A story Palace Sports & Entertainment CEO Tom Wilson tells about Bill Davidson reveals his former boss' admiration for hockey players.
After Davidson's franchises — the Lightning, Pistons and WNBA Shock — won championships in an eight-month period ending in June 2004, he was asked in a television interview which was sweetest. Wilson said Davidson picked Tampa Bay's because, "he said he never saw it coming."
"He enjoyed it and loved it," Wilson said of the Lightning's success. "The thing that amazed him, NBA players enjoy winning championships, but the unbridled passion an NHL player has with the Stanley Cup dwarfs anything in any other sport."
Davidson died Friday at 86.
Tampa Bay fans did not get a chance to know Davidson, who owned the Lightning through Palace Sports from the summer of 1999 to July 2008, when he sold to Oren Koules' OK Hockey. But those who knew him said his lack of time in the area was more about his failing health.
As far back as the 2004 Cup season, Davidson needed a scooter to get around.
"Hockey was not his first passion," former Lightning general manager Jay Feaster said. "But at the same time, he was not a young man who wanted to make those kinds of jaunts down to Tampa all the time."
And he was not a meddler.
"He was a great owner," Feaster said. "He believed in hiring good people and giving them the opportunity to do their jobs. He had high expectations, but he never tried to run the club. He never micromanaged."
"He was a pleasure to work for because he gave you the ability to succeed," Wilson said. "But he also gave you the ability to fail."
Davidson, a Detroit native whose glass company, Guardian Industries, made him a billionaire, bought the Pistons in 1974.
He was the first owner to provide a team plane and won championships in 1989, '90 and 2004. With Tampa Bay and the Shock, which won in 2003, '06 and '08, he was the first owner with crowns in three leagues.
He also made substantial donations to his alma mater, the University of Michigan, and entities promoting Jewish studies, and he helped fund the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem with a $75 million gift.
He entered the NBA Hall of Fame in 2008, and commissioner David Stern said his "legendary" success "set a standard for ownership in sports that will be difficult for anyone to match."
"Mr. Davidson was, without question, one of the greatest owners in the history of sports," Koules said in a statement. "He was revered by owners in both the NBA and NHL. His legacy in Tampa will be that he brought stability and direction to the franchise, culminating with the great Stanley Cup win in 2004."
Palace Sports will continue to help stabilize the franchise through its financing agreement with OK Hockey.
"We will continue to function as we have," Wilson said. "It's all going to stay within the family."
Wilson said Davidson's wife, Karen, will be the Pistons' owner. She has a fine blueprint.
"He was always great to us" Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "He loved sports, and he loved to win. (After the Cup victory), he came in the room and shook everybody's hand and told us how proud he was of us."
Said former Lightning president Ron Campbell: "His vision and patience and his business acumen allowed the team to come together and have success and galvanize this community in a way that, if you were here, you will never forget in a lifetime."