|Donna Orender was named President of the WNBA in February, 2005. Bringing more than 20 years of sports business experience, she oversees all business and league operations. Prior to joining the WNBA, Orender spent more than 17 years with the PGA Tour, serving most recently as Senior Vice President of Strategic Development in the Office of the Commissioner. A graduate of Queens College in New York, Orender went on to play three seasons in the Women's Professional Basketball League, where she was an All-Star. Among her other many accolades, she was recently named to the prestigious Sporting News' annual "Power 100" list as well as FoxSports.com's "Top 10 Most Powerful Women in Sports" list. She is also the first league president to have a Blog...|
Recently, I arrived in Chicago for this year’s Rookie Orientation. Thirty-five of our newest players participated in a series of seminars and workshops designed to introduce them to the League and what is expected of them.
I enjoyed meeting this group, each and every one, and eagerly anticipated the time when players would go around the room and introduce themselves. As the stories unfolded, I was reminded once again of the beauty, grace, intelligence and specialness of these athletes. The triumphs and tragedies they have faced; the different backgrounds they have drawn from; the varied experiences that have brought them to this intimate gathering in Chicago... they were all inspiring. There are so many moving stories behind these young women, and I am impressed over and over again by their willingness to share with each other — and with me.
Ivory Latta truly lights up the room. Her energy, enthusiasm, and leadership — already tangible so early in her career — are characteristics I look forward to watching grow and develop in the years to come. Likewise, Megan Vogel who hails from South Dakota shines bright. Other players like Armintie Price, Tiffany Jackson and Shay Doron are all eager to make their mark. It is a dynamic group.
In particular, Gillian Goring, a 6-7 center from North Carolina State, is excited. In addition to a new job, she is preparing for a new life, looking forward to her upcoming marriage. I was touched by the support of her “basketball family” at the Draft. The wonderfulness of Coach Kay Yow and Stephanie Glance who, knowing that Gillian’s family was not available, stepped in to be with her all the way to pick 32 when she was finally selected. This says so much about Coach Yow — and also about Gillian.
Our rookies are in camp now, and you can be sure I’ll be following them to see where they end up. I invite you to join me. It’s all so exciting as we countdown to season tip-off on May 19.
I love the WNBA Draft. It's a window of time that is infused with so much emotion. The spirit and pride that fills the room is truly amazing, and it flows not only from the players but from their families and friends and all the fans that come to watch.
Draft day is a reminder of why our players play this game. Why they wake up for early morning practices when it would be so much easier to stay in bed. Why they train and travel year-round when it would be so much easier to take time off. Why they keep practicing and playing and competing when it would be so much easier to give up.
Each player who makes it to the Draft has a story. But their story is not their own. No single player could have made it to this day without the support of their coaches, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and friends. These are the players’ first fans. The ones who have supported them through wins and losses, good games and bad.
On April 4, those chosen for the Draft will represent a sense of hope. Hope for themselves, and what they can contribute to the game as a professional athlete. More importantly, hope for those teammates, competitors, and young women who watch and know that someday, it could be them on the Draft stage.
And so, I love being able to recognize the League’s new players not only in front of their families and friends but on a national stage. It is an honor to recognize all that brought the players to the game and to welcome them to this next phase of their career. Each year the field gets stronger and I continue to be impressed by the talent of our young women. They are a true inspiration to how far the game has come and how far it can continue to go.
I look forward to that special moment when I get to say "The first pick in the 2007 WNBA Draft is..."
Join me and 20 nervous and excited potential draftees and their families on Wednesday and share in this celebratory rite of passage for our next generation of stars.
I love how March Madness has embraced the women's game. As it should. The women's game is thriving and if you look at who is still around to play this coming weekend, there are the usual powerhouses — Connecticut, Duke, North Carolina and Tennessee — in addition to Bowling Green, Marist and Ole Miss. Cinderella is still very much in search of her slipper in the Sweet 16.
Who will wear the glass slipper — or sneaker — is still two weeks of excitement away and I look forward to watching as much of it as I can. The authors of the drama, the players and the coaches, have been exceptional in their dedication, but none more so than Coach Kay Yow of North Carolina State. All who are involved in women's basketball have a piece of their hearts with the indomitable coach who has given so much to so many for so many years.
That her Wolfpack has performed feats so unexpected is a testament to that special link between an exceptional coach and her team and in this case a team that has become family. Whether we see slippers on the Wolfpack remains to be seen, but what we can all relish in is that special connection, that devotion that a coach inspires in a team. I personally am a fan of Coach Yow, her spirit, her fight, her dedication. Go Cinderella!
As usual, the plane landed a bit late. Arriving for NBA All-Star week in Las Vegas, I was behind before I ever got started. I hopped into a car and sped off to my first appointment. Nike and Foot Locker were hosting an event celebrating the love of sports, and I was to join an impressive panel that was addressing a group of students.
