Lightning last year.

Davidson was born Dec. 5, 1922, in Detroit. He ran track at Michigan, played football in the Navy during World War II and was an inaugural inductee into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Davidson earned a law degree from Wayne State University in 1949. He practiced law for three years before taking over a wholesale drug company and rescuing it from bankruptcy. He did likewise with a surgical supply company and then with his family's Guardian Glass Co., Guardian Industries' predecessor.

In 1997, the Council of Michigan Foundations honored Davidson for his lifelong philanthropic efforts locally, nationally and internationally.

Services are scheduled for Tuesday at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, according to the Ira Kaufman Chapel Funeral Home.

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Pistons reflect on life of Bill Davidson

The huge neon sign that towers just off I-75 near the Palace exit had a simple message Saturday afternoon:

Bill Davidson: 1922-2009

That short — yet powerful — passage was a reminder to thousands of passersby about Davidson’s legacy, about how he turned a $7 million gamble in 1974 into a state-of-the-art arena, a sports and entertainment empire, three NBA and three WNBA championships, a place in the Basketball Hall of Fame and a model NBA franchise worth nearly $500 million.

Despite the wealth of achievements by Davidson — the Pistons owner who died Friday at his Bloomfield Hills home at 86 — team personnel said Saturday that they would miss Davidson because he was a man of integrity.

“The last time I felt like this in the middle of the season was when my father passed in 1990,” said a somber Joe Dumars, the president of basketball operations who learned of Davidson’s death while attending his son’s high school basketball game. “Just losing someone that you’re that close to, that you spend that kind of time with over the years.

“It’s a tough one to lose him. Most of the conversations I had with him had very little to do with basketball. It was just about people, life and families and that kind of that stuff.”

A cause of death was not released, but Davidson had been in ill health in recent years. His courtside appearances at Pistons games dwindled over the years since their last championship in 2004. He was confined to a wheelchair, from which he delivered his acceptance speech last September at the Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

Despite his health issues, Davidson remained involved in the day-to-day operations of Palace and Pistons until the end.

Palace Sports & Entertainment president Tom Wilson spoke with him Friday and while he said Davidson was weak and didn’t say much, he was very much interested in what was going on.
“I just talked,” Wilson said. “They just put the phone to his ear and I just told him what was going on here and tried to be positive.

“The interesting thing about him he was relentlessly upbeat and optimistic. And even in the worst of times, even when we were having trouble on the basketball side, he would say remember one thing: A year goes by really fast. Do the right things and ultimately you will be OK and don’t worry about what happens today or tomorrow. And that’s sort of the way he always ran his life.”

Guard Richard Hamilton remembered a vibrant man who would drop by for therapy and workouts at the Pistons’ practice facility, across the parking lot from the Palace and near his Guardian Industries headquarters.

“We’re so used to him coming around here, being in the training room, talking to us,” said Hamilton, who was at a loss for words when told of Davidson’s death after Friday’s 99-95 overtime victory at Toronto. “His mind was always sharp as a whistle and not to have him around and not to come to the games is tough.”

And that feeling of loss will be shared from the millionaire athletes that fans cheer at every home game to the Palace employees who Davidson always had kind words for.

Coach Michael Curry was it was those relationships that showed you what kind of man Davidson was.

Curry got to know Davidson when he played for the Pistons for two stints (1995-97 and 1999-2003), and Davidson expressed confidence in Curry when he was hired last summer by Dumars to coach the Pistons after one season as an assistant.

“When we talked about things, we talked about handling situations and dealing with people,” Curry said. “You should be upfront and honest, pretty much just straight-forward and stand behind the things you believe.

“Those are the things I heard growing up and hearing it from him just echoed and makes you understand that doing things the right way, regardless of how it’s taken some times, is still the best way to do business.”

Davidson is survived by his wife, Karen, and two grown children, Ethan and Marla.

Services are scheduled for noon Tuesday at Congregation Shaarey Zadek in Southfield.

Wilson said there would be some type of remembrance at Sunday’s home game against the Memphis Grizzlies, but nothing had been finalized. (Davidson’s Palace opened in 1988, costing $90 million, none of it from public funds.)

But whatever is decided, some might think it isn’t sufficient.

