Tragically, the Lightning had a death in the family this week, as former owner Bill Davidson passed away at the age of 86. Davidson, who built a billion dollar business, sports and entertainment empire, won three NBA championships with the Detroit Pistons, one NHL championship with the Lightning, one IHL championship with the Detroit Vipers, and three WNBA championships with the Detroit Shock. In short, Davidson left a tradition of success wherever he went, whether it was in building his family's glass company into a global giant, or building the Palace of Auburn Hills without a dime of public money.
I don't know if I'm the best person to write about Bill Davidson, because I always got the impression from watching Davidson that if you locked he and I in a room we probably wouldn't have agreed about anything: politics, business, sports, etc. Then again, maybe that makes me the perfect person to write about Davidson's impact on the Tampa Bay Lightning franchise, because I've never really viewed Davidson through the lens of doe-eyed admiration or sentimentality.
Did I have disagreements with the way Davidson ran the Lightning? Sure. I especially had disagreements with the trust he places in Palace Sports and Entertainment executive Tom Wilson who, in a fit of PR genius, was quoted in the Detroit papers the day after Davidson bought the Lightning as claiming PS&E didn't care about the hockey team and only was interested in turning the then Ice Palace and the parcels of land surrounding it into a profit generating machine. Davidson ran the Lightning with a patience, coolness, and dispassion that, in my mind, surely came from being an owner who wasn't from Tampa and probably always viewed the Lightning as a stepchild to his beloved Pistons. Some of his budget decisions probably prolonged the time it took for the Lightning to rebuild, and the faith he also placed in some of the former hockey operations people from his Detroit Vipers probably also prolonged the time that Lightning fans had to suffer watching last place hockey.
But, with that said, I can't argue that Bill Davidson didn't improve the condition of the Tampa Bay Lightning franchise immeasurably in the time that he owned it. It's also inarguable, in my mind, that the franchise has slid backwards, to a degree, since he sold the team. Davidson and his PS&E management brought professionalism and real-world experience to a franchise that had been nothing short of a zoo in the years that it was owned by Japanese consortium Kokusai, and flamboyant braggart Art Williams. He might have done it at a slow and steady pace, but he brought a championship to a Lightning team that only managed two playoff wins in all the preceeding years before he bought the club.
That, ultimately, is the only objective way we can measure a man's success in his life's endeavors, whether they're in his family, his business, or in a multi-million dollar sports franchise. Did you leave it better off than when you came into it? Bill Davidson left the Lightning better off than when he gained control of the team, turning it from one of the NHL's longest running jokes into a team that, for a time, was touted as the very model of how a franchise should be run in a small, Southern market. That's the legacy Bill Davidson left behind, and that's why this writer and everyone at Bolt Prospects extends our condolences to the family and friends of Bill Davidson on this sad day. And, that's why, no matter what happens, the Davidson family will always have a place in the Tampa Bay Lightning family.