A conversation with Tom Gores: This is not just about being seen at the stadium’

He wears his collar unbuttoned and his philosophy on his sleeve. Tom Gores is a billionaire who says, “I always felt like I could do anything.” At 46, he has done what few can. He purchased his home-state basketball franchise.

In doing so, he instantly went from one of those invisible financial legends that whirl around in private jets to a man whose dance moves will be scrutinized on sports talk radio.

We don’t often change team owners in Detroit. (The last time, really, was nearly 20 years ago, when Mike Ilitch bought the Tigers.) We are used to older, conservative men who trace their success and products straight to our backyard. Pizza. Glass. Automobiles.

Now comes Gores, raised here, schooled here, but coronated somewhere else – Beverly Hills, Calif., where he runs a hugely successful private equity firm. He took the stage at the Palace on Thursday in a news conference that would have overwhelmed and likely embarrassed his predecessor, Bill Davidson, a rumpled, low-key billionaire.

Davidson spoke rarely and with few words. He preferred to drop by an empty practice facility, get a rubdown from the Pistons’ strength trainer and share warm, homespun philosophies with Joe Dumars. Don’t count on rubdowns or rumpled anymore. Gores is more than a guy; he’s an empire. Two partners sat with him on the stage. He has people constantly managing his schedule. And there’s a long line of investors wanting to give him money so that he can make it grow.

In a long phone conversation Friday night, he spoke about everything from prep football accomplishments to a talk with Ilitch to the fact he might have purchased the Lions if they were for sale, but through it all, he emphasized the bottom-line nature of his approach.

“I’m gonna personally lose sleep over this,” he said. “I expect other people to have the same passion…. This is not just about being seen at the stadium…. The games are only about 40 nights a year. There’s another 325 days that you have to have your presence. We have surrounded this place with our presence. We’re not being shy about it.”

MITCH GOES ONE-ON-ONE WITH THE NEW OWNER. 3C

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