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Published: Tuesday, 10/5/2010

AP source: Pistons to sell team to Mike Ilitch

ASSOCIATED PRESS

DETROIT — The Detroit Pistons have found a new owner — and he knows Motor City sports.

“As soon as he touches the team, it will turn to gold,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said in August after Ilitch announced he wanted to buy the NBA team.

Ilitch Holdings spokeswoman Jennifer Haselhuhn said the organization signed a nondisclosure agreement earlier this year and cannot comment. Mayor Dave Bing, former Pistons star, said Tuesday “the deal is not done, but we remain optimistic.”

“We continue to be excited about the possibility of the Detroit Pistons returning to Detroit, which is nationally recognized as a destination for professional sports,” he said.

Ilitch, the Little Caesars pizza mogul, has said he was motivated to buy the Pistons in part to make sure another buyer didn't move the NBA club out of town.

If the sale goes through, the 81-year-old Ilitch would be the only person to own and control teams in three of North America's four major professional leagues. Ted Turner once owned the Atlanta Braves, Hawks and Thrashers.

The NFL allows its owners to only run other teams within the market of their football franchise or in areas without a team in the league. That policy allows Paul Allen to own the Seattle Seahawks and NBA's Portland Trail Blazers and prohibits Stan Kroenke from staying in control of the NBA's Denver Nuggets and NHL's Colorado Avalanche while he owns the St. Louis Rams.

The Pistons sale could have significant ramifications for where the area's pro teams play — in Detroit or its suburbs.

If Ilitch owns both the Red Wings and Pistons, he could likely leverage a deal with Detroit and Wayne County officials to finance a new arena in the city because they wouldn't want him move the storied hockey team to The Palace in suburban Auburn Hills, where the Pistons play.

The Red Wings, who play at 31-year-old Joe Louis Arena, have been contemplating whether to build a new arena, renovate their current home or move at least temporarily to The Palace.

The Pistons played at Detroit's Cobo Arena from 1961-78, then played at the Pontiac Silverdome until 1988, when they moved to Auburn Hills. Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, whose county includes the suburb, has said he would encourage Ilitch to keep the team at The Palace.

Ilitch, a Detroit native, has refused to move the Tigers or Red Wings to the suburbs. He spent a lot of money to build Comerica Park across the street from Fox Theatre, which he spent $12 million to refurbish, his sports bar and a slew of parking lots that possibly will be the site of a new arena.

“You're not going to find a better owner,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said last month. “He hires people, lets them do their jobs and he's not afraid to spend money.”

Ilitch bought the Red Wings in 1982 for a reported $8 million. He turned a franchise that sunk so low it was called the “Dead Wings,” into one of the best of the past two decades, with four Stanley Cups and 19 straight postseason appearances — the longest active streak in sports.

Ilitch added the Tigers in 1992 for about $85 million. They struggled for years — hitting rock bottom in 2003 with an AL-record 119 losses and an apathetic fan base — before making a surprising run to the 2006 World Series and having only one losing mark the past five years.

The Pistons, who wouldn't comment on The AP report Tuesday, accepted bids from at least three suitors in June and again earlier this month. A message seeking comment was left with Platinum Equity chairman Tom Gores. The Postolos Group president George Postolos declined comment. Both were interested in buying the Pistons.

Forbes last year valued the team at $479 million, but a weak economy, the threat of an NBA lockout next year and a motivated seller — Karen Davidson — likely mean the price is lower.

Davidson has said she was considering a sale of the team by itself or as part of a package with Palace Sports and Entertainment, which includes The Palace of Auburn Hills, DTE Energy Music Theatre and Meadow Brook Music Festival.

Her husband, Bill Davidson, died last year. The man known as “Mr. D” said during an interview with The AP two years ago that a succession plan was in place to keep the team in the family.

The late owner was in charge when the Pistons won NBA titles in 1989, 1990 and 2004. Karen Davidson has said she expected the deal to be done by this month's season-opening game.



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