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William Davidson, 86, Philanthropist and Pistons Owner

William Davidson, a businessman and Jewish philanthropist for whom the Jewish Theological Seminary’s graduate school of education is named, died 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 Pistons, Davidson died at his Bloomfield Hills, Mich., home, with his family at his side.

“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 to 1979. Krakoff estimated that Davidson’s funeral, held March 17 at Shaarey Zedek, drew a crowd of 1,500.

Among his many contributions was a $75 million donation in 2007 to support an in-patient facility at the Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem.

Davidson also established the Davidson Institute of Science Education at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, to advance science education.

In 1974, he pursued his passion for sports, becoming the majority owner of the Pistons. He went on to purchase the National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning and the WNBA’s Detroit Shock.

“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.”

Davidson was chairman and CEO of Guardian Industries Corp., which manufactures glass products for the construction and automotive industries. Under his leadership, the company grew into the largest glass manufacturer in the world, according to its Web site.

In 2008, Davidson was ranked number 62 on Forbes’s 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 at the University of Michigan, where he 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.

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