Monday, January 10, 2011

Ilitch the Best Bet for Pistons

I love Michigan State University with all my heart.  I am an unapologetic slappy for my alma mater.   I proudly display my degree in my apartment, speak of Tom Izzo as if he were Zeus, am a proud owner of a Spartan snuggie, and despise anything that combines the colors Maize and Blue.  (Just call it yellow, you're not impressing anyone with your technical terms.)

Tom Gores
So when I heard the next potential owner of the Detroit Pistons is a Green and White grad, I was pretty pumped up.  Tom Gores is expected to finalize the deal sometime this week for about $400-million, pocket change for the insanely wealthy financier.

What could be better; a self-made billionaire, from my school, owning my favorite team!  Yahtzee!

I envisioned a mega mascot that combines Hooper and Sparty.  Maybe like one of those mythical characters that's half-human, half-horse.  I don't care what kind of greatness the Phoenix Suns Gorilla pulls out on All-Star weekend, Spooper or Harty would be ten times greater.  Although, combining the names probably needs to be reconsidered.

While sitting on cloud nine thinking about this Spartan-Piston fantasy team, reality started to set in.  Is this really the best move for my team?  Is it good for the fans?  Most importantly, is it right for the state of Michigan?  Sadly, the answer is no.

Gores is a native of Flint but now lives among the stars in California.   I picture him as a blend of Ari Gold and Hank Moody, part ruthless entrepreneur, part playboy (not a bad mascot if Vegas ever gets a team).   I have no idea if this is true, but to some extent isn't that every California Billionaire?

That lifestyle and personality may be good for a reality show, but it's not right for an NBA owner.  See Mark Cuban.  Immensely entertaining, zero Rings. 

I want my owner a little disheveled, yet poised. Living in Michigan.  And above all else, experienced in winning.

It's likely Gores sees the Pistons as another investment.  A way to rub elbows with some of the world's best athletes, maybe get an occasional appearance on PTI, and cash in down the road.

The Pistons are way more than another line on someones financial portfolio.  They are a night out for the family, a head-nod and smile while commuting down Woodward when you see another driver with the team flag latched to the rear-window, and the Bad Boys persona that identifies perfectly with its rugged, working class fans.

There is only one person who has consistently proven he understands building Detroit teams based on that identity.  Mike Ilitch.

He is a hometown boy.  He went to Cooley, played minor league ball for the Tigers, and is the genius behind the greatest food deal ever, the Little Caesars $5 Hot-N-Ready.

Detroit is in Ilitch's blood.

He's also been a pivotal figure in trying to rejuvenate the struggling downtown.  His renovation of the Fox Theater helped spark life into an otherwise downtrodden area.

Not to mention what he has done with the Wings and Tigers.  The Red Wings were an afterthought when he bought them in the early '80s, now, its arguably the most respected franchise in the NHL.

The Wings have been to the postseason 19-straight years and have won four Stanley Cups since he took over. 

What Ilitch has done with the Tigers is equally impressive.  The old english D stood for Disaster for years.  The team made the bottom of the standings its annual home.  And their actual home, Tigers Stadium, was a literal representation of a crumbling city.

Mr. Ilitch took intiative.  He spent $350-million to build Comerica Park, which is widely considered one of the best baseball stadiums in the league.  He was able to attract the MLB All-Star game and after 13-straight losing seasons, fought and clawed to put a contending team on the field.

There is not a Tigers fan on earth who doesn't remember where they were at the exact moment when Magglio Ordonez drilled the walk-off home run in the 2006 ALCS.  That play and entire Tigers season united a city with Mike Ilitch as the architect to success.

Detroit needs Ilitch to play Noah one more time and construct an arc that will keep the team and city afloat.

Karen Davidson, the Pistons current owner, needs to realize this quickly.  Apparently the two sides had a falling out and couldn't agree on a price tag, which opened the door for Gores.  Davidson's late husband, William, was as good of an owner as there was in the NBA before he passed away.  He put the team and fans first.  His widow needs to take a page out of his book and think about more than just money.

Ilitch said he wants to build a dual stadium downtown for the Pistons and Red Wings.  That's nothing but good news. 

Joe Louis Arena is in desperate need of an upgrade and moving the Pistons from Auburn Hills would put all four sports teams in Detroit.  That would make the area even more attractive.  A revitalized Detroit, results in a revitalized Michigan.

Bringing the Pistons downtown, means another at least 41-nights a year that 22-thousand-plus have a reason to head to the city.  More people means more business.  More business means increased revenue, which is exactly what is needed for a comeback for the D.

The Pistons also are one of the most profitable teams in the NBA when they put together a roster that doesn't consists of 11-shooting guards.  Fans will come out and support them.

From a purely sports perspective, let's be honest, the Pistons stink right now.  Ilitch is 2-0 on turning terrible franchises around.   There is no reason to believe he can't go 3-0.

Maybe Gores can do it, too.  Spartans are winners, so maybe.  But in a time when the Pistons and Motor City need something to get revved up about, I want a sure thing.

Ilitch is the safest bet.

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