Pistons owner Davidson dies at 86

Updated: March 15, 2009, 3:43 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

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.

[+] EnlargeBill Davidson
Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images 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 a true leader

Dan Feldman of the TrueHoop Network provides an overview of the career of Pistons owner Bill Davidson.

• Piston Powered

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.

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