TORONTO – Mike Illitch says he’s closing in on his third professional sports franchise.
The owner of the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers acknowledged Monday night that he’s hopeful the NBA’s Detroit Pistons will soon become part of his impressive portfolio.
“We’re getting close, we’re getting close,” Illitch said.
The 81-year-old would be the only person to control teams in three of North America’s four major professional leagues. Illitch attended the Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Monday with two employees being honoured—longtime Red Wings executive Jim Devellano and former Detroit player Dino Ciccarelli.
The Red Wings currently play at Joe Louis Arena, one of the NHL’s oldest buildings. He wouldn’t say whether they might be moved to the suburban Palace at Auburn Hills if the Pistons sale goes through.
“I don’t want to get in to all that,” said Illitch. “We’re going to build a stadium in Detroit, but I’ve got to work it out. I want two teams in one building.
“That’s all I can tell you.”
The Red Wings organization started to turn around after Illitch hired Devellano to be the team’s general manager in 1982. Illitch said it took him two days to make up his mind, choosing Devellano over Pat Quinn, David Poile and Red Berenson.
A key part of Devellano’s strategy was turning the organization’s focus to bringing players over from Europe. Sometimes they even had to sneak them out of communist countries, as they did with Czech forward Petr Klima.
“I give credit to Jimmy D, he goes ‘I want to go behind the Iron Curtain’ and he says ‘I want you to get the job done for me,'” said Illitch. “It felt like I was in the movies. … He said we’d be ahead of everybody if we (went) to Europe and started taking players out of there.
“He gave me the assignment. I had to do all the dirty work.”
When Devellano accepted his Hall of Fame ring on Monday morning, he said the success of the Red Wings started with having a great owner. Illitch laughed when told of that remark.
“He liked the way I spent money,” said Illitch. “I hate the (salary) cap.”