Bill Davidson dies at 86; owner of Detroit Pistons

Bill Davidson dies at 86; owner of Detroit Pistons
Bill Davidson and Isiah Thomas talk to reporters in 1984 after Davidson announced that Thomas' contract had been extended for 10 years. (Rob Kozloff / Associated Press)
Bill Davidson, the Detroit Pistons' Hall of Fame owner and noted philanthropist, died late Friday at his home in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. He was 86.

The cause of death wasn't released, but Davidson had been in poor health in recent years and used a wheelchair.

Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in September, Davidson also owned the WNBA's Detroit Shock and Palace Sports & Entertainment, comprising the Palace of Auburn Hills arena and DTE Energy Music Theatre.

"Over the last 35 years, Bill Davidson's impact on the sports world and the NBA in particular has truly been legendary," NBA Commissioner David Stern said in a statement Saturday. "From his seven championships in three different leagues during his Hall of Fame career to his incredible business successes to his extraordinary community service, Bill set a standard for ownership in sports that will be difficult for anyone to match."

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, and was an inaugural inductee into the Michigan Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Spurned in his bids to buy the NFL's Detroit Lions and the 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.

The Palace 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.

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. In those 2004 NBA finals, the Pistons defeated the Lakers, who fell short despite having a stellar cast of Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Gary Payton.

Under Davidson, the Pistons also won NBA titles in 1989, when they swept the Lakers in four games, and 1990.

The Shock won the WNBA championship in September 2003, beating the L.A. Sparks. The Shock also won league championships in 2006 and 2008.

Davidson, affectionately known as Mr. D, sold the Lightning last year.

William Davidson was born Dec. 5, 1922, in Detroit. He ran track at the University of Michigan, where he earned a bachelor's degree in business administration, and played football in the Navy during World War II.

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.

Survivors include his wife, Karen, and two children, Ethan and Marla.