September 28, 2023
Column: WNBA in the Bay will be worth the long wait
VanDerveer: 'I think it’s going to be awesome'
It’s been a long wait for the WNBA in the Bay. A really, really long wait.
Driving to Sacramento to see the Monarchs in the league’s early days.
Watching a Stanford pipeline of players into the league through a quarter-century – from Jennifer Azzi to Nicole Powell, to Jayne Appel to Candice Wiggins to the Ogwumike sisters to Karlie Samuelson and Erica McCall and Alanna Smith, to now Lexie Hull and Haley Jones. Seeing Cal send its own players into the league – Layshia Clarendon, Reshanda Gray, Kristine Anigwe and Brittany Boyd. Rooting from afar.
Waiting for the Warriors and their owner Joe Lacob – the former owner of the San Jose Lasers of the American Basketball League (ABL) and faithful season ticket holder at Stanford (who frequently sat across from my press row seat with his kids) – to be ready. They tried to buy the Los Angeles Sparks back in 2014, but it wasn’t the right time. And well, Magic Johnson happened.
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Back in 2018, at an event before the NBA Finals, then-team president Rick Welts told me that the team wanted to wait until they had the team settled into their new home at the Chase Center on the San Francisco waterfront.
The team moved in, had a terrible debut season in their new home (thanks to injuries to Curry and Thompson and the departure of Kevin Durant) and then the COVID pandemic hit in 2020. Not a good time.
It’s taken three years – three years in which the WNBA has leaned hard into the kind of activism that the Bay Area will love, expanded their sponsorships, interest, attendance and ratings, proved the quality of the product and cemented its long-term future.
Now it appears the Warriors are ready. The WNBA is ready. The Bay Area has been ready for years.
The news, broken by Marcus Thompson of The Athletic, that a deal is close to being finalized and announced feels very real. The fact that on Wednesday, the team told The San Francisco Chronicle that “productive conversations” are being had doesn’t stop the speculation that this is finally a done deal, pending approval by the WNBA Board of Governors.
What’s not to approve? Lacob is as close to a sure thing in terms of team ownership that the league may have ever had in its history.
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While another ownership group, AASEG Oakland, led by former WNBA standout Alana Beard, indicated in media reports that it still intends to submit a bid, the group has been quiet for months after announcing their intent to vie for a team last spring. The ground has shifted, almost literally. The Oakland A’s ownership group, currently working on a franchise move to Las Vegas, owns half of the property where the Oakland Arena – AASEG’s stated home for the team – is located. A’s owner John Fisher is refusing to sell his half of the property to AASEG, according to media reports.
And AASEG has gone all in on a soccer facility near the Coliseum site to support the Oakland Roots and Oakland Soul professional teams.
The Warriors will have no such barriers.
Joe Lacob is buying a different, more valuable product that he would have back in 2014. And he will pay a bigger price – likely well north of $50 million. He will be able to afford it with ease.
When all the papers are signed, Lacob quickly becomes the wealthiest owner in the WNBA – the Warriors are worth an estimated $7 billion. He built the Warriors into a first-class organization and there is no reason to assume he won’t do the same for a WNBA team that he’s long wanted.
He is another well-resourced owner – in the mold of the Aces’ Mark Davis and Brooklyn’s Joe Tsai – who is willing to up the level of the league and its players. That puts further upward pressure on the WNBA in the critical areas of charter flights and player contracts.
It adds another 12 roster spots to the league.
It adds the fifth largest media market to the league’s ability to attract sponsors and media partners.
It is a no-brainer. And still it took 27 years.
The excitement here is already palpable.
Tara Vanderveer said the Bay Area will heartily embrace a team.
“Basketball is in the Bay Area blood, people love basketball here and they can’t ever seem to get enough,” VanDerveer said. “I’m thrilled and I do know that when Joe Lacob gets involved in something, the WNBA better look out. I think it’s going to be awesome.
Cal head coach Charmin Smith, who played at Stanford, played in the WNBA for three seasons for Minnesota, Seattle (as an expansion draft pick) and Phoenix.
“I think it’s amazing and long overdue!! I’m really glad the Warriors organization is stepping up and investing in our game. The WNBA and the Bay deserve this,” Smith said. “It’s great for our players and our staff to have the highest level of women’s basketball right in our backyard. I can’t wait to get my season tickets.”
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Mary Murphy, a longtime women’s basketball analyst for the Pac-12 Network, was the head coach of the Sacramento Monarchs in their inaugural season in 1997. She called the news that an announcement from the Warriors and the league are prepared to make an expansion announcement a “transforming event.”
“The Bay Area is a gold standard for girls and women’s basketball,” Murphy said. “The Warriors, the cities of Oakland and San Francisco, the rich history of Tara’s teams at Stanford. Joe Lacob was an original believer in the ABL. He brought pro women’s basketball to San Jose when no one else understood the vision. This is an amazing thing and it’s going to be fun.”
And worth the wait.
Written by Michelle Smith
Michelle Smith has covered women's basketball nationally for nearly three decades. Smith has worked for ESPN.com, The Athletic, the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as Pac-12.com and WNBA.com. She was named to the Alameda County Women's Hall of Fame in 2015, is the 2017 recipient of the Jake Wade Media Award from the Collegiate Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA) and was named the Mel Greenberg Media Award winner by the WBCA in 2019.