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Double duty: Davidson leads Pistons, Lightning

SPECIAL TO ESPN.COM

June 4, 2004 | ESPN.com's NBA Finals coverage | ESPN.com's Stanley Cup coverage

There's an interesting common denominator in the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup finals: The Detroit Pistons and Tampa Bay Lightning are both owned by Bill Davidson.

The 81-year-old Davidson is an avid sports lover whom I know quite a bit about -- because he hired me to coach the Pistons in 1978. He brought joy and jubilation to me as my career exploded from a sixth-grade teacher to NBA head coach. It was an amazing run and I was on the high road.

Owner Bill Davidson hired me to coach the Pistons in 1978.
Then, all of a sudden, it was over. Mr. Davidson was the same person who gave me the ziggy on Nov. 8, 1979. I remember it like it was yesterday, as he came to my home in West Bloomfield, Mich., and gave me the news that I was fired.

I started my TV work for ESPN a month later ... and 25 years later, I'm proud to say that it's been a memorable ride. I've been undefeated all these years -- I haven't lost a game, coaching Indiana on Monday, North Carolina on Wednesday and Duke on Saturday, baby!

I thank Mr. Davidson every day because he gave me the opportunity to enjoy my life in numerous, special ways. Instead of being wrapped up in win, win, win and worry, worry, worry, I moved on to enjoy what the fruits of this nation are all about. Leaving the Pistons allowed me to enjoy my family and to watch my children grow (and now my grandchildren).

When I think of Davidson and the success of his Pistons and Lightning, I think of a man who knows how to delegate responsibility and to provide the resources necessary to build a winner.

He knows what it takes to win, and he was a genius in the corporate world. Davidson did amazing things with Guardian Glass while I was in Detroit. He has taken that same approach in the sports world by placing the best people available on the sidelines, in the front office, and on the court and ice.

Bill Davidson is a big sports fan ... especially, he's a fan of the Pistons and Lightning, the teams he owns.
Unfortunately, in my era there was no GM and the coach basically reported directly to ownership. That changed shortly after I was fired, and Jack McCloskey was hired to be the architect of back-to-back championships in 1989 and '90 at the Palace in Auburn Hills.

Another vital contributor under Davidson was Tom Wilson, a bright executive who has made a big difference. Current GM Joe Dumars has also made a difference in the Pistons front office. Just look at the addition of talented big man Rasheed Wallace!

Both the Pistons and Lightning have special leaders on the sidelines.

Pistons coach Larry Brown is a Hall of Famer who has a great feeling for the game and understanding of how to win. He knows how to make adjustments and understands the ins and outs of basketball.

I don't know much about hockey, but I've been impressed as I've listened to Lightning coach John Tortorella during his press conferences. You can see that Tampa Bay hired a blue-chip, prime-time performer.

Hey, I'm catching the hockey fever, baby! I went to my first game in years Thursday night, Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals, and the Calgary Flames defeated the Lightning 3-2 in overtime to take a 3-2 series lead. Game 6 is slated for Saturday (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). Meanwhile, the Pistons face the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Sunday (ABC, 8:30 p.m. ET).

Davidson, of course, is following each of his teams every step of the way. He is a special man. I did revitalize the Pistons a bit, and in the long run, things worked out well for both of us. He deserves the success that has come his way.

Dick Vitale coached the Detroit Pistons and the University of Detroit in the 1970s before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979 (he has been an ESPN analyst ever since). Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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