BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
It is hard to believe that a week has passed in the Detroit area and Friday, March 13th, 2009, will go down as the day Detroit Pistons Owner Bill Davidson died at the age 86.
During that time, I've read numerous tributes back in my hometown about Davidson's legacy and now it's time to post one of my own. There wouldn't be enough words to describe what a shrewd business man Davidson was. So we'll let statistics take over.
In 1974, Davidson purchased the franchise for $7 million and now it's worth more than $500 million. He took a franchise that played in the 12,191 seat Cobo Arena from 1961-78 and moved it to the suburban Pontiac Silverdome. While at Cobo Arena, the Pistons top average attendance reached 7,492 totaling 307,180 in 1974-75.
The move to the Silverdome was a work in progress but it lasted until the 1987-88 season. By the Pistons final season, their numbers climbed from an average of 9,510 for a total of 389,936 in 1978-79 to 26,012 and became the first team in NBA history to draw a million fans as 1,065,505 drove up I-75, M-59 and Opdyke Rd to watch the beginning of the Bad Boys era led by star Isiah Thomas, who played with the team 13 seasons. Detroit led the NBA in attendance in five seasons.
On January 29, 1988, the Pistons and Boston Celtics drew 61,983. with the curtain open at this football stadium. On Feb 21, 1987, 52,745 watched the Atlanta Hawks face the Detroiters. During the NBA Finals on June 12, 1988, Magic Johnson's, LA Lakers played in front of 39,188.
These numbers are a far cry from the days at Cobo Arena. More importantly, Davidson's vision would lay out the groundwork for a team which transformed itself from an NBA laughingstock to a power house.
When a March 4, 1985 snowstorm caused structural damage to the Silverdome roof and forced the Pistons to play home games at the Joe Louis Arena in the 1985 playoffs, Davidson would focus his attention on finding his franchise a permanent home at the Palace of Auburn Hills. He privately funded this arena and the first five seasons the team recorded sellouts of 21,454. The Pistons have led the NBA in attendance five of the last six seasons and their capacity has increased to 22,076.
But the transformation has been more than just attendance. Here is a franchise that built it's own practice facility and was the first to fly in it's own private airplane. I've been to many stadiums around the USA and the Palace is one of the nicest venues in the country. He even created the idea and used the Palace to invite fans watch NBA Finals Road Games on the stadium big screen scoreboards charging low admissions realizing the team would make money on souvenirs and concessions. Other teams in college and the pros would follow suit.
When the Pistons traded future Hall of Famer Adrian Dantley, he said the thing he would miss was that private plane. But Dantley, who was traded by the Utah Jazz for Kelly Tripuka, was a player that had an image as one of the best scorers in NBA history and turned into a role player that just wanted to win a championship but came up short against the LA Lakers in the 1988 Finals.
Dantley would be traded to the on Feb 15, 1989 to the Dallas Mavericks for Mark Aquirre. But he'll be known for a collision with Vinnie Johnson in an Eastern Conference Final Series which Detroit lost at the Boston Garden to the Celtics in 1986-87. To date, he remains bitter and blames Thomas for the trade that brought his friend Aguirre to the Pistons preventing him from wearing a championship ring.
Going into the 2008-2009 season, the Pistons all-time regular season record was 2,048-2,061 for a . 498 winning percentage. In the playoffs, Detroit is 171-143 for a percentage of . 545. Davidson has three titles for the Pistons, three for the Detroit Shock and one with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004. The Lightning were a real mess before Davidson revived that franchise. Seven championships for three major league teams.
Forbes magazine had Davidson ranked as one of the richest people in Michigan with his flagship company Guardian Industries, Palace Sports & Entertainment comprising The Palace of Auburn Hills and DTE Energy Music Theatre (formerly Pine Knob) .
While cities and pro franchises have arenas named after corporate sponsors to generate additional revenue, the billionaire philanthropist hasn't seen the need to go this route. Davidson didn't charge media members for meals and parking like other team's do. He's made millionaires out of many people and donated millions to many charities.
His first coach Dick Vitale got fired 12 games during the 1979-80 season with a career mark in Detroit of 34-60. Vitale moved on to ESPN where he was an original college basketball analyst and both he and Davidson were inducted together into the Basketball Hall of Fame in September. I can just imagine the dialogue between the two in Springfield, Mass.
Davidson joined former Coach Chuck Daly, Current President of Basketball Operations & former Guard Joe Dumars, Thomas and Dantley in the Hall of Fame.
His most controversial firing was Larry Brown, whom he gave $5 million to leave when he was a distraction while considering other jobs while he was employed by Detroit.
When my colleague George Eichorn of the Detroit Monitor and Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association asked me to submit my thoughts for both media outlets, I jumped at that chance.
Here is what I wrote “I'm deeply saddened by the loss of Bill Davidson. I'll always remember sitting at press row at the Palace as Mr. Davidson would pass by, we'd exchange greetings and he'd always ask me how I was doing, then we shook hands. I feel privileged to have covered the Pistons the past 20 years and that my name has been in their Media Guide for years so it will always be proof that I was associated with a class act like Mr. Davidson. If there are disadvantages about covering a Pistons Road game, it's not being around the members of the media that I embrace as colleagues, the Pistons staff and of course seeing Mr. Davidson.”
As I learned of the funeral arrangements and saw that over 1,500 packed Congregation Shaarey Zedek, in Southfield, MI., it was nice to find out that he would be buried at Clover Hill Park Cemetery, in Birmingham.
These are the same grounds where my current family members are in peace. They include both sets of grandparents beginning with Sidney & Sophie Morganroth, Sidney & Dorothy Caplan, Great Grandparents Morris & Celia Kroll, a close cousin & adopted brother Terry Kroll, Step Grandfather Sidney Jacobs and an Uncle Larry Leshman.
I hope it takes many years before my parents, along with my Aunt Judy and her husband Bob Strohl, wind up in Clover Hill, while my situation could hinge upon a potential significant other. If I do end up in Clover Hill, it should be near or next to Terry Kroll because he used to live in Southern California and attend LA Lakers games regularly. It would be neat if I had the chance in heaven to introduce Terry and Mr. Davidson.
But one thing is for certain, when I return to Clover Hill Park Cemetery for a visit, I won't have to go through the Pistons Public Relations Department to pay my own personal tribute to Mr. Davidson. All I'll have to do is just go by the Clover Hill Park Directory and just look for his name. Then I can say "thanks for everything! I'll miss seeing you at the games, will always think about you realizing our paths will eventually cross again."
Scott Morganroth can be reached at Scottsports33@aol.com.
- Scott Morganroth
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