Yesterday was a very enjoyable day of watching college basketball, with all the fun and excitement leading into the NCAA tournament. However, as I was getting ready to go to bed, I was terribly saddened by the news of the passing of Bill Davidson, the owner of the Detroit Pistons.
It has been well documented the story of all his accomplishments, and you can read about them elsewhere. A very successful businessman, an innovative owner of successful pro franchises, he was also an honored philanthropist, who gave away millions and millions to help others. I suggest you read about his life, for he had an interesting and full one, but I would rather talk about him as I knew him.
Through the years I had met Mr. Davidson at various NBA functions, when I was with the Indiana Pacers. League meetings, All-Star Game activities, those type of things, but I really did not know him until I got to spend time with him when I went to work for the Pistons as an assistant coach in 1999, and later as the Pistons’ Head Coach.
I only spent three years working for the Pistons, and with Mr. D., but getting to know him was one of the true pleasures of my life. And understand, this is coming from a man who was fired by Mr. D’s organization. Mr. Davidson was an unique man. I liked him a great deal, but I learned to respect him even more. In the past, I had heard people describe him as a gruff guy. I did not find him that way. While I would not describe him as “grandfatherly”, I found him to be honest, honorable and thoughtful. While he was very wealthy, I never, ever found him to be arrogant. While he had ”high status”, I never saw him be condescending to anyone. He treated everyone evenly. It didn’t matter if it was his star player, or a vice-president in his organization, or the receptionist, I only saw him treat people with respect and civility. Don’t get me wrong. He could be demanding and tough, but always honest and civil.
The Pistons’ basketball offices are at the practice facility located near the Palace at Auburn Hills, basically in its parking lot. Almost daily, Mr. D. would come in and work out, sometimes while watching practice, sometimes after practice. Very often he would stop by my office, and come in to chat, especially in the off season. He was always welcome, for I enjoyed those chats a great deal. Sure ,we talked about the team, and how we were doing. More often he would ask me how I was doing, how my family was doing, and then different life things, often about some of his life experiences. Some enlightening chats they were, at least for me. I am so pleased I was given the opportunity to get to know him.
Mr. Davidson was an old school guy. A man’s word is his bond. We got paid at the Pistons every Friday. His belief, derived from the days when he was just starting up Guardian Industries, was “a week’s work, a week’s pay”. To me that motto tells a lot about the man. He didn’t believe in putting people at risk. He treated his employees well, and honestly. With all that has gone on lately, with the deception in business practices, and deception of our elected officials, I’ve come to really appreciate knowing people who are honest. While there are many adjectives that could be used to describe Mr. Davidson….generous, astute, kind, genuine, polite, smart, tough, caring,…. if you asked me to describe Mr. D. with one word, it would be honest.
One last thing. I was so pleased for him when he was selected into the Basketball Hall of Fame last year. He fully deserved it. He did a lot for the game of basketball in general, and the NBA in particular. My heartful condolences to Mrs. D. and the rest of his family for his loss. He will be missed by so many.
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