Meet the man who owns 'em

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:30 PM ET


 The old man in the unimpressive clothing walked into the dressing room after the Game 7 win over the Philadelphia Flyers and made the rounds, shaking hands with everyone.

 The players know him only by reputation. Mr. D, they call him. And he knows them only by the names on their backs, not by their unshaven faces.

 Bill Davidson has more money and more teams than almost anyone in professional sport but, by choice, no profile. He is 81 years old and having the sporting season of a long lifetime.

 His Tampa Bay Lightning is playing for the Stanley Cup. His Detroit Pistons are playing for the NBA championship. His Detroit Shock is the defending WNBA champion. No individual has ever been here before -- with two teams playing for championships simultaneously -- and no one has been less public about it.

 Bill Davidson still goes to work every morning, eats lunch at his desk, wears nothing that resembles Armani, and, quietly, in the background knows everything that is going on.

 He took a job at his uncle's windshield and mirror business in the early 1950s just before the company went bankrupt, pushed it to solvency, went public in 1960, bought all the shares back in 1974 and now has annual sales of $40 billion.

 It was right after he took his company private that Mr. D decided he wanted a sporting franchise. The team he wanted was the Miami Dolphins, but the cost seemed too high for the times and he wound up meeting a neighbour and buying the Pistons from him, instead.

 To understand the control Bill Davidson has over the Pistons is to not understand two very delicate subjects in Detroit. You can't completely explain them because the reclusive Davidson has not spoken publicly about them.

 One was the mysterious falling out between legendary player Isiah Thomas and the Pistons.

 One minute Thomas was supposed to be taking over the franchise and the next minute the relationship was forever severed.

 Last season ended with the shocking firing of coach Rick Carlisle, who had won 100 games during the previous two seasons in Detroit. Why? Because, the story goes, Davidson didn't like the way Carlisle treated people or carried himself.

 NO QUESTIONS ASKED

 But if Davidson believes in you, the way he believes in Pistons president Tom Wilson or Lightning president Ron Campbell, you may have a job for life. Wilson has spent 26 years working for Davidson; This is Campbell's 20th season with the owner.

 Mr. D doesn't seem to care what kind of legend you may be or how many coach-of-the-year votes you earned, but if he doesn't want you or like you, you're gone. No questions asked or answered.

 The purchase of the Lightning was partly business and partly challenge. Wilson was intrigued when Sports Illustrated anointed the Lighting "the worst franchise in professional sport." He told Davidson about the team and the club's real estate holdings.

 Reluctantly, Mr. D bought the NHL team, a decision he still wonders about.

 But historically, almost everything Davidson has touched has worked out in his favour. He has been the unknown trend-setter. He was the first owner in the NBA to buy his own arena, the first to purchase a team airplane, the first to move luxury boxes closer to courtside.

 His philosophy -- then and now -- is something Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment Ltd. could learn from: Hire the right people and then leave them alone to run their operation and get involved only if need be.

 He has a former player, Joe Dumars, making the basketball decisions in Detroit. He has a lawyer who never played, Jay Feaster, making the hockey decisions in Tampa. Opposite ends of the sporting spectrum yet both situations work.

 Over the weekend, Davidson will fly in his private jet from Tampa to Calgary to Los Angeles.

 Typically, from the background and with little fanfare, Bill Davidson doesn't want to miss a thing.


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