Upon arriving at the community center, I jumped out of the car and a security guard approached me. I didn't think I was in the wrong place. (I had already had that experience, making a wrong turn on the way there.) While I knew I was not a security risk, perhaps I was missing something. My concerns were not immediately allayed when the guard asked me if I was Donna Orender. Hmmm, I thought, he must have a photo list of the panelists.
Despite the curious look I probably had on my face, the gentleman proceeded to tell me what a huge fan he was of the WNBA: the quality of play, the athleticism of the players and their passion for the game. He told me he loves what the WNBA stands for and that he watches all the games he can. I knew then and there that this was going to be a great weekend.
The NBA All-Star celebration is quite the event. If you love basketball, it's the place to be. I still marvel when I see Celtics great Jo Jo White – or any of the other 200-plus NBA legends in attendance – from across a room. I love the Legends brunch on Sunday morning where the players who made the game what it is today are celebrated.
I was especially proud this year when a legend named Cheryl Miller was recognized. How great a basketball icon was she? A four-time All-American and three-time Naismith Player of the Year at USC, Cheryl led the Trojans to NCAA titles in both 1983 and 1984. She won a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, was drafted to play in the USBL, a men’s league, and went on to a successful coaching career at USC and with the Phoenix Mercury. She was elected to the Hall of Fame in Springfield in 1995 and is currently a sideline reporter for NBA games on TNT. Not a bad resume.
Anyway, while it is the NBA’s All-Star celebration, it's an event where the WNBA absolutely shines. More than 15 of our past and present players were in attendance, and they took part in a wide array of community events: Habitat for Humanity home builds, hospital visits, learn-to-read programs, fitness clinics, basketball court dedications… our players were out in force.
Yes, our league is about great basketball. But we’re also about creating positive change and creating hope in the lives of as many people as we can affect. And our players certainly represented that in Las Vegas.
But they represented on the court, as well.
All-Star Saturday night is another favorite of mine. I love the energy of the slam-dunk contest and the 3-point competition, but I’m especially fond of the Shooting Stars event. When Sky rookie Candice Dupree made the half-court shot for Team Chicago, we all jumped to our feet to cheer.
Our players are just incredibly talented, and celebrating their skills on such a big stage was very gratifying. But it’s just as important to celebrate who they are and how much they care. I was happy to say hello to so many of our players who I hadn't seen in a while: Tina Thompson and Tamika Catchings and Kendra Wecker... Click here for a list of everyone in attendance.
So to our security guard fan… thanks, we appreciate your support. There is no doubt in my mind that after this week in Las Vegas, our players will continue to generate many, many more fans to keep you company.
The Most Important Sacrifice
Posted - February 10, 2007 11:49 a.m.
I’ve always been proud of the WNBA family.
The way the players handle themselves on the court: giving 100%, diving for loose balls, then helping each other up afterward. And the way they conduct themselves off it: being upstanding citizens, devoting time and energy to their communities.
There’s something about our league that reflects what’s great about the country we live in. The diversity, the excitement, the hard work required to succeed. But there is more to our WNBA family than players. And there is more to our country than diversity.
Our liberty and freedoms are not something I take for granted, and I am appreciative and literally in awe of those people who make the ultimate commitment and sacrifice while working to insure the freedoms we enjoy. These heroes work to improve the quality of life around the world while helping to ensure that women continue to receive equal opportunities everywhere. Our soldiers do this work for us, and we can never show them enough thanks.
Ruth Riley’s sister is a Black Hawk pilot. She just got back from a tour in Iraq.
Taj McWilliams-Franklin’s husband Reggie was in Iraq, but met Taj in Korea for Christmas. He's now done with his commitment
And this week, the duty to preserve our freedoms became even more personal. Captain Tim Wright of the U.S. Army Infantry Division left for Iraq on Thursday. Tim is the brother of our own Anne Wright, an enthusiastic, tireless and talented coordinator in the WNBA marketing department. While Tim puts his life on the line fighting for the liberty we hold dear, Anne will go about her work with typical tenacity, all the while trying to calm the constant concerns about her brother and the situation he finds himself in.
Tim clearly exemplifies the best of American values, but so does Anne, and we thank her and her family for the sacrifices they make.
Please join me in sending thanks and wishes of safe journeys to Captain Tim Wright and all of his colleagues over where they accept the dangers of the everyday so that our everydays can be safer.
Good luck, godspeed and thank you.
Posted - February 2, 2007 11:23 a.m.
“This is very, very special. I am always bringing people with me to the games. Now we won't have to buy tickets.”
While new Comets owner Hilton Koch may be excited about the perks of his new role, we at the WNBA were even more excited to welcome him to the league on Wednesday. Yet even before he joined the WNBA, Hilton has a long history with the Comets. He has been an avid fan, season ticketholder and committed sponsor for years. As the owner and president of Hilton Furniture and Mattress, Hilton has established an impressive reputation in Houston as a businessman and community leader.
