Pizza, sports tycoon wants to buy NBA Pistons team

By Ben Klayman

DETROIT (Reuters) - The owner of the Little Caesars Pizza chain and professional baseball and ice hockey teams said on Monday he wants to buy the Detroit Pistons basketball team, confirming speculation since the team's owner died last year.

Michael Ilitch, who lives in the Detroit area and owns the Detroit Tigers baseball team and Detroit Red Wings hockey team, said he wants to keep the National Basketball Association team from leaving Detroit.

"We decided to take a run at it," he said in a statement. "We believe we could bring a lot to the table that could be tremendously positive for the Pistons franchise, the NBA and the fans of this community."

Ilitch said he had formally notified the Detroit Pistons of his interest in buying the team.

Forbes magazine valued the Pistons, which play in Auburn Hills, Michigan, as the NBA's fourth-most valuable team at $479 million in December, and the Ilitch family's fortune at $1.5 billion in March.

Last month, a group led by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Joe Lacob and Hollywood movie producer Peter Guber agreed to pay a league record $450 million to buy the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, California.

One banker, who asked not to be identified while discussing an ongoing sale, said it was more likely the Pistons would sell for between $350 million to $375 million.

Many analysts think Ilitch, 81, would move the Pistons to downtown Detroit where his other teams play. Ilitch has said in the past he wants to build a new arena downtown.

William Davidson, who owned the Pistons since 1974, died last year at 86. His wife Karen said in January she would sell the club and its arena.

Ilitch and his wife Marian bought the Red Wings in 1982, turning a struggling team nicknamed the "Dead Wings" into a four-time Stanley Cup champion. Five years later, they bought and restored the run-down Fox Theater in downtown Detroit.

Ilitch, who played three years in the Tigers' minor league system after serving four years in the U.S. Marines, bought the baseball team in 1992 and moved it to a new ballpark in 2000.

Ilitch's wife bought a stake in MotorCity Casino in 1999 and became its sole owner in 2005.

The Ilitch companies' combined revenue in 2009 was $2.1 billion, a spokeswoman said.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman; Editing by Robert MacMillan)