#Fever15 Moments: Indiana Awarded a WNBA FranchiseTweet
The Date: June 7, 1999
The history of the WNBA in Indianapolis traces back to an announcement near the start of the fledgling league's third season. The WNBA began as an eight-team league in 1997. The next summer, two more teams joined (Detroit and Washington) and another two (Minnesota and Orlando) began play in 1999.
On June 7, 1999, the league announced plans to add four more teams to begin play in 2000: Indianapolis, Miami, Portland, and Seattle. At the time, the league was only expanding into markets that already had an NBA franchise.
On July 22, the franchise hired Kelly Krauskopf as the team's first Chief Operating Officer, making her the highest-ranking female front office executive at any of the city's professional sports franchise.
Starting an expansion franchise is an immense undertaking, but the folks at Pacers Sports & Entertainment hit the ground running. The WNBA mandated that each expansion franchise sell 5,500 season tickets by a certain date, and the Indianapolis franchise (still without an official team name or logo) launched an aggressive campaign, highlighted by selling certain milestone tickets to well-known public figures.
Dorothy Mengering, the mother of David Letterman, bought the 1,000th season ticket. Indianapolis 500 veteran Lyn St. James bought the 2,000th ticket, future Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn bought the 3,000th (fresh off collecting his 3,000th career hit that summer), and Larry Bird (then the Pacers' head coach) bought the 5,000th. The franchise hit the league's minimum goal two weeks ahead of schedule, selling the 5,500th season ticket to former U.S. Senator and father of Title IX Birch Bayh on Oct. 1.
Due to an unusual set of circumstances, the organization hired two head coaches. Nell Fortner was hired as head coach and general manager on Aug. 17, but Fortner was already committed to coach the U.S. women's national team through the 2000 Olympics, meaning she would have to miss the franchise's first WNBA season. So on Oct. 20, the franchise hired Anne Donovan to serve as interim head coach in 2000. After the team's first season, Donovan would become Fortner's lead assistant.
The WNBA Expansion Draft took place on Dec. 15. Indiana selected Gordana Grubin (who had previously played with the Los Angeles Sparks) with the first overall pick. Overall, the team acquired six players, including former Purdue standout Stephanie White in a trade with Miami.
The franchise formally unveiled the Fever name and logo two days later at the Arts Garden in Circle Centre Mall. Pacers Sports & Entertainment President Donnie Walsh, Krauskopf, Donovan, Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith and White all spoke at the unveiling.
On April 29, 2000, the Fever held open tryouts at Butler University's Hinkle Fieldhouse, with over 200 women competing with hopes of landing a spot on the 11-player Fever roster. After two days of basketball, one player, Texlin Quinney from Buffalo, N.Y., made the final cut and found herself on the Fever's opening day roster.
The Fever held its first practice on May 1, and held its first preseason game at Purdue's Mackey Arena on May 20. The Fever announced its inaugural season opening-day roster on May 28: Usha Gilmore, Donna Harrington, Monica Maxwell, Stephanie White, Texlin Quinney, Jurgita Streimikyte, Alicia Thompson, Chantel Tremitiere, Beverly Williams, Rita Williams and Kara Wolters.
On June 1, the Fever played the first game in franchise history, beating the Miami Sol, 57-54. Two days later, the team played its first ever home game, hosting the Orlando Miracle at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (then named Conseco Fieldhouse).
The 2000 team would finish the season at just 9-23, but laid the foundation for what would grow into a championship organization. While expansion partners Portland and Miami folded after just three seasons, the Fever and Seattle Storm have grown into two of the WNBA's marquee franchises. 15 years, nine playoff appearances, and one WNBA championship later, the Fever are a mainstay in Indianapolis and the WNBA.
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