Take Dumars’ comments when he presented Davidson for induction into the Hall of Fame.
“He handed the keys over to a franchise to a 36-year-old African-American guy and said run with it,” said Dumars, who assumed his position in 1999 after a 14-year Hall of Fame career, all with the Pistons. “I’m appreciative of that because that doesn’t happen often. I recognize that and I recognize how special that is. I’ll forever be indebted to him for that.”

And so will Pistons fans.

Contact VINCE ELLIS at 313-222-6479 or vellis@freepress.com. Check out his Pistons blog at www.freep.com/sports.


Davidson was one of the best

When the Pistons celebrated their 2004 NBA Championship with a parade through Detroit two days later, Pistons owner Bill Davidson stole the show. He stepped up to the podium at Hart Plaza and said (via the Free Press):
“Over the past couple of weeks, there’s been a lot of b(*******) going on in this country. Let me be a little more refined and say misconception. Let’s start with the 8-1 odds on the Lakers to beat the Pistons. B(*******). Actually, they were lucky to win one game.”
It was a startling moment of brashness from someone who had always made a habit of staying behind the scenes.
But the Pistons had been disrespected, and Davidson was too proud to let his team be insulted. He took it personally. After all, the Pistons were his. Davidson was the team’s second owner. He bought the franchise from Fred Zollner in 1974.
But as much as the Pistons meant to him,  he was so much more. Davidson, who died yesterday, will be remembered for many reasons.

Guardian Industries Corp.

Davidson earned a business degree from the University of Michigan and a law degree from Wayne State.
He gave up his law practice to save a drug company, and then a surgical supply company, from bankruptcy. He used that expertise to help the ailing family company, Guardian Glass.
Guardian declared bankruptcy the same year Davidson took over, 1957. But he turned the company into one of the largest glass suppliers in the world.
Some of his tactics came under attack. Competitors sued Guardian at least six times between 1965 and 1988, according to Crain’s Detroit Business.
Ernie Brooks, president of Southfield-based Brooks Kushman P.C., represented two of those companies and sees parallels between Davidson’s business tactics and the Pistons of the 1980s, who earned the nickname “Bad Boys.”
“Look at the Pistons. Don’t they track what you know Davidson to be? They were the “Bad Boys.” They committed some fouls, but they were successful,” Brooks said.
Brooks represented Denver-based Johns Manville, which sued Guardian in 1981 for stealing its fiberglass-making technology. In 1989 — the same year the Pistons won their first championship — Guardian was ordered to pay Johns Manville $38 million.
Still, Brooks said, “He was aggressive. You can argue whether it was right or wrong … but I have high regard for him.”
In 2007, Forbes said Davidson was Michigan’s richest man. Thankfully for the Pistons, he didn’t acquire that fortune too quickly.
Davidson only bought the Pistons because he couldn’t afford the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
He spent $6 million for the Pistons. The franchise is now valued at $480 million.

The Palace of Auburn Hills

The Palace, which is one of the few privately owned stadiums in sports, opened in 1988. It cost $90 million to build.
To help pay the high costs of construction, the arena had lower-level suites — a never-seen-before feature.
Just two teams, New York and New Jersey, have been in their arena’s longer. And the Palace still stands as one of the NBA’s premier facilities.
Although it wasn’t the only example of Davidson’s commitment to excellence — under Davidson’s control, the Pistons became the first NBA team to have its own plane, Roundball One — the Palace serves as the largest (figurative and literal) reminder of Davidison’s terrific reign over the Pistons.
“His friends begged him not to do it,” Wilson said. “(Theater mogul) Joey Nederlander called me and begged me to persuade him to back out, he’s going to go broke. His friends would say, ‘Hey, we know he knows what he’s doing, but with this, he doesn’t know what he’s doing.’ I think one reason he takes a lot of pride in this place is because of all the naysayers.
“It will be his legacy. A lot of the incredibly critical issues he took on with the NBA – all his work on the collective bargaining agreements and his support of David Stern in the early days – might have a more lasting impact on the game. But that was where he was one among a group of owners, a leader among them, but still among a group. This was all individual. And nobody else would have done it.”

