Bill Davidson, 1922-2009

The Associated Press

Detroit Pistons owner Bill Davidson, a noted philanthropist who was inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame last year, has died. He was 86.

The team said in a release early Saturday that Davidson died Friday at his Bloomfield Hills home with family at his side.

"The entire Palace family is mourning the loss of Mr. Davidson," Tom Wilson, president of Palace Sports and Entertainment and the Pistons, said in the release. "He was truly a pioneer in so many ways. His legacy will live forever."

Davidson also owned the WNBA's Detroit Shock and Palace Sports & Entertainment, comprising The Palace of Auburn Hills and DTE Energy Music Theatre.

Davidson's name was rarely in the headlines, but he was one of the most successful and innovative owners in professional sports. Under his ownership, the Pistons won three NBA championships, the Detroit Shock won three WNBA championships and the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup.

He was the first owner in the NBA to provide his team their own private jet, and he was the first to include luxury suites in his privately-funded arena, the Palace of Auburn Hills.

In the years that followed, nearly every team has followed in his footsteps, and even though the Palace is now one of the oldest buildings in the league, it remains one of the league's premier home courts.

Last summer, Davidson was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, not only recognized for his teams' success on the court but also credited for sharing his business acumen to help the league solidify its standing domestically and expanding its marketing reach internationally.

"Over the last 35 years, Bill Davidson's impact on the sports world and the NBA in particular has truly been legendary," David Stern said in a statement released by the NBA.

"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. The NBA family has lost an innovative thinker, a visionary businessman and most importantly, a trusted friend. I want to extend our condolences to Karen and the entire Davidson family during this time. Bill's influence on our league will never be forgotten."

As CEO of the privately-held Guardian Industries, Davidson employed over 19,000 people while becoming one of the wealthiest people in country. Although he was most famous as the owner of the Pistons, Davidson was also an extremely generous supporter of the arts and charitable causes, giving over $200 million to various universities, hospitals, orchestras and other organizations over the years.

In addition, Davidson was the founder and the guiding force behind the University of Michigan's The William Davidson Institute, which was created in 1992 to study worldwide market economies.

In a press release, U-M President Mary Sue Coleman said Davison's impact on the college would "last for generations."

"His generosity as an adviser, a business executive and a philanthropist enhanced the teaching and research experience for U-M students and faculty," Coleman said. "He did not hesitate to share his knowledge and expertise and our university is stronger for it."

Davidson donated $5 million for the construction of facilities at the Michigan business school, from which he earned a bachelor's degree in business administration in 1947.

By June 2007, his gifts to the university totaled $59.8 million.

Forbes magazine ranked the Bloomfield Hills billionaire as one of the richest people in Michigan, tied for 68th in the country.

But Davison shied away from the limelight. He granted only a handful of interviews and turned down requests for dozens more.

"I just don't want to be a public figure," he told The Associated Press in 2004. "I don't see any point in it."

Services are scheduled for Tuesday at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, according to the Ira Kaufman Chapel Funeral Home. A cause of death was not immediately known.


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