Farewell, Friend

Longtime Pistons PR whiz George Maskin dies at 90

George Maskin received numerous honors in his role of PR director for the Detroit Pistons and was a media favorite.
Pistons Photo
There are many ways to measure the remarkable growth the NBA has experienced in the 50 years since the Pistons relocated to Detroit from Fort Wayne, Ind., but perhaps none more dramatic than the role of a team’s public relations director then and now.

Where today’s public relations directors must filter dozens of media requests a day and do their best to permit access to players without overwhelming their schedules, their predecessors were more salesmen trying to generate interest in a league that barely penetrated the public’s consciousness.

George Maskin, the first public relations director the Pistons hired upon moving to Detroit, was the perfect man for the job. Maskin, who died at age 90 last week after a brief illness, is remembered as a man of great warmth and kindness who cared deeply about athletics of all kinds and at all levels.

“He was just a kind, caring man dedicated to athletics and everything that goes with it,” longtime Pistons radio and television voice George Blaha said. “He had time for everybody. He would listen to your stories and he always had a few of his own. He never stopped caring about the Pistons. I think he felt like the Pistons were really a part of his family. And, no doubt, he will always be a part of the Pistons’ family – unfortunately, now just in memory.”

Maskin, who worked for the Pistons from 1960-74, touched more lives as an umpire or referee in a variety of sports at amateur levels from sandlot to college. He worked football, basketball, baseball, softball and volleyball games and did so as recently as 2003 when he was well into his 80s.

George Maskin was the originator of giving Pistons fans a great experience. Pistons Photo
“George was Damon Runyon,” said Pistons trainer Mike Abdenour, who joined the organization shortly after Maskin left it but knew him well. “He was the guy who handled marketing, handled sales, handled team travel, handled relationships with the players and coaches and was in charge of making sure the ship ran right. Back in the old days, the number of people in an NBA basketball office, there were maybe three or four. George was doing the job of seven or eight. He was unbelievable guy. You want to talk about somebody who would literally give you the shirt off his back, George would.”

“George was some kind of guy,” said Matt Dobek, Pistons vice president of public relations. “Everybody liked him, from players and coaches as well as the media. He was a great guy to work for. He promoted this sport and his team really well, at a time long before the NBA had the kind of popularity it enjoyed today.”

Maskin came to the Pistons from a background in journalism. As a graduate of Michigan State College – before it became Michigan State University – in 1939, where he served as editor of the campus newspaper and worked with Hal “The Swami” Schram who would go on to a legendary career covering high school sports at the Detroit Free Press, Maskin joined the Detroit Times and covered high school and college sports.

He joined the Army in 1940 and became a sportswriter for Stars & Stripes, also officiating baseball and softball games for troops stationed in England, Scotland and Ireland.

While covering the Pistons for the Times upon his return from service, Maskin once was asked by the NBA commissioner’s office – aware of his background in officiating – to fill in for one of the league’s referees who could not make it to the game. Maskin did so, then filed his game story for the Times.

“Just imagine if that ever happened today,” Dobek said.

A master of publicity, George Maskin brought in baseball stars and beauty queens to add to the Pistons experience. Pistons Photo
When the Detroit News bought the Times in 1960, Maskin joined the Pistons. While serving as their PR director, Maskin would write game stories for both the Free Press and News in the days before those newspapers would send a reporter on the road with the team.

“When you think that he filed wire service reports on Pistons road games because there were no beat writers for many of those games and also handled all the duties of publicist and found time to do the public-address announcing at Cobo (Arena) as well, you realize what a jack-of-all-trades George really was,” Blaha said.

“I know I’m going to miss him. When we’d go to Florida, he’d always be there, and when the weather broke in the spring, he’d be at The Palace for playoff games. When I was a young broadcaster in Lansing and just wanted to come to a Pistons game, he’d always take care of me long before I ever dreamed I’d be broadcasting Pistons games someday. He was as kind to me then as he would have been to somebody from the Free Press or the News of the New York Times.”

Maskin is survived by his wife of 60 years, Elaine.

“George and Elaine were very close,” Blaha said. “He’d always ask me to wish her a happy birthday or a happy anniversary. The Pistons lost a true and dear friend in George Maskin.”