It is this keen business acumen as well as his tremendous energy and passion for the game that make his addition to the league a no-brainer and I, for one, am excited about his contagious enthusiasm. His belief in women’s sports is also right on target with the WNBA. You know, when a successful businessman like Hilton walks in the door and says, “I believe in what you stand for. I believe in the impact that this game can have on our community,” you want that person on your side.
With four championships in the league's first four seasons, the Comets got things off on the right foot and immediately became a cornerstone of the WNBA. Players like Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson, Cynthia Cooper and Kim Perrot have inspired millions of little girls and boys to dream big. There has been no finer ambassador of the sport than Coach Van Chancellor and we also want to thank Leslie Alexander for his 10 seasons with the Comets. As an inaugural member of the WNBA and for helping lead the Comets to four titles, Les is a true pioneer in women’s basketball in this country. He established a great tradition of winning women's baskeball in Houston and his commitment is much appreciated.
I am confident that Hilton Koch will provide a unique perspective and build on this tremendous legacy to make a positive impact in the Houston community and ring in a new era with the Comets.
As Hilton takes charge with his unique brand of liveliness, we are confident that the Comets will thrive in 2007 and well into the future. So, Houston fans, go out, support the new man in charge, buy tickets and cheer on your team.
Of course, you’ll have to get pretty loud to compete with Hilton.
Posted - January 26, 2007 9:34 p.m.
Last week there was an article in USA TODAY that caught my eye. It was about the women's basketball team at Middle Tennessee State University and their coach Rick Insell.
After Insell won 775 games and 10 state titles in his 28 years at nearby Shelbyville Central High School, MTSU (in Murfreesboro, Tenn.) brought him in for the 2005-‘06 season. In his first year, he led the Blue Raiders to the 2006 Sun Belt Tournament title and their third straight NCAA tourney berth. This year, his squad is 18-3 and is ranked for the first time EVER in the writers' poll and is ranked in the coaches' poll (19th as of Jan. 23) for the first time since 1988.
"I refuse to use that word (mid-major). … It's placing us in a category that we're mediocre," he told USA TODAY. "Look, I've always been a big dreamer," he continues. "Do I think we could be in the Final Four this year? Yeah. Do I think there's a lot of people out there in the basketball world that would laugh at that statement? Absolutely."
Even though powerhouses like Tennessee, UConn and Duke still sit atop the food chain in most people's views, the fact that Insell has changed the mindset and upped the ante at a relative minnow like Middle Tennessee State is pretty staggering. Yes, the breadth and draw of the college game shows that the sport is growing.
I have always been drawn to strong-willed, inspirational, perspective-changing coaches. I played for a few in my time and there is something about their personalities, their confidence and their ability to inspire confidence that still captures me. Coach Insell did just that ..
“His big thing is to not let outsiders bring us down," says MTSU freshman guard Jackie Pickel of her coach. "He's trying to tell us that we have the heart that no team has. As long as we believe it, then we don't need anybody else. It's just our attitude that matters."
It's just our attitude that matters. What a great message. Don't let people define who you are or set your limits, another great message.. I for one, look forward to watching Coach Insell and his team do their magic the rest of this season.
Your All-Star Tickets Now!
Posted - January 19, 2007 5:58 p.m.
On Tuesday, we announced that the 2007 WNBA All-Star Game is coming to Washington D.C. The league and the city could not be more excited... but enough about us.
All-Star weekend is about the best players in the world and you, our fans. This year's extravaganza – set for July 14-15 – is guaranteed to be another festive celebration of the sport, of the league and of its players. But it really is FOR you. You should be front and center as the All-Stars take center stage.
Have you seen her? Well, have you? This year, you have every opportunity to be there celebrating with us. We're offering packages to suit every fan: Tickets at all price points – including premium seating -- are available in a limited pre-sale from now until this Sunday, Jan. 21, at 10 p.m. ET. Washington Mystics season ticket holders have the opportunity to buy their same seats for the game. Season ticket holders from each team have special advance access to the best seats in the house in this pre-sale, but time is running out. Don't wait until the last minute.
After a limited pre-sale has ended, fans in Washington can still buy tickets - take a trip to select Macy*s Department Stores in the Washington, D.C. area. Tickets are also being sold at the Verizon Center Box Office. Individual game tickets will soon be on sale again.
So what's in store for you? We can guarantee that you'll have every chance to "see her" as the stars of the WNBA will be front and center during their time in the D.C. area. The best in the business will be taking part in events in the community, helping to refurbish a city basketball court and opening a local Reading and Learning Center. They'll also take part in the second annual All-Star Salute: Celebrating Inspiration Luncheon, which pays tribute to dedicated, passionate and inspirational women in all aspects of business. When we say that the WNBA Cares, we really do mean it.
