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William Davidson
Personal information
Born December 5, 1922
Detroit Michigan
Died March 13, 2009 (age 86)
Bloomfield, Michigan
Nationality American
Career information
Occupation Businessman
Owner of Detroit Pistons
(1974-2009) and Detroit Shock
College Michigan
Wayne State
Career highlights and awards
  • 3 NBA champion
  • 3x WNBA champion

William Morse Davidson, J. D. (December 5, 1922 – March 13, 2009) was an American entrepreneur and professional sports owner of the Detroit Pistons.

He was the chairman of Guardian Industries Corp., one of the world's largest manufacturers of architectural and automotive glass. He was also the chairman of Palace Sports and Entertainment, principal owner of the Detroit Pistons of the NBA, the Detroit Shock of the WNBA, and the former owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL and Detroit Vipers of the IHL. His Pistons won the 1989, 1990, and 2004 NBA Finals; his Shock won the 2003, 2006 and 2008 WNBA Finals; his Vipers won the 1997 Turner Cup; his Lightning won the 2004 Stanley Cup, making him the only owner in professional sports history whose teams have won an NBA Championship and a Stanley Cup in the same year. His combined business ventures led him to an estimated net worth of $3.5 billion, which led to Forbes ranking him as the 68th richest man in the United States.[1]


Davidson was born on December 5, 1922 in Detroit to a Jewish family.[2] Davidson also played football in the Navy during World War II. He entered the University of Michigan in 1940, where he was a member of the track-and-field team and where he majored in business at what is now the Ross School of Business.

Later, Davidson garnered his law degree from Wayne State University Law School in 1949. After three years of law practice, he rescued a wholesale drug company and a surgical supply company from bankruptcy.

Davidson would also take over his family's Guardian Glass Co. in 1957, the same year the company declared bankruptcy. Guardian Glass would be the precursor to his company Guardian Industries, one of the largest glass suppliers in the world. Davidson encouraged risk-taking, discouraged second-guessing and was seen as aggressive. Not without controversy, Guardian was sued at least six times between 1965 and 1988. In 1989, Guardian was ordered to pay its competitor Johns Manville $38 million for stealing fiberglass-making technology[3]. Guardian now stands as one of the world’s giants of glass manufacturing with facilities in Asia, Europe, Africa and South America in addition to its sprawling North American interests[4].

Pistons ownership[]

Being acquainted with football, Davidson wanted to acquire a football franchise[5]. In 1974, Davidson and college classmate Oscar Feldman enlisted ex-Detroit Lions great Joe Schmidt to be part of a group bidding on the Tampa expansion franchise. When the price went too high, the group bowed of the bidding.

After two months, Fred Zollner, a car piston manufacturer who transfered the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons to Detroit in 1957, was rumored to be selling his franchise as it hadn't made a profit in 17 years. Being a longtime basketball fan, Davidson bought from Zollner, his neighbor by way of their vacation homes in Golden Beach, Fla., the Pistons for $6 million[6].

Displeased with the team's location in downtown Detroit, Davidson relocated the team to the Pontiac Silverdome in 1978 and then to the The Palace of Auburn Hills, the first NBA arena financed entirely with private funds, in 1988. To help pay the $90 million construction cost, the Bob Bosnick-designed arena[7] featured lower-level suites, then a never-seen-before feature.

His Pistons were at the league's forefront with respect to amenities. The franchise has a state-of-the-art practice facility, solely designed for the Pistons. During the offseason, team members are able to use the facilities while working on personal off-season conditioning goals. Against the advice of friends, Davidson was also the first owner to buy an airplane for his team, nicknamed Roundball One. Roundball Two, a newer, larger, multimillion-dollar aircraft refurbished with 42 luxury seats and a state-of-the-art video system was purchased in the summer of 1998. Davidson was also the first to encourage globalizing the marketing of the NBA. He has served as Chairman of the Board of Governors and was active on several committees, including the one that selected former NBA Commissioner Lawrence O'Brien in 1975 [8].

