‘Whatever It Takes’

Tom Gores ready to go to work to restore Pistons’ luster

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The people who knew Bill Davidson best came to marvel at his ability to boil complex issues down to their essence with the simplest words and most incisive declarations. His peers in business or among NBA owners would give stem-winding speeches and debate issues to their nub, then Mr. D would utter a few terse sentences that brought everything into focus.

Somewhere, he was probably smiling when the man poised to assume control of the franchise Davidson ran for 35 years until his death in 2009, Tom Gores, answered simply and directly a question that could have prompted a multilayered response: What type of owner will you be?

“I’ll be whatever owner this community needs and this franchise needs,” Gores said before the Pistons’ home finale Monday, three days after he and Karen Davidson jointly announced their agreement on a deal that will transfer ownership to Gores by June 30. “When they need me back, I’ll be back. I will be impactful, that’s for sure. I want us to be successful. I didn’t show up here to not be successful.

What exactly does “impactful” mean?

“Whatever it takes,” Gores said. “I’m going to make Bill Davidson proud that we bought the team.”

The fact the Pistons are still owned by Karen Davidson until the NBA approves the deal is only a part of the reason Gores won’t be making immediate sweeping changes. He and his partners at Platinum Equity, the Los Angeles-based private equity firm Gores launched in 1995, have stressed that their first task is to ask questions and learn the business.

“We’re going to learn first,” he said. “We’re not in decision-making mode. Are we afraid of change? Absolutely not. We’re ready for change, no problem. Sometimes you need change, but we’re going to learn right now. There is a great, deep organization here that existed before us and we need to make the most of that. This is not a culture you throw away. This is an unbelievable city, an unbelievable organization.”

The NBA Board of Governors convenes in New York, as it always does at the end of the regular season, later this week. Gores deferred specific questions about what action that group might take regarding the transfer of ownership to NBA commissioner David Stern, but did say, “We’ll be in New York and I expect us to own the Pistons.”

Gores quickly dismissed questions about where the Pistons’ future lies.

“Do you think I’m crazy?” he smiled when somebody asked if he intended to keep them in Auburn Hills. “We’re here – we’re here.”

While he said he’s always been intrigued about the possibility of owning a professional sports team, the fact the Pistons – the home-state team that Gores, raised in Flint and a graduate of Michigan State, rooted for in the early Isiah Thomas days through the Bad Boys titles before settling in Los Angeles – became available accelerated his timetable.

“Everything came together at the right time,” he said. “I grew up with sports, but mostly I’m excited about inspiring the town. We are together on this thing. This is a community asset.

“It really made sense. The math added up. The fact I grew up here. There is tremendous talent as a part of the Pistons organization and we see a real opportunity. I grew up here, but I want to be a part of the comeback. We’ve had a hard time, in Detroit and in Michigan.”

And when the time is right – after the deal closes and the NBA has signed off on the Gores ownership – he’s ready to roll up his sleeves and help restore the Pistons to the organization that brought not only pride but joy to Bill Davidson.

“Bill clearly built this house,” he said, “and I have to build on it. I haven’t done anything yet. Bill did it all. He built this stadium, he built the team, he built the championships. We have to go to work and help the team, the Pistons organization, the community. All we’ve done is make a deal to buy the team. We have to do more.”