The Pistons and the Lions: A Tale of Two Franchises

Hooper, Paws and Roary remind us where our allegiance belongs as Detroiters
Hooper, Paws and Roary remind us where our allegiance belongs as Detroiters / Mark Cunningham/GettyImages
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Sports fans in Detroit are a lucky bunch as we have teams that belong to all four of our country’s major professional sports leagues. That makes us one of just ten cities who can celebrate that distinction. Not every Detroit Pistons fan is a fan of the Lions, but I’d wager that you’d be hard-pressed to find very many people in the metro Detroit area who’d say they weren’t a fan of the reigning NFC North champions right now.

But as both Lions and Pistons fans know (not to mention those who cheer on the Tigers and Red Wings), being loyal to any sports team cuts both ways. For every time that your favorite cadre of athletes finds itself among the final four teams standing in championship contention, there’s a moment your favorite team is getting drubbed by 19 points in a meaningless regular season game in late-November against an equally hapless Washington Wizards team in what would be just the 14th consecutive loss in a losing streak that would eventually reach a record-breaking and soul-destroying 28 games…but I digress.

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The Lions are up, the Pistons are down, and such is the nature of professional sports. Here’s a quick look at what makes each of these two beloved Detroit sports franchises what it is today, and what they have in common (as well as some things they don’t) to remind the Pistons-faithful that yes, the sun will rise over this organization again someday, too.

From the Ford family to William Davidson and Tom Gores

Sheila Ford Hamp is fast-becoming a favorite front office executive-type among Detroit sports fans as she gets the credit for doing what seemed impossible: presiding over the Lions when they are competitive and relevant. While technically it is her mother who owns the team, Sheila runs it on her family’s behalf.

The Ford family had been getting skewered for their management of the Lions for decades until recently, something Tom Gores, beleaguered owner of the Pistons, knows something about. Chants of, “Sell the team!” are becoming a staple refrain of the brave attendees of Pistons home games.

The franchises do, on the whole, share a history of relatively stable ownership situations. The Ford Family has had at least a controlling interest of the Lions since 1963. The Pistons have had three owners during that period. Those are the team’s founding owner, Fred Zollner, William Davidson, who led them to great success, and of course, Gores.

Each franchise’s origin is rooted in states directly south of Michigan. The Lions were born in Portsmouth, Ohio (where they were called the Spartans), and the Pistons, of course, hail from Fort Wayne, Indiana.