I hate that my lasting memory of Karen Davidson will be her sitting at Dennis Rodman’s retirement ceremony, boos cascading down on her from The Palace crowd, her face flushed with sadness and humiliation as she waved back meekly.
Her son, Ethan Davidson, sitting to her left, patted her on the back, but there’s no way he could’ve fully soothed the pain. Since becoming the Pistons’ owner when her husband, Bill Davidson, died in 2009, Karen Davidson has become very public target of scorn for the proud franchise’s decline.
She deserved better. Hopefully, now that she’s sold the team to Tom Gores, she’ll get it.
Fans feel a connection to Joe Dumars, who starred as a player here and built a championship team as the general manager. They feel a connection to the players, who they cheer 82 nights a year. They even feel a connection to John Kuester, who, for all his shortcomings, they at least got to know a little through his press conferences.
Of course, Dumars, the players and Kuester received plenty of criticism, but they all had supporters. By nature, people will defend someone they know more than they’ll defend a stranger.
Nobody, it seemed, knew Karen Davidson. That’s why she took the brunt of the blame. It’s easy to demonize a faceless, distant name.
In her short tenure as Pistons owner, she said some brave things – about being booed, "I thought it was just fine. … As one of my friends said to me, the word fan comes from fanatic and I like passion like that” – and she said some naïve things – last June, “When’s the first game, late October, right? I would expect so (to be sold by then).” Mostly, though, she said nothing.
Davidson typically avoided the spotlight, offer short, prepared statements at most. After all, what more was there to say?
Maybe she knew all along she didn’t want to own the Pistons, but couldn’t bring herself to tell that to Bill, who wanted the franchise to remain in the family. Or maybe she thought she wanted to own the team only to discover once she did, she had made a mistake. It doesn’t really matter. Shortly after taking over, she began exploring a sale.
Her heart wasn’t in it. That shouldn’t have made her a villain.
She and the Pistons’ public relations department could’ve taken steps to paint her as more sympathetic figure. For whatever reason, they didn’t, and the vile directed at her became more and more malicious. Greedy, selfish and stubborn became common descriptions of her.
But put herself in her shoes. No, you didn’t inherit the Pistons. If you’re reading this blog, you probably like the Pistons. You inherited Guardian’s Fiberglass Insulation division. You don’t know the first thing about fiberglass insulation, and fiberglass insulation doesn’t particularly interest you, so you don’t want to learn more about it. What would you do besides limit expenses while you still own the division and try to sell it? That’s precisely what Davidson did with the Pistons.
She was put in an extremely difficult situation, and she handled it fairly well. Davidson certainly made missteps along the way. By spending a little more, she probably could have sold the franchise for more, but that would’ve been risky. But can you guarantee you would’ve navigated the fiberglass market perfectly?
Davidson deserved the benefit of the doubt, because circumstance, not choice, made her the Pistons’ owner. Personally, I want to thank her for handling such an adverse situation as well as she did. She completed the sale, and that’s the No. 1 thing everyone wanted.
Now, I hope happier days lie ahead for her, Gores and the Pistons. I’m sure that’s what all three parties want for each other.
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