Then on Sunday the Dribble, Dish & Swish Skills Challenge and the Three-Point Shootout will tip off the on-court game-day All-Star experience. Who can forget the way Dawn Staley and Seimone Augustus dazzled the crowd last season?
But the highlight of All-Star weekend is the Game itself. East versus West. The Eastern Conference finally got a win last season, but will Mystics star Alana Beard take over and put on a show for her hometown fans in 2007? Will L.A. Sparks forward Chamique Holdsclaw return to Washington and lead the West to a seventh win in eight tries? Or will one of their fellow stars – perhaps Taurasi, Pondexter, Jackson or Catchings – catch fire and earn M.V.P. honors for the first time? You won't know unless you are there to experience it.
We're dedicated to making the 2007 All-Star Game in the nation's capital the WNBA's best ever. And plans are in the works to create precisely that, but we can't do it without you. It'll be worth your while to head on into the Verizon Center to see it live. Then, when people ask, “Have you seen her?" you can say, “You're darn right I did! And I'm going back to see her again!"
Lot To Look Forward To
Posted - January 8, 2007 4:42 p.m.
Happy New Year, everyone! I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and is ready for the year ahead.
With many new and exciting things to look forward to, the upcoming season promises to be bigger and better than ever. And as we reach the midpoint of another offseason, there really is no offseason for everyone at the WNBA and at the teams. Rest assured, we are hard at work on making 2007 the best season yet.
We are not a week into the new year and we are already a busy with significant happenings. First came the announcement out of Houston that Comets coach Van Chancellor is resigning after ten years. First and foremost, I want to wish Coach Van Chancellor all the best in this next phase of his life. As the WNBA Coach of the Decade, Chancellor built an extraordinary legacy as the most successful coach in league history. In orchestrating the Comets dynasty that saw them win the first four WNBA championship, he established himself as one of the instrumental cornerstones on which the league was built and will forever stand.
The schedule for the upcoming season was also unveiled this week featuring tremendous matchups from beginning to end. It picks up right where we left off last year as the Monarchs and Shock play on ABC on Opening Day on May 19. The Shock will raise the 2006 WNBA championship banner and hand out championship rings during pre-game ceremonies. For fans of every other team, tickets are already on sale so you can start planning your summer. The schedule also features a record number of natonally televised games, including weekend games on ABC and the return of "WNBA Tuesdays" on ESPN2 (including five doubleheaders!).
As you already know, the Charlotte Sting will not return in 2007. We will certainly miss the Sting and will never forget the great memories they have given us over the past decade. I want to thank the fans of Charlotte for their passionate support of the Sting and want to promise them that we will do everything we can to bring a team back to Charlotte as soon as we can. Despite this setback, we have no doubt about the continued growth and future of the WNBA. New groups continue to pursue ownership opportunities and there remains great interest all over the country.
It has been a busy week across the WNBA, for certain, and the momentum of our continued success both on the court and in the communities will carry us forward. You can expect some more big news in the next few weeks and I encourage you to join in our shared optimism as we look forward to a magical year ahead.
Aplenty This Holiday Season
Posted - December 21, 2006 6:58 p.m.
The holiday season is all about maximum stress, perhaps that's why this is one of my favorite times of year. When you're busy, piling on seems fair. Of course there's many more reasons for an affinity for this time of year... time with the family, a feeling of goodwill and some great sales. Speaking of Sales, there is Nykesha Sales, what a great athlete and representative of the WNBA. Thanks to the great stars of the WNBA, the gifts for all of us fans have kept coming throughout our tenth anniversary season.
Back in April, we welcomed the rookie class of 2006 to the WNBA with great fanfare and with the expectation that they would have an immediate impact on the league. What a gift it was to watch the sensational Seimone Augustus and Cappie Pondexter challenge for the scoring title and see four first-year players in the All-Star Game! Sophia Young and Monique Currie injected life into their franchises and Candice Dupree became a franchise player overnight.
Watching veteran stars Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson celebrate their own tenth anniversary and continue play at the highest level was joyful. Lisa Leslie had the best season of her career, winning Player of the Week a record four times en route to her third WNBA MVP Award. We also witnessed history as Lisa became the first player to reach the 5,000-point mark. Swoopes and Thompson both tallied their 4,000th career point this year and Thompson was one of only three players to post back-to-back 30-point games.
The All-Star game in New York was a real present.. What a treat it was to celebrate ten years of the WNBA with our newly crowned All-Decade Team. We honored them for their achievements and thanked them for being the inspirational figures they are, recognizing them at halftime of an All-Star Game made even more memorable by a special event that preceded the game -- our first-ever Inspiring Women Luncheon. Highlighted by a moving and impactful address by former Secretary of State Secretary Madeleine Albright, the luncheon was truly memorable. One of those ten living legends, guard Dawn Staley, gave all of us one last chance to see her run the floor with the Houston Comets before moving over to coaching full time. Dawn is a remarkable woman, both on and off the court, and she will be missed by anyone and everyone she touched around the WNBA.
