Matt Dobek Rumors
Palace Sports & Entertainment put the eight days between Pistons home games to good use. The corporation dedicated the Matt Dobek Press Room before Sunday’s game against the Boston Celtics to honor the late Pistons vice president of public relations. More than 10 members of Dobek’s family were on hand to watch the ceremony featuring comments from Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars, Palace president Dennis Mannion and longtime NBA public relations executive Brian McIntyre. Pistons play-by-play announcer George Blaha presided.
“He’s still shy, in a lot of ways,” Thomas said. “The thing we talked about — there’s no Matt Dobek, no Chuck Daly — those two people were really important to him. And he was saying, ‘How can I come back and not talk about them?’ ”
When he smiled and asked “did you rip us?” the key was not the question but the smile. It was a subtle acknowledgment of the tension beneath the surface. Matt never let that tension overwhelm the room. One story should tell you what I mean. In the spring of 2004, I told Matt that I wanted a sit-down interview with the team’s controversial new forward, Rasheed Wallace. Matt did not know me that well, and Rasheed barely knew Matt at all, and Wallace was notoriously wary of the media. If Wallace didn’t like the interview, Matt told me, “not only will he be done with you, but he’ll be done with me.” Still, he said he would try.
I don’t know the details of why Matt was fired. As far as I can tell, very few people know, and those who do haven’t spoken publicly. So I am in no position to judge the merits of the decision. But I do know that when I talked to Matt shortly after he was fired, he seemed lost, and not just in ways you might expect. It wasn’t just that he needed a job. He sounded like he didn’t know what to do with himself. He had worked for the Pistons for 29 of his 51 years and suddenly he must have felt that it meant a lot more to him than it did to them.
It was bad enough that I talked to a few people about organizing a dinner for him — just a night for media people to let him know we were thinking about him. But it was summer, vacations kept getting in the way and the dinner did not seem urgent. I found out Matt took his life before anything was really planned. His funeral was Saturday.
Last weekend, Matt Dobek took his own life. I suspect that a lot of fans did not even know who he was until he died. That’s a shame, because good people like Matt, who was one of several employees fired by the Pistons in May, are an essential part of the sports world. Most fans do not know (or need to know) about the tug-of-war that goes on behind the scenes between reporters and athletes. Athletes often don’t want to give interviews; reporters, of course, would like to interview point guards as they dribble up the court during playoff games.
In mid-April, I flew to Detroit to interview Detroit Pistons public relations director Matt Dobek for a book I’m writing about the 1992 Dream Team. In Barcelona, Matt served as one of four press people attached to the U.S. team, his primary responsibility being coach Chuck Daly, with whom he worked in Detroit. Matt did a superior job, which wasn’t surprising; he was a major player in those halcyon days of the NBA, someone who skillfully walked the line as both an advocate for his team and an honest resource for the press. A few weeks after our interview, Matt called to tell me that he and three other longtime Pistons employees had been abruptly fired by the team. I’m not sure what happened with the other three (I didn’t know them), but Matt was escorted out of the building, driven home by a security official and subsequently informed that he would be receiving no severance package. The stated reason for the firing was that Matt had violated a confidentiality clause in his contract.
After the firing, we talked on the phone several times and he seemed depressed. (I’m not a doctor so I’m not making an official diagnosis.) The Pistons were, to a large extent, his life, and he felt betrayed by the manner in which he was fired and by what he saw as the lack of support from people in the organization, where he had run the p.r. operation since 1981. I don’t know if the Pistons had just cause to fire Matt. I do know that the organization is a mess. The Davidson family still owns the franchise, but the “For Sale” sign is out and the 2004 champions have sunk to the level of mediocrity, having gone 66-98 in the last two seasons.
Even before the firing, Matt didn’t seem happy. In mid-March of last year, longtime Pistons owner Bill Davidson died. Two months after that, Daly died of pancreatic cancer. While it’s typical for a strong bond to grow between a coach and p.r. man, the one between Chuck and Matt went well beyond that. They hadn’t worked for the same organization since 1992, but they had remained extremely close. During the 2007 NBA Finals in San Antonio, Matt and I and a few other NBA types were riding home from a get-together when Matt decided to call Chuck. “It’s 1 o’clock in the morning, Matt,” I said. “Don’t worry,” Matt said. “Chuck’s up. I know when he sleeps.” Daly answered on the first ring and Matt passed around the phone.
My first job out of college many years ago was a front-office internship for the Detroit Pistons. Matt Dobek was new to the role of public relations director when he hired me many years ago, and stayed on the job through the Bad Boys era, the Hard at Work era and this past season. He and several other long-time Pistons employees were fired in the spring after owner Bill Davidson passed away. According to multiple reports, Dobek died unexpectedly Saturday at age 51. This is shocking news and my thoughts are with his family, friends and former co-workers in Auburn Hills.
The Pistons’ former longtime director of public relations died Saturday. Matt Dobek, 51, spent 29 years with the organization before he was fired in May as the team’s vice president of public relations. Hired by former Pistons executive Tom Wilson, Dobek was a confidant to many players during the Bad Boys era, including Isiah Thomas, Rick Mahorn and Joe Dumars. He remained close through the years with former coach Chuck Daly, and when Daly died in May 2009, Dobek served as the family spokesman.