Tom Gores is, in a not-so-nice way, the Pistons’ other piece of bread.
He is the absentee owner to complete the sandwich.
Right now, the only real difference between Gores, the Pistons’ owner, and Fred Zollner, is that Gores lives in California while The Z lived in Florida.
Zollner was the rumpled man who brought his Fort Wayne Pistons to Detroit in 1957. By the mid-1960s, the Z attended a handful of games a year. Maybe. He spent most of his time in the Sunshine State.
The Z’s ownership, splotched with curious hires, slapstick on the court and uncertainty, was on its last legs when his neighbor down south, Bill Davidson, led a consortium of basketball lovers based in Detroit and bought the Pistons from Zollner, who was in ill health. The year was 1973.
Davidson was the opposite of Zollner. He lived in Detroit more often than not, number one. And Davidson actually dragged himself down to Cobo Arena to see the team play, number two.
By the time the Pistons moved into the Silverdome in Pontiac in 1978, Davidson was very present, taking his seat on court level underneath one of the baskets. He rarely missed a game.
Davidson would build his own basketball arena in 1988, tired of being booted out of the Silverdome for tractor pulls and wrestling events. At the Palace, Davidson again took his place underneath the hoop, arms folded, usually with a pleasant grin on his face.
The Pistons, under Gores, who took over in 2011, are again a team with an absentee owner.
Gores flies into town rarely, attends a game or two, and blows back out of town. He is the Tornado Owner.
In Gores’ last touch down, he fired coach Mo Cheeks. That was a month ago. Gores hasn’t been seen or heard from since.
The dribbles of comments from ownership since Cheeks’ ziggy have come from Gores’ Platinum Equity minions like Phil Norment, in prepared statements.
Gores is more Los Angeles than he is Detroit, which is something considering that Gores is a Flint kid, having grown up there.
Gores is starry eyed and likes the glitz and glamour that Hollywood provides. Just last summer, Gores brought erstwhile Lakers coach Phil Jackson in as an unpaid consultant to aid in the Pistons’ coaching search.
Gores’ fascination with high profile people is fine, as long as it doesn’t unduly influence the basketball decision-making back in Detroit.
Chatter broke out a week or so ago, alleging that Gores was considering hiring Isiah Thomas to run the Pistons, as the team’s chief basketball executive.
Fans who think with their minds rather than their hearts should have screamed “NO!” running down the streets, hearing the notion of Gores tabbing Thomas to take over the Pistons.
Isiah as coach? Maybe that would fly. He did have some success developing and coaching young talent as coach of the Indiana Pacers.
But Thomas as executive has been a train wreck.
Platinum Equity issued a statement a couple days after the Thomas rumors started, saying that yes, Gores and Thomas did have a meeting (perhaps a dinner), but that the topic was the upcoming 25th anniversary celebration of the Pistons’ 1989 championship with the Bad Boys.
There was never any talk of Thomas joining the Pistons as an employee, the statement said.
The cashiering of current president and GM Joe Dumars is expected, so much so that just about all postulating about the Pistons’ future doesn’t include Dumars whatsoever.
Again, that’s fine. Dumars has hardly earned a new contract beyond the one that expires after this season mercifully comes to an end.
Let’s hope that the Isiah-to-Detroit chatter, in any role beyond coach, is nothing more than rumor.
The Pistons don’t need to be the third NBA franchise Thomas runs into the ground, following Toronto and New York.
Gores likes the big names, it appears. But sometimes it’s the little names that have the most success.
Davidson found that out the hard way, which is how lessons are usually learned.
Davidson fell for the dog and pony show that Dickie Vitale gave him—and everyone else—and hired the former U-D basketball coach in 1978. Vitale, in his own way, briefly owned Detroit—at least when it came to basketball. His Titans had great success at a time when the Pistons were, as usual, stumbling.
Vitale flamed out in just over a year. Davidson gave Dickie the ziggy, something for which Vitale was very grateful, from a health standpoint.
Once burned, Davidson went the opposite of high profile and dog and pony with his next hire.
Only the most intense basketball fan knew who the heck Jack McCloskey was when Davidson hired him off the Pacers bench—McCloskey was an assistant to Slick Leonard—and made Jack the Pistons GM in December 1979.
The recommendation to hire McCloskey came from none other than the deposed Vitale.
“Whenever I see Dick, to this day, I make sure to thank him,” McCloskey told me several years ago.
McCloskey had a couple disastrous years as coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, following years of college coaching in the Ivy League. Still, few Pistons fans knew who McCloskey was.
A little more than three years after being hired as GM, with the Pistons still a work in progress, McCloskey and Davidson went the unknown route yet again.
Chuck Daly was perhaps even more anonymous than McCloskey was, when the Pistons hired Daly from radio row, where he’d been working as a commentator on Philadelphia 76ers broadcasts.
Daly spent a couple years as an assistant to Philly’s Billy Cunningham, and worked briefly as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, during tempestuous owner Ted Stepien’s rule.
Again, only the gym rats knew who Chuck Daly was.
Together, the two unknowns—GM McCloskey and coach Daly—built an NBA empire in Detroit. The same empire that Thomas, Gores et al will celebrate later this month in the Silver Anniversary party.
The well-known Thomas and the high profile Vitale have each crashed and burned when given opportunities that exceeded their grasp.
The unknown McCloskey and little regarded Daly built two championship teams with the Pistons.
These are the facts, but will Gores’ Hollywood shades filter them out?