Diana Taurasi took her game to another stratosphere this season and paced the most exciting scoring race ever. Diana averaged 25.3 points per game and scored 860 total points – both WNBA all-time highs. She also tallied a single-game high of 47 points in the triple-OT win over Houston, possibly the best-ever regular season game in WNBA history. The Mercury were a delight to watch down the stretch despite falling just short of the playoffs, but that Comets-Mercury game was a gift in and of itself.
The Detroit Shock and Sacramento Monarchs gave basketball fans all over the world a real gift, capping off the most exciting postseasons ever. We saw our first-ever five game WNBA Finals, and Game Five in Detroit’s sold out Joe Louis Arena was one of the most amazing experiences I have been a part of. The Shock were a delight to watch all season long and are truly deserving as champions.
One of the most rewarding gifts has been spending time with WNBA fans over the course of the year. There are no smarter, more passionate, engaged and loyal fans in all of sports. Their enthusiasm is the lifeblood of this league and we would not continue to grow as we do without their ongoing participation.
From new coaches in Sacramento, Minnesota and Chicago to new owners in Los Angeles, the busy off-season continues. While the immediate future of the Charlotte Sting continues to unfold, the strength and vitality of the WNBA continues to grow. We are encouraged by the interest of potential owners around the country.
With all of these wonderful gifts and many, many more that I have not even mentioned, it has truly been a year filled with blessings. We have a great staff here at the league and so many more good and committed staff people around the country. The energy behind building a bigger and better league is contagious and motivating.. We are truly more than a team. We are a family. So from our family to yours, have a happy, healthy holiday season and a wonderful new year. See you in 2007!
Posted - December 7, 2006 5:32 p.m.
From the very first moment I met Katherine Goodman and Carla Christofferson, I knew they were going to be a perfect fit. Their passion was contagious, and I knew instantly that they would be great additions to the WNBA family as the new owners of the Los Angeles Sparks.
These two extraordinary women live in Los Angeles and have been fans since the beginning. Katherine spent years in the motion picture industry, producing and financing a number of major films before pursuing another passion in life - education - teaching high school English and Social Studies in the San Fernando Valley. Carla is one of the top attorneys in California, working with major corporations across a number of different fields. Now they will bring their tremendous business expertise and community leadership to the Sparks. With their proven track records in the business world, their passion for the game and their commitment to the community, we are confident they will achieve new heights with the Sparks. They will add a tremendous amount to this league moving forward and I look forward to their immediate impact in Los Angeles.
In their first ten seasons, the Sparks have established a tradition as rich and celebrated as any team in the league. The Buss family has been at the forefront with their leadership, building a model franchise from which others have and can continue to learn. They were committed to women's professional basketball before an orange-and-oatmeal WNBA ball ever bounced and remained involved and influential in the growth of the WNBA over the past decade. Franchise players like Lisa Leslie and Mwadi Mabika have contributed in making this team a success story both on and off the court as the team won championships in 2000 and 2001. On behalf of everyone at the WNBA, we thank the Buss family for these and many, many more contributions to the sport .
On behalf of the WNBA, I want to welcome Katherine and Carla and wish them the very best in getting started. They understand the traditions in Los Angeles and are committed to continuing them while also creating new ones. I encourage all Sparks fans to show their support for Season 11 and the new ownership by buying tickets, early and often.
Just a quick aside before you get back to your holiday shopping (WNBA tickets make perfect gifts, by the way!)... It was a real honor last week to be recognized by the March of Dimes with the Sports Leadership Award in New York City. It is a sports industry event and i was so proud that 10 years of the WNBA was being recognized in this forum. So congratulations to all of you who support and work on behalf of the WNBA, because the recognition is truly yours, yours who make this league unique and special.
I would also like to mention the good work of the March of Dimes. Their focus on improving the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality and the leading role they play in research, community services, education and advocacy is vital as it relates to our children's health. Good people and good work at the March of Dimes.
Posted - November 22, 2006 11:18 a.m.
Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday is here again. I truly do appreciate taking the pause, a bit of time to reflect and recognize the blessings all around us.
This job affords me to meet wonderful people and learn about truly impactful efforts that people are making on behalf of women in the workplace. Just last week I was invited to speak at the WIN initiative at the Deloitte Global Conference in San Diego. Back in 1993, Deloitte and Touche, one of the largest financial corporations in the world, launched the Women's Initiative, also known as WIN. The goal then, as it is today, is focused on creating a more inclusive environment for women in the workplace and thus has provided a model for the rest of the corporate community to follow. Deloitte was the first organization to launch a women's initiative and has invested continually in programs to recruit, advance and retain women. They figured it out early, it's just good business and they are reaping the rewards.
