Dear Mr. Gores:
Congratulations. You’re in.
It’s a small club you just joined, made up exclusively of very rich businessmen, businessmen who usually know a good investment from a bad one, and yet somehow still buy sports teams.
Sports teams are notoriously tough investments. Costs are uncertain. Fans are fickle. Players slump. Labor issues loom. And that’s just the Pistons!
And yet you bought in. You will pay, when all the accounting is done, somewhere between $300million and $400 million for the right to sit wherever you want at the Palace, point at the team and say “mine.”
But it’s not yours. Not entirely. It’s ours, too. And that may be the toughest nut for a guy with your background to swallow.
When you bought things in the past, you did as you liked. Broke up companies. Sold them off. I’m sure employees complained, wrote letters, maybe wept. Some were left jobless. Didn’t matter. You owned it.
A sports team is not the same. A certain part belongs to the fans, no matter who signs the checks. That’s because of all that came before you, the emotional connection fans made night after night and year after year with this franchise
The hysteria of an upset championship against the Lakers. The heart palpitations on Vinnie Johnson’s famous 007 title-winning basket. The fist-clenching madness of an unfair Game 7 whistle on Bill Laimbeer. The draining jump shots of a tall thin man named Bing who went from ballplayer to mayor.
All this creates an ownership, too.
We own the memories.
And that’s part of your deal.
Part of a small club
Now, it’s true. You’re kind of from here, too. You spent most of your youth here. You own property here. You are from here, but you also are from somewhere else. Not many folks around here claim their business offices in Beverly Hills, Calif. Not many have ever bid for Miramax studios. Not many have famous starlets as friends, or can claim a spot on Forbes top 200 wealthiest list of Americans, or made the cover of Mergers & Acquisitions magazine as “Pro of the Year.”
You are of us and from outside us, which accounts for the curiosity. After all, owners around here have, in recent decades, been cut from a similar cloth. William Clay Ford, Mike Ilitch, Bill Davidson (your predecessor), all older than you, all made their fortunes here and stayed here. They were all in the business of selling things. You’re more in the business of buying – then selling.
So you’ll excuse us if we’re cautious. But we won’t always be. If you let the fans get to know you, this can be a great town for an owner. If you show the fans you want to build a winner, you can be embraced. Look at Ilitch. He’s a hero here. But he has demonstrated, over and over, his commitment to the city and to charity. That kind of comes with the package, Mr. Gores. It’s a small club – Detroit Sports Owner – and all three words matter.
Especially the Detroit part.
What kind of owner will you be?
So what will you do? Will you bear hug your new position and throw money at the biggest-name players? Will you pay luxury taxes in exchange for the best talent? Will you trust the existing leadership of Joe Dumars and company? Or will you be impatient if performance stays lousy – as it is right now – and clean house?
Will you make yourself part of the public, or hide in a luxury box and eschew reporters? Will you be hands-on, or let someone else steer the ship? Will you talk fondly about the past – Lanier, Thomas, Billups – or will you want to hear only about the future?
Bill Davidson used to get massages in the team training room. Will you be around like that? Or will you correspond via text and e-mail?
How you answer, how you act, will determine how you’re received here. Remember, you bought a product, but it’s profitable only if fans come out. If fans buy the tickets. If fans watch the broadcasts. You have entered the entertainment business. Like it or not, you’re on stage.
The good news is, it can be a great stage. Pistons fans are ready to cheer. We play some fine basketball in this state and we know the game. We just don’t know yours. Not yet.
But we’re eager for something good.
Next move is yours.
Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).