A huge shift in leadership was announced in a press release Friday after the WNBA and NBA board of governors unanimously approved the sale of the Atlanta Dream from a group that included former Sen. Kelly Loeffler, the Georgia Republican who previously owned a 49% stake in the team.
Loeffler, who just last month lost her Senate seat in a run-off election to Rev. Raphael Warnock, has been widely challenged on her political positions, including her opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement and transgender rights. Her own players joined many in the WNBA in an ultimately successful campaign for her opponent in the 2020 Senate race.
The new three-member investor group is comprised of former Dream star Renee Montgomery, real estate firm Northland’s chairman Larry Gottesdiener as well as Northland president and COO Suzanne Abair.
Abair herself is publicly out, and recently spoke about her experiences in an interview with the Boston Business Journal in December 2020. “When I joined Northland, Larry knew I was a member of the LGBTQ community. He and my spouse are friends. My kids love Larry. If you want to bring out the best in people, encourage your people to be their authentic selves. We are at our best when everyone is bringing their best self to work, and not spending a lot of energy worried about, how am I going to fit in, how am I supposed to be dressing, what is my hair supposed to do? When I was at law firms in New York in the mid-90s, it was not A-OK to be out and talking about those things. It is incredibly important being able to be who you are, comfortably.”
Renee Montgomery, who recently announced her retirement from the league after a storied career including two WNBA championship titles, becomes the first former player to be both an owner and executive of a WNBA team. Montgomery was immediately congratulated on Twitter by LeBron James on her new leadership role in the league. “So proud of this Queen,” James tweeted. “This is everything we are about! #Morethananathlete.”
Montgomery, who sat out the 2020 WNBA season out of caution for the coronavirus as well as to focus on social justice work off the court, also founded the Renee Montgomery Foundation in 2019, a non-profit working within Atlanta to make a positive impact on communities through sports as well as to campaign for voter registration and civic awareness. In a statement to ESPN, Montgomery suggested that her new leadership role would continue to affirm these values.
“Breaking barriers for minorities and women by being the first former WNBA player to have both a stake in ownership and a leadership role with the team is an opportunity that I take very seriously. I invite you to join me as the Dream builds momentum in Atlanta!” she said, referencing her foundation’s hashtag, #MovementEqualsMomentum.
The WNBA Players Association, which includes vice presidents Layshia Clarendon and Sue Bird, also released a statement in support of the new ownership group and Renee Montgomery’s position in it. “May it send a strong reminder that the players of The W are bigger than basketball, and that together they stand for equity, justice, diversity, inclusion, fairness, and respect. Renee’s combined position as owner and team executive may be the first of its kind in the league. Importantly, it further elevates and highlights the achievements of former players, women, people of color. Their contributions must be recognized and valued at every level.”
“It is time for the women of the Atlanta Dream and their fans to have an opportunity to heal and move forward. It is our fervent wish that we shall never see again such an abuse of power and arrogant display of privilege. It is our hope that no one will ever again attempt to use the players for individual political gain or favor,” the WNBPA added, throwing a final barb at Loeffler for the long list of issues she campaigned on that ran counter to the values of a majority of the players.
With details still to come around when the 2021 season may tip off, this may just be the start of an eventful year as the WNBA celebrates its 25th season since its founding in 1996.