Isiah Thomas

Bill Davidson and Isiah Thomas once had a father-son relationship. Here’s what each had told the Free Press about each other in 1986.
Davidson on Thomas:
“The overall improvement of the team, the caliber of players that we have, the success of the league and our franchise — all of it gives me enjoyment,” Davidson said. “But the high point was definitely when Isiah came here in 1981. Until then we did not have players, did not have the coaches, did not have any tradition. Lanier and I were friendly, but I didn’t have that same feeling that I have with Isiah. We have a lot of the same approaches to life and people.
Thomas on Davidson:
“He’d still be someone I’d want to hang out with. (And) put it this way: We’d get into a lot of trouble.”
In 1994, a trade that would have sent Thomas to the Knicks reportedly fell through because Davidson assured Thomas he would get a large contract the next year and a front-office position when he retired.
But news of the meeting leaked, and supposedly that irked Davidson. Thomas retired after the season and never got that front-office position. Tensions remained between the two for about a decade.
What exactly went down still remains a mystery, but Davidson shed some light in an interview with the Free Press last year:

Q: OK. Who’s the best player?
A: I’d say the best player we ever drafted was Isiah Thomas.
Q: Can you say anything — and I recognize it’s been a complex relationship over the years — about the falling out you two had at the end of his playing career?
A: Well, I was very, very close to Isiah, and there were times he was almost like a son. But, because of his background, um … I told him he had to change — you know, coming from where he came from. I said, “You’ve got it made now. Don’t keep doing those things that you’ve been doing.” I won’t tell you what they are. But he couldn’t change.
Q: And that’s why he didn’t have a future with the Pistons?
A: Right.
Q: Had he been able to change, would you have envisioned him having a lifelong career in the front office?
A: Yeah, certainly.
Q: Had you discussed that at one point with him?
A: I wouldn’t go that far.
Q: But in your mind you had considered that a possibility?
A: If you know the relationship was like a son — I was trying to counsel him — the subject of his future relationship and what his job would be never came up. Because he had to change first.
Q: To use your metaphor — he didn’t take his father’s counsel?
A: No.
Q: What’s your relationship with him at this point?
A: We’re the best of friends.
Q: How did it heal?
A: One day I decided — this was about five years ago — that there’s only one guy that I’m really not friendly with. So I called Isiah up, and I said Isiah (chuckling) — before I go to my grave — you know, whenever I do — I want you and I to be friends.
Q: Interesting.
A: So we hug each other now — and you know we just had the reunion. We’re the best of friends today.
Q: Why was it important to you to make peace? Did it have to do with getting older?
A: Right. As you get closer to the end, you say … there’s one exception. I want to cure that exception.
Q: And he didn’t know why you were calling?
A: No. In a way he didn’t understand — never has quite understood …
Q: What happened?
A: Right.
Q: Did you feel a need to go into all that?
A: No, no. There was no point in going into it. …We just come from different backgrounds. He had to fight his way up, and I didn’t have the problems he had growing up. There’s a lot of good things about Isiah, but when we had our parting, it was over something pretty substantial.


Coaches

The last three Pistons’ coaches never won fewer than 50 games in a season. But Davidson had a hand in firing all three — Flips Saunders, Larry Brown and Rick Carlisle.
Davidson didn’t think Saunders was good enough. From True Blue Pistons:
Joe Dumars wasn’t the only one with a voice that matters who left The Palace the night of the Pistons’ elimination by Boston saying, “I’d seen enough.” So had his owner.
“Absolutely,” Pistons owner William Davidson told me Wednesday morning. “No question in my mind. And I encouraged Joe to sever the relationship with Flip Saunders.”
And with Brown, when old Jewish men bicker — oy. From the Free Press:
Q: Speaking of coaching, let me ask you about a few coaches. Larry Brown. What can you tell me about him?
A: Well, Larry Brown is not what he appears to be. And he’s built a reputation for himself based on his own PR people. He’s not what he appears to be.
Q: When did you decide he was out?
A: Ah, probably after I’d been with him for half a season.
Q: Half a season?
A: Yeah, that’s all.
Q: But you let him continue to coach?
A: Well, we won that year.
Q: What if they had won against San Antonio?
A: Uh, probably not. I can’t tell you. … It depends on the players. The reason I get rid of a coach is if he’s lost the players. I don’t want to subject my players to a coach they don’t want, basically and in whom they have lost faith.
Q: Did you feel that was the case with Larry?
A: Oh, yeah.
There have been rumors Carslisle was fired because he didn’t say hello to Pistons staff, and that irked Davidson. But in the interview with the Free Press last year, Davidson denied that. Another mystery about Davidson’s relationships.
Q: Rick Carlisle — was that your call? Or had he lost the players?
A: Yeah, he had lost the players. He had a certain style, which wore off after a certain amount of time. But he was a good coach, on kind of a short-term basis. He knows the game, did all the right things, but he didn’t have that personal touch with players.
Q: The whispers were that you didn’t like his style or personality.
A: No, definitely not true.
Q: He wasn’t fired because he had words with members of your staff?
A: No.
Q: Why was he fired?
A: Players. A player will never come out and say it, but because I’m close to them, I know what they’re thinking.
Q: So you can tell when the coach has lost the players just by talking with the players?
A: No, it comes back around. Somebody will say something to somebody, and then that person will say something to me. And if that happens enough times, then you realize what it is.

