AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – The owner of the Detroit Pistons on Friday confirmed she is in negotiations with a California billionaire interested in buying the struggling NBA franchise.
Michael Layne, a spokesman for owner Karen Davidson, confirmed the two-week "exclusivity" window and that the owner was working with investor Tom Gores.
"The parties are continuing to work in a cooperative manner," Layne said.
It was a rare public statement from Davidson, who has stayed mostly silent about the potential sale. About three hours later, a spokesman for Gores also broke his silence on the matter.
"We look forward to continued discussions with Karen Davidson and her team," said Mark Barnhill, a principal at Platinum Equity, the investment group founded by Gores in 1995. "We are making progress, and both sides are working hard in hopes of reaching an agreement."
Barnhill said reports that a deal was in place were "incorrect."
Davidson, widow of longtime owner Bill Davidson, has been considering a sale of the team by itself or as part of a package with Palace Sports and Entertainment, which includes The Palace of Auburn Hills, DTE Energy Music Theatre and Meadow Brook Music Festival. Any sale needs NBA approval.
In 2009, Forbes valued the Pistons at $479 million, but that figure was down to $360 million last month.
The 46-year-old Gores is from Michigan and has a degree from Michigan State but now lives in Beverly Hills, Calif. He founded Platinum Equity in 1995 and Forbes last year estimated his net worth at $2.4 billion.
"I think that's very important to the fans — somebody that has a lot of ties to Michigan and is from here or understands what Michigan's about," Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva said. "That's very important."
Davidson had hoped to reach a deal to sell the team by the time this season started, and the Pistons were negotiating financial terms with Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch around that time, but those talks stalled.
Gores was among the other suitors last year, along with The Postolos Group president George Postolos.
The Pistons won three championships when Bill Davidson was the owner, including back-to-back titles in 1989-90.
But the new owners will have a challenge returning the Pistons to prominence. Detroit won the NBA championship in 2004, part of a six-year streak in which the team reached at least the conference finals, but the Pistons went 27-55 last season and haven't been much better in 2010-11.
Detroit took a 20-33 record into Friday night's game against Miami, with only four teams worse in the Eastern Conference. The drawn-out sale has created the impression of a team in limbo, with empty seats at The Palace this season adding to a sense of gloom.
The Miami game was only the third sellout of the season at the 22,076-seat arena.
"I wish the process of the new ownership would be over and done with, so we can start moving forward with the organization as far as which direction we're trying to go," Villanueva said. "But there's going to be a lot of excitement today. I'm excited. I can't wait to go out there on the court."