Led by Cathy Benko and the WIN 16, with the committed invovlement of their chairwoman of the board Sharon Allen, CEO James H. Quigley and Managing Partner Barry Salzberg who all participated in the conference, their ability and desire to understand and embrace a changing marketplace is important for all of us. Their commissioned research and action plans to address the reasearch is something we should all be thankful for. They are 13 years down the road in their effort, their results are very positive and aply reflected in their conference title...."YES.....AND".
It's a great theme for Thanksgiving as well. "YES...AND". We are appreciative of the progress and success to date AND there is still more to be done. It was truly an honor to be asked to join the 800 very accomplished Deloitte executives at this conference and what I took away from being with them, I am thankful for.
In this season of thanks, let me offer these additional thoughts.The WNBA embodies the spirit of YES WE CAN. It's a guiding spirit of the many talented and committed people who dedicate themselves to building this league bigger and better. Their belief in the values of the league and desire to push it to it's next rightful level is something I am very thankful for. I am grateful that the WNBA has been able to provide such tremendous opportunities for women in sports and provides a platform where women's strengths can be recognized and cheered.. I am thankful for the avid fans who appreciate all that the WNBA has to offer and support us with an enthusiasm unmatched in all of sports. I am thankful for a group of phenomenal athletes who do what they love and love what they do both on and off the court. They make this league shine and my job so rewarding. Finally, I am thankful for a wonderful family and friends, from whom I draw more strength and support than they can possibly know. To them and to you, I wish a Happy Thanksgiving.
A Fitting Tribute To Maggie Dixon
Posted - November 15, 2006 3:43 p.m.
I had to be there.
When I learned that the Military Academy was creating the Maggie Dixon Classic to open the season at West Point, a men's and women's basketball doubleheader, I knew I had to be there with my family. I wanted to pay my respects to a young woman who accomplished so much in far too little time while cheering on the players, cadets and students alike, who have raised their hands to actively protect us and our country.
I was drawn to Maggie Dixon, what she accomplished and how she accomplished it in her short life. I saw her on television this past March when she and her brother, Jamie, became the first brother-sister pair to take teams to the NCAA basketball tournaments in the same year. I will never forget the images of her being carried across the court when her Army team clinched the conference title last year and the stories of her indelible energy she demonstrated in encouraging the support from the cadets on campus.
That she wanted to play in the WNBA and tried out for the Los Angeles Sparks was a connection, and that she served as an assistant coach to Doug Bruno at Depaul, a coach for whom I played, was another.
Last season, Dixon became a head coach for the first time in her career. In her first season as the Army women's basketball coach, Dixon's team surprised the college basketball world by going 20-11 and winning the Patriot League conference tournament. Then just weeks after her appearance in the NCAA Tournament, she was gone. She was only 28 years old.
For her family, her players and the entire Army community, the wounds are still fresh. This weekend's tribute was another step in the difficult recovery process. Maggie's family was presented with a ring commemorating the 2005-06 Patriot League championship and banners honoring the title and Maggie as conference coach of the year were unveiled in the rafters of Christl Arena.
The CFO of Army Sports sat next to us at the arena, a passionate fan who was nice enough to bring us t-shirts. On the back of the shirts was a phrase that truly captured her spirit:
"If it is to be, it's up to me"
It was truly a moving moment when the Army team took the court. The band played, the cadets sang and the arena shook. Once the game began, I was further moved by the fighting spirit that Maggie's players showed against a physically imposing and nationally ranked Ohio State team. Mrs. Dixon, Maggie's mother, who was warm, approachable, upbeat and has the biggest of hearts, told me that it was Maggie who selected this opening opponent knowing how tough the game would be for her team. She believed that to be better, you had to play the best. You may not win the first time or even the second, but there were lessons to be learned and she was always pushing her team to be better. I am grateful to have been there and been able to meet her.
Maggie Dixon was an unbelievably inspiring young woman who made a huge impact in a short time. The women's basketball community will continue to celebrate her life, her spirit and her legacy, which lives on in the players she coached and the people she touched.
Posted - November 7, 2006 2:22 p.m.
As a fitting conclusion to our tenth anniversary season, the WNBA celebrated the brilliant career of one of the true legends in our sport, Dawn Staley, at a luncheon in New York City yesterday. You have, no doubt, already heard that the legendary Dawn Staley decided to retire from the Comets and the WNBA at the conclusion of this past season. But is it really possible to frame a fitting tribute to one of the greatest players, one of the greatest people, in women's basketball in one afternoon, even with her friends, family and colleagues through the years on hand?
We hear so often that our players are inspiring, terrific role models both on and off the court. That is, perhaps, as good a place as any to start with Dawn. She was a member of the WNBA's All-Decade Team and a 5-time WNBA All-Star, a 3-time Olympic gold medalist and a two-time winner of the WNBA's Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award. She also became the first basketball player ever to carry the U.S. flag during the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. But Dawn has meant so much more to the WNBA, to basketball and to people everywhere.
