Thanks, Mr. D

3 great moments capped last year of Pistons owner’s life

His induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame was one of three wonderful things that happened for Mr. Davidson in his last year.
Nathaniel S. Butler (NBAE/Getty)
For more than half of my life, I’ve worked for Mr. Davidson, the great, great Pistons owner who died last week and took the air out of the room for the entire Pistons family and great Pistons fans everywhere. He and the Pistons took a chance on a young broadcaster back in 1976 and they’ve allowed me to do what I love to do ever since. I don’t know how you could ever try to repay that debt, other than to thank him as I so often did in the past and to thank his family and all his associates for allowing me to broadcast the team’s games night in and night out for all these years.

Bill Davidson was truly everyday people 24-7-365, yet he had the brilliance to dream big and the will to carry it through to fruition. He always looked for the best in his friends, his employees, and probably even in his competitors, if the truth be told. But as ordinary as he acted, he was an extraordinary guy. You don’t do what he has done in the business world without a razor-sharp mind.

And above and beyond all of that, if we could quantify it – and I’m not sure we ever will be able to – what he’s done as a philanthropist for not only organizations with a worldwide scope, but also for individuals, we might be able to prove he’s the most generous guy ever in our area and in our state.

That’s an unbelievable quality. Nobody expects wealthy people to go out of their way to give away their money and that’s exactly what he did.

There was a great connection between Mr. Davidson and his players as far back as my first few years with the team. They were in awe of him, in many ways, because of what he had accomplished, but also because of his down-to-earth, friendly personality. It didn’t take anybody long to understand that he really cared about the people and the players in his organization. I remember Bob Lanier telling me how much they had shared personally, as friends. I know how much Dave Bing respected Mr. Davidson. Those are the two greatest players during his early years as owner.

After that, there were strong friendships with Isiah and Joe Dumars and many others, but to bring this right into our living rooms today, the current Detroit Pistons felt a kindship with Mr. D, as they called him, because of the time they spent with him in the practice facility – and he was in there at least five days a week, keeping himself in shape and talking to them, not just about basketball but about their families and their friends.

And I think when Rip Hamilton scrawled on his shoes, “We miss you, Mr. D,” that really said it all. It’s 2009. Mr. Davidson was 86 years old when he passed away and here’s Rip Hamilton, a young guy barely 30, more than half a century his junior, but old enough and wise enough to know what a friend he had lost. That speaks volumes not only about Rip, but also about Mr. Davidson.

I was just thinking about something this morning – that three wonderful things happened for Mr. Davidson in his last year. It started with our 50th anniversary celebration for the Pistons last spring and it allowed him to renew old acquaintances with some of his greatest players. They had the chance to chat and socialize with him and he hung out with the guys – because, after all, he truly was one of the guys. It was at least as much fun for them as it was for him.

And then we had The Palace’s 20th anniversary last summer and we were all able to reminisce with him about all the successes there have been with regard to this building – a building some people really didn’t believe he should build in the first place. Certainly, it stands as one shining moment to a great man’s foresight.

And then came the ultimate honor for anyone involved in the game of basketball – enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. There couldn’t be a more deserving owner when it comes to Hall of Fame credentials. Everybody in basketball – and I was lucky enough to be there that night – that I saw was truly happy for Mr. Davidson and felt the honor was long overdue.

That’s an amazing chain of events that I’m so glad he got to experience in the last year of his life. We didn’t want to bid adieu to Mr. D, but if we had to, that was the right way for him to go out.