DETROIT - Tom Wilson, who for more than three decades has been the face of one of the nation's most successful sports and entertainment enterprises, resigned as president and CEO of the Detroit Pistons and Palace Sports & Entertainment on Wednesday.
Wilson said that after the death last year of Pistons owner Bill Davidson, the time was right to move on.
"I have had the honour to be a part of the Pistons family for the last 32 years, 31 of them working alongside Bill Davidson," Wilson said in a prepared statement. "He was a dear friend and partner. I believe that, with Mr. Davidson's unfortunate passing, however, the time is now right for me and my family to explore many exciting opportunities that have come my way recently."
Wilson joined his hometown Pistons as sales director in 1977, when they played at 10,000-seat Cobo Arena and had only a handful of front-office employees. By 1978, Davidson had promoted Wilson to be the team's CEO.
He eventually came to oversee a sports and entertainment empire that included not only the Pistons, but also their suburban home, The Palace of Auburn Hills, as well as the DTE Energy Music Theatre and the Meadow Brook Music Festival.
The DTE Energy Music Theatre - located in Clarkston, about a 20-minute drive from Auburn Hills - long has been one of the country's busiest, top-grossing and highest attended outdoor venues. Likewise, the Palace is considered one of the NBA's best arenas despite being one of the oldest.
The smooth and polished Wilson always seemed the perfect complement to Davidson, the understated billionaire who died in March at the age of 86.
"I would like to wish all the best to Tom Wilson," said Karen Davidson, Davidson's wife and the current Pistons owner. "He was close to Bill personally and professionally and was instrumental to this organization's growth, reputation and success."
Alan Ostfield, chief operating officer for the Pistons and the Palace, replaces Wilson in what the latter promises to be "an orderly leadership transition." Ostfield joined the Pistons and Palace Sports in 2000 as senior vice-president for legal affairs and assumed the COO job in 2002. Previously, he was senior vice-president and general counsel for the San Diego Padres.
The changes might not be over in Auburn Hills.
Karen Davidson said last month that she was considering selling the team, which won three NBA championships during Wilson's tenure. Two other then-Palace holdings, the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning and the Detroit Shock of the WNBA, also won league crowns on Wilson's watch.
"Tom is one of the most innovative and respected leaders in the NBA," commissioner David Stern said. "He revolutionized the sports and entertainment business, and his vision propelled the Palace and the Pistons to the forefront of the industry."