William Davidson, a businessman and Jewish philanthropist for whom the Jewish Theological Seminary’s graduate school of education is named, died on Friday, March 13.
Davidson, 86, was the owner of three professional sports teams, including the Detroit Pistons, a National Basketball Association franchise. According to a statement released by the Detroit Pistons, Davidson died with his family by his side at his Bloomfield Hills, Mich. home
“He was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of man; he was a giant and he was someone who set the example so high but he was also so humble,” said Rabbi Joseph Krakoff of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, Mich., where Davidson was a lifelong member and served as president from 1977–1979. Krakoff estimated that his funeral, held March 17 at Shaarey Zedek, drew a crowd of 1,500. The service was broadcast live on the Web.
Among his many contributions was a $75 million donation in 2007 to support an in-patient facility at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem. The facility was named after his mother, Sarah Wetsman Davidson, who was one of the founders of the Detroit chapter of the Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.
Davidson also established the Davidson Institute of Science Education at the Weizmann Institute in Israel to advance science education, and funded the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.
In 1974, he pursued his passion for sports, becoming majority owner of the Detroit Pistons. He would also purchase National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning, the WNBA’s Detroit Shock and Palace Sports & Entertainment, whose properties include The Palace of Auburn Hills and DTE Energy Music Theatre. During the 2003–2004 sports season, Davidson became the first owner in North American team sports to win three consecutive championships; the Lightning and the Pistons won the 2003–04 NHL and NBA titles eight days apart, and the Shock won the WNBA championship eight months earlier.
“He’s been a great owner who genuinely cared for players, coaches and employees,” Pistons coach Michael Curry wrote in a statement. “He will not only be remembered as a great owner but also as a person who made a difference in many people’s lives. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mrs. D and the entire Davidson family.”
Davidson was chairman and CEO of Guardian Industries Corporation, a manufacturer of glass products for the construction and automotive industries and fiberglass insulation products. Under his leadership, the company grew into the largest glass manufacturers in the world, according to its Web site.
In 2008, Davidson was ranked number 62 in Forbes list of the 400 richest people in America, with an estimated worth of more than $5.5 billion.
Davidson was born December 5, 1922 in Detroit. He ran track as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, where Davidson received a bachelor’s degree in 1947; he received a law degree in 1949 from Wayne State University. In September 2008, Davidson was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.