Detroit Pistons And Palace Sports And Entertainment Mourn The Passing Of Pioneer Owner William Davidson

Updated Saturday, March 14, 2009, 10:54 a.m.

William Davidson.
Steve Freeman
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – The Detroit Pistons and Palace Sports and Entertainment mourn the passing of pioneer owner William Davidson. The 86-year-old passed away at home on March 13, 2009 with his family by his side.

“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.”

Mr. Davidson owned the Pistons since 1974 and won three NBA Championships (1989, 1990, 2004), three WNBA Championships (2003, 2006, 2008) and one NHL Championship (2004). He became the first owner in sports history to win championships in three different professional sports leagues during the 2003-04 calendar year (NBA – Detroit Pistons, NHL – Tampa Bay Lightning and WNBA – Detroit Shock). In September 2008, Davidson’s contributions to the game of basketball were honored when he was officially enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

In 1988-89, the Pistons began play in The Palace of Auburn Hills, a state-of-the-art arena built with Davidson's financial support: a privately-financed facility, which when combined with the Pistons, formed the foundation of his entertainment business. The company also added management of the DTE Energy Music Theatre in 1990 and Meadow Brook Music Festival in the summer of 1994, further developing the entertainment division of Palace Sports and Entertainment.

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. He continued 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. Updated with new offices and enlarged locker room space in 2008, it was used for the team's training camp for the 14th straight year, alleviating the need to go off-site for the preseason.

The Pistons have played in the postseason in 19 of the past 25 years, including 11 of the past 13 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. With a franchise-record seven straight seasons of recording 50 or more wins, the Pistons have won 384 regular season games (.669 wining percentage) since 2001, including a franchise-record 63 wins in 2005-06. The club has compiled 73 playoff wins in that same span and made six consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. Detroit has won six Central Division titles in the last seven seasons and nine overall since 1987-88. Only the San Antonio Spurs have won more division titles in the same 20-year span.

The Detroit 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. The Shock have won three championships since their inception (2003, 2006, 2008) and set a WNBA attendance record (22,076) in Game 3 of the 2004 WNBA Finals while also becoming the first team since 1890 to go from the worst team in a professional sports league to the best team.

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.

Davidson gave up his law practice after three years 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. Guardian Industries remained 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 involvement in the Detroit community has been 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 provided assistance in a special program to help develop market economies throughout the world. He 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.

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