As the venerable Dr. Bill Cosby said in a message to her, Dawn is the ultimate leader. People have said that having her in the game is like having a coach on the floor. She followed that up by becoming the head coach of the Temple University Women's Team, a post she has held since 2001, and currently serves as an assistant coach for the U.S. Senior Women's National Basketball Team. Off the court, she has been part teacher, part mentor, part sister, even part mother to so many young players. In 1996, she developed the Dawn Staley Foundation to create a future of hope for at-risk youth by providing opportunities that help them realize their dreams and become productive and responsible citizens.
She is living, breathing proof that hard work and an infectious spirit can and will continue to help grow our game. Not long after I joined the WNBA, I had a really wonderful conversation with Dawn Staley at the Women's Final Four. Just a few days later, she sent me a note that reinforced my decision to take the job. I just wanted to share a brief excerpt from that letter.
"Basketball is my passion. I have always respected the game, and in return, it has been good to me. With my foundation, I hope to help some other little girl who comes from a background similar to mine, and who looks like me, find their passion - that thing they can love and respect and in return have it reward them. It seems so simple. One would think there would be a great deal of support for a program that supported the dreams of young people, right?"
The one silver lining to her retirement is that even though her career as a player has come to an end, Dawn will continue to positively impact the lives of so many. Even though she has hung up her sneakers, Dawn continues to be a source of inspiration to her Temple players, her family and friends, her fans and just about everyone she touches. Thanks, in large part, to players like Dawn and other leaders like Val Ackerman, who was able to join us for the celebration of Dawn's taking the next step in her career, we just passed a very significant milestone in the growth of the WNBA. But there is so much more to come and the future of women's basketball is very bright.
So it is in that spirit that we will announce a new award to be given out each year starting in 2007 that will bear the name of Dawn Staley.
The Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award will be given to the WNBA player who best exemplifies the characteristics of a leader in the community. The honoree will be one who has demonstrated a continued dedication to charitable and community causes through the significant contrinution of time, effort or resources. The award will be presented annually to the player who best exemplifies Dawn Staley's contagious spirit, her leadership and her desire to improve the lives of those in the communities in which she works and lives. There is no one whose name belongs on this award more than that of Dawn Staley.
So I know I speak for many, many people when I say that the WNBA and women's basketball are richer for Dawn's contributions. We will miss her in the WNBA and wish her the best as she prepares her Temple team for the upcoming season.
Posted - October 27, 2006 4:38 p.m.
I think I can still hear the echoes of 19,671 fans shouting and celebrating the Detroit Shock at Joe Louis Arena after Game 5 as if it were yesterday.
Yet, it is hard to believe that it is almost November already. The celebrations may be winding down, but planning for 2007 is already underway. On the heels of our historic Tenth Anniversary season, we just wrapped up our annual Sales and Marketing meetings here in New York this week, where over 100 people from all 14 teams met to build on the successes of the past season and plan even greater things for Year Eleven.
Let me again congratulate the Detroit Shock, the 2006 WNBA champions, who embodied all of the WNBA's greatest values in their run to the title: hard work, dedication, passion, fun and team work. The Shock and Monarchs gave us our first-ever five-game series to cap off an amazing postseason. Attendance, along with television viewership and distribution, increased markedly during the postseason. The historic, deciding Game 5 in Finals featured a sellout crowd at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, the second biggest Finals crowd in WNBA history. Compared to 2005, the WNBA scored double-digit percentage increases in attendance during the 2006 Finals (28%) and the Playoffs overall (16%). Average viewership for the 2006 Finals was up 11 percent over that of 2005. Detroit’s Game 4 win at Sacramento was the second-most watched WNBA game in ESPN2 history. Those are good numbers, folks.
And why are so many people coming to games and watching our games? Because the GAME is better than ever: With bigger, faster, more talented players, field goal percentage rose and scoring increased dramatically in 2006, all while superstars had career years, young stars enjoyed breakout seasons and a record four rookies were selected to the All-Star Game. The move to a 24-second clock generated an up-tempo game and a dramatic increase in scoring. Scoring increased eight points per game per team and all 14 teams averaged more points per game than in 2005 and four topped the previous league record.
As for our meetings this week, the spirit, enthusiasm and passion of all of the team executives and representatives was absolutely inspiring. It is great to be with people who care so much. Along with the great staff we have working here at the league office, they are committed to doing what it takes to grow it in the right direction, especially increasing our attendance in 2007. Can we do it? YES WE CAN!
We also held our annual Competition Committee meetings this week and had an open discussion with the coaches and general managers on how to make the game better for everyone. We are always looking for new ways to showcase the league's best talent, and there is plenty of that in the WNBA. And in just a few months, we will be adding even more talent in the 2007 WNBA Draft. You could hear a pin drop in the packed room once the ping pong balls started bouncing at our Draft Lottery yesterday. Just before we began the selection, Mercury coach Paul Westhead, whose team had a nearly-impossible chance of winning the top pick (2.5%!!) actually told me that he thought their "chances were slim and none, and that slim had just left town." But Phoenix and San Antonio defied the longest of odds to win the top two picks, and now I cannot wait to see who the Mercury pick to play alongside the All-Star duo of Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter.
