By John Clayton
Indianapolis, March 3, 2004
Donnie Walsh, CEO of Pacers Sports & Entertainment, renewed the franchise’s commitment to the WNBA at the Fever's Fifth Anniversary Corporate Tip-Off Luncheon today at Conseco Fieldhouse.
“We’re as committed to the WNBA as we were in our first year,” Walsh said. “We believe in the product. . . . We believe in the tradition of women’s basketball in Indiana and we want to be a part of it.”
WNBA President Val Ackerman, first-year Fever Coach Brian Winters, Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson and several Fever players, including All-Stars Tamika Catchings and Natalie Williams, attended the luncheon. Ackerman was the keynote speaker and praised the Fever’s growth from expansion team to playoff contender in four seasons as well as the players’ ever-present involvement in the local community.
”This move (to Indiana) made all the sense in the world for us when we came here and it still does,” said Ackerman. “Indiana has such a great tradition of basketball.”
The Fever celebrates its fifth anniversary this upcoming season with a new coach in Winters, a former NBA player and head coach, and several new faces on the roster, including Kelly Miller, who was acquired in an offseason trade, and free-agent signee Kate Starbird.
While the Fever is gearing up to celebrate its fifth anniversary, the WNBA is only eight years old and has already endured one painful labor negotiation, as well as a stagnant national economy and changes in its own economic system that transferred control of teams from the league to individual ownership.
With those growing pains in the past, Ackerman said women’s basketball is on firmer ground.
“We think women’s basketball is on an upward trajectory,” Ackerman said. “It’s not on a straight line always when you’re trying to build a new business, but we think all the indicators are with us. People are supporting women’s sports in growing numbers and more girls play than ever before. We have national television coverage. We have corporate support at the local and national levels and we have a great game.”