Philanthropy

Davidson was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor last year, but his contributions far suprassed the game of basketball. From his profile on the Pistons’ official site:
Davidson’s involvement in the Detroit community is well documented. In 1997 he was honored for his lifelong philanthropic efforts, locally, nationally and internationally, by the Council of Michigan Foundations. The same year, he was listed in a New York Times article as one of America’s most generous donors. Davidson was also one of the “founding fathers” who originated the Pistons/Palace Foundation, a charitable vehicle that has donated more than $20 million dollars in cash and merchandise since 1989. In January, 1995 the foundation worked in conjunction with the City of Detroit’s Parks and Recreation Department to establish the Partnership to Adopt and Renovate Parks for Kids (PARK) Program. The program provides for restoration of Detroit parks, basketball courts, baseball diamonds, running tracks and playground equipment.
In 1992, he donated $30 million to his alma mater, the University of Michigan’s School of Business Administration. The grant to establish the William Davidson Institute will provide assistance in a special program to help develop market economies throughout the world. He has also endowed the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York with a $15 million gift, and the American Technion Society to establish the world’s first educational institution entirely dedicated to the international management of technology-based companies at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. In 1999, the Davidson Institute of Science Education was established at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. His $20 million gift was the largest private donation ever given to the Institute that is a leading international science research center and graduate school.
Locally Davidson has donated a renewable $2 million gift to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra that enables the organization to make long-term touring plans both in the U.S. and internationally and pledged to fight cancer with a gift of $1 million to support collaborative research, prevention and early detection programs in breast and pediatric cancers at the Karmanos Cancer Institute and Children’s Research Center of Michigan.
He also donated $75 million to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem.

Championships

Davidson has his own banner in the rafters of the Palace, up with the team’s three NBA Championships — all earned under him.
Two of his teams — the Pistons and the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lighting — won championships in 2004, making him the only owner to win the title in both sports in the same year. His WNBA team, the Detroit Shock, have also won three titles.
But that wasn’t enough for Davidson, who thought the Pistons could have four titles.
The 1987 season saw the Pistons eliminated in seven games by Boston, led by the Bird-Parish-McHale triumvirate made possible by Dick Vitale’s obsession with Bob McAdoo. But it was a piercing Game 5 loss with the series tied 2-2 that proved decisive, a game that turned on Isiah Thomas’ pass intercepted by Bird and fed to Dennis Johnson for a winning layup.
The following season the Pistons hurdled Boston only to run into the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. Ahead 3-2 and leading in Game 6’s waning seconds, a questionable foul call on Bill Laimbeer allowed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to sink the tying and winning free throws. With Thomas hobbled by a badly sprained ankle, the Pistons narrowly lost Game 7, as well.
“We have the game won,” Davidson said, “and I’m sitting there in the locker room with David Stern, waiting to accept the trophy, and Hugh Evans – I’ll never forget the official – called the foul on Bill Laimbeer. It never should have been called – never been called in the history of the game. My thought was I’ll go to my grave and this is the only thing I’ll ever get.
“We should have won when the ball was thrown away, we should have won in Los Angeles, we should have won four in a row.
Organizations, not teams, win championships. The Pistons won a title in 2004 because of Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace. They won because of Larry Brown. They won because of Arnie Kander and Mike Abdenour. They won because of Joe Dumars.
And they won because of Bill Davidson, who put everyone else into motion.
Davidson always said the way to run a business was to hire competent managers and let them work.
He did that for 35 years with the Pistons. Detroit should hope whoever owns the team for the next 35 does it as well.

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