And just because the work on the court has taken a bit of a hiatus, that does not mean that the work has not stopped. Far from it. Aside from league and team personnel, our players are hard at work, many of them in your communities as role models of social responsibility. At this very moment, today, Diana Taurasi is leading 150 volunteers in the construction of a neighborhood play center in Connecticut, providing a safe, clean place to play for the kids of Bridgeport, Connecticut.
So with all of the great work that is being done and all that we have to look forward to, I join you all in eager anticipation of the 2007 season. Tickets are already on sale and with the holidays just around the corner, well, you know...
As a league that values open communication in all directions, you can begin to expect to hear from me regularly throughout the offseason just as I look forward to hearing from you.
Posted - August 19, 2006 1:48 p.m.
It's playoff time - emotions are high and I can feel the players, the coaches and even the fans' excited and nervous energy.
The Verizon Center in Washington Friday night was once again filled with energy. The live band was rocking and fans dressed in white in support of their home team were upbeat.
This team has come so far in such a short time under the exuberant and committed ownership of Dr Sheila Johnson and her coo curtis symonds.
The entire experience - the live band, the in-game entertainment and of course the game itself, despite the Mystics fans disappointment in the outcome of the game, was so outstanding.
I always feel for a player like Alanna Beard. She has given so much all year, provided great leadership and class and if there was one moment that epitomized the evening for her - second half she takes a short jumper - it goes in the cylinder - IN - and it rotates out. Some nights you just can't catch a break.
Lindsay was magnificent for the Sun - she always gives Coach Thibault a reassuring pat on the arm....got it coach.
A highlight for me was finally meeting the mayor of the mystics fans. I have seen him hundreds of times as his joyful dancing has graced our videos and makes me smile every time I see him. Last night I got to shake his hand - Fred, so glad to meet you and thanks for your support. Keep on dancin
Profiles in Courage
Posted - June 2, 2006 7:46 PM
I can’t tell you whether the season should be longer, but I can tell you that I think the off-season should be shorter. I truly missed the action of the WNBA. Whether it’s Sheryl Swoopes picking an opponent clean at a critical point in a game, or Nicole Powell and her graceful release or Coach Thibault exhorting his team ….these are indelible images and it was time to build upon the image bank.
Going to Sacramento for the Championship Ring Ceremony on opening day was something I was looking forward to, especially after just having been with the team when they visited the White House days earlier.
The fans of Sacramento are tremendous. There is a certain poetry to be giving out rings to an original WNBA team to tip-off the league’s 10th Anniversary in front of fans who have supported the league since Day 1. One of the most emotional and heartfelt events of the weekend will never see TV time and that was when the Maloof organization awarded Championship rings to the entire Maloof Sports and Entertainment Staff. Anyone who worked during the Championship run, ushers, security, ticket takers… ALL… were given rings by Gavin and Joe Maloof. The warmth and thanks that was in the arena on Friday night was truly remarkable. In the end it’s all about people and the recognition that the team was a part of a larger group that all had a stake in the success of the Monarchs was a great message, embraced by all.
Another emotional moment for me… in the theme of it’s all about people. I like to invite groups of friends and acquaintances to the game in each city I visit. In Sacramento my group has grown and I was thrilled to share the magic of this league with family and special friends. Among them is Scott Gibbs. Scott was the first camera man I ever worked with as a very young producer working in the sports field. I knew nothing, he knew everything. He is an artist and a perfectionist with strong opinions and he helped shape my eye and expectations. He came last season to a playoff game and being a classic cynic I thought he would visit, say thanks and be on his way. But that something special happened between the Monarchs and my cynical friend – he was captivated. Scott was won over by the thrilling competition, the great fans, the arena environment he became connected and a fan.
Since the Championship game and the dramatic Monarchs victory in Sacramento, Scott has been diagnosed with cancer. It was shocking to all of us and to all who continue to deal with friends and family who face this disease every day…very emotional. Scott has taken it straight on and is winning.
So when I invited him to join me this year for the opener, you can imagine both my surprise and delight when I got back an affirmative answer. He’s a bit thinner and lighter in the hair category as he spends 4 weeks at a time in the hospital for treatment. His smile and presence warmed my heart. … that, and when he turned about every 5 minutes in his seat to tell me - I LOVE this game… I love women’s basketball…… For a man who has traveled the world many times as a camera man at the Olympics and elite sporting events around the world…his endorsement means a lot. It affirms what we know – that there is a magic in the WNBA to be discovered. My friend Scott continues to teach me things to this day. His tenacity to face his illness, his ability to laugh at all and of course his discerning taste in sports….he loves the WNBA…. I did tell you how I admired his intelligence didn’t I?
Til the next time,