In 2009, the value of the Pistons franchise has been estimated to be over $430 million. Regularly seen at the team's home games, Davidson had said repeatedly that he would never sell the Pistons and the franchise would remain in his family after he died.[9]

In 1999, Davidson put in an unsuccessful bid to purchase the Tampa Bay Lightning and gain a controlling interest in their home arena, the Ice Palace. They lost to insurance tycoon Art Williams, but only months later Williams sold the team to Davidson and Palace Sports at a huge loss. When Davidson acquired the Lightning franchise in 1999, the price was $100 million; its value has recently been estimated at $136 million. Tampa Bay won the Stanley Cup under Davidson's ownership in 2004. On August 7, 2007 Davidson sold the Tampa Bay Lightning franchise.

Davidson was honored by the Pistons in 2006 when he was given a banner next to the team's retired numbers. His name was also placed on the Palace floor along with Piston legends Dave Bing, Bill Laimbeer, Vinnie Johnson, Chuck Daly, Joe Dumars, Isiah Thomas and Bob Lanier.

In 2008, Davidson was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor for his successes as an owner of the Pistons and Shock.[10] He was also an inaugural inductee into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.[11]

At the time of his death, Davidson lived in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan with his wife, Karen. He had two children, Ethan and Marla, and three stepdaughters, including actress Elizabeth Reaser.[12]

Philanthropic activities[]

A noted philanthropist, Davidson had given extensively to various organizations. Davidson was one of the founders of the Pistons/Palace Foundation, a charity that has donated more than $20 million dollars in cash and merchandise since 1989. In 1995, the foundation partnered with the City of Detroit’s Parks and Recreation Department to establish the Partnership to Adopt and Renovate Parks for Kids (PARK) Program, which provided restoration of Detroit parks, basketball courts, baseball diamonds, running tracks and playground equipment.[13]

In 1992, the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan was created at Davidson's alma mater, the Ross School of Business. A gift of $30 million was given to provide assistance in a special program to help develop market economies throughout the world. In total, Davidson's gifts to the school exceed $55 million.

In 1997, the Council of Michigan Foundations honored Davidson for his lifelong philanthropic efforts locally, nationally and internationally[14]. He was listed as one of America’s most generous donors in a New York Times article that same year.

Davidson enabled the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to make long-term touring plans both in the U.S. and internationally with a renewable $2 million donation. He has pledged to fight cancer with a gift of $1 million to support collaborative research, prevention and early detection programs in breast and pediatric cancers at the Karmanos Cancer Institute and Children’s Research Center of Michigan.

After the Yom Kippur war, he along with fellow Detroit area philanthropist Dr. Lloyd J. Paul were flown to Israel by Prime Minister Golda Meir and given the Prime ministers club award for outstanding Philanthropic deeds towards Israel. In 1999, he gave $20 million to establish the Davidson Institute of Science at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel Education. This was then the largest private donation ever given to institue, a leading international science research center and graduate school.[15]. In addition, Davidson endowed the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York with a $15 million gift. The excavations on the southern wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem have been named the Davidson excavations in tribute to his generous donations to the project. He also gave to the American Technion Society to establish the world’s first educational institution entirely dedicated to the international management of technology-based companies at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. Davidson was also a contributor to the Wexner Foundation which gives grants to post-undergrad students of Jewish Studies. In March 2007, Davidson donated $75 million dollars to the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem.[16]


Davidson died on March 13, 2009 in his home at the age of 86. His health had been deteriorating for the years before his death; he had been confined to a wheelchair and very infrequently attended Pistons home games.[17] His widow Karen will succeed him as owner of the Pistons.[18]

See also[]

  • List of University of Michigan alumni
  • List of billionaires (2005)


External links[]

Detroit Pistons Ownerships
Fred Zollner (1946-1974) William Davidson
Tom Gores (2009-present)