June 11, 2023 

Institutional Knowledge: When the WNBA expands, it has to be Oakland

Column: With multiple interested parties, and a painful history of having the rug pulled out, Oakland deserves this

To be an Oakland sports fan is to deeply understand the art of the screw-over.

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You presided over one the most raucous atmospheres in the NBA. Until a prettier, shinier arena on the other side of the San Francisco Bay, dripping with tech money and gold champagne goblets (yes, really), beckoned. Bye, bye, Warriors.

A football team, that for the 25 years they were in town since the last time they abandoned you, found the most amazingly creative ways to be a bad team for most of a quarter-century. Yet you showed up anyway, wearing your face paint and body spikes, until Vegas money beckoned. Bye, bye, Raiders.

And now, the Oakland A’s become the biggest insult imaginable to an injured East Bay fan base. Strip the roster for parts every single year. Let the stadium – that ironically, you insisted you needed, which was a big factor in driving the Raiders out of town – fall into disrepair. And then raise prices and act like it’s the fans’ fault that the stands are empty. Which is easier, frankly, than taking responsibility for what might end up being the worst team in the history of baseball. And now you are leaving town for potentially a worse deal than you would have had here in Oakland? You have GOT to be kidding.

Let me take you through the last 10 days for A’s fans.

Spend Memorial Day watching the Nevada legislature debate their budget on YouTube, only to find out the team’s half-baked stadium proposal in Las Vegas wouldn’t be voted on. Brief optimism.

Find out the Governor – who wants to get this very bad, no good, terrible deal done – calls a special session on Wednesday night. Watch with a little glee and a lot of hope as A’s ownership is roasted on a spit in a public forum. They can’t possibly vote for this, right? Well, not on Wednesday.

Watch the Governor call another special session on Thursday, scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. But it never starts. Because as Thomas Jefferson said in Hamilton “(They) don’t have the votes.”

So now it’s gonna be Monday, and the Governor is spending the weekend making promises and adding amendments to convince the same people who laid waste to A’s ownership on Wednesday to vote for a deal that looked like a no-brainer “NO” just a few days ago. And they just might do it.

This is, admittedly, a long and winding road to the topic of the WNBA and expansion. Bear with me.
Commissioner Cathy Englebert spoke in Chicago at the Sports Business Journal Brand Innovation Summit earlier this week. There, she cited Denver, Austin, Philadelphia, Toronto, San Francisco and Charlotte as cities the league is considering for expansion. And she said the league hopes to add two teams in time for the 2025 season.

I’m going to assume that by San Francisco, Englebert means the Bay Area, a coveted market for the league for a long time. A place with a long and strong history of supporting women’s sports, a political environment that will align well with the league’s activism, and oh yes, the tech money.

We know there is interest. The Golden State Warriors remain interested “when the timing and economics are right,” said a team spokesperson in response to a status check.

And we know that the African American Sports and Entertainment Group (AASEG) has been working on making a case for the last two years. AASEG’s WNBA efforts are headed by former WNBA All-Star Alana Beard, have the backing of Oakland elected officials and community leaders and the group is in negotiations with the City of Oakland for the City’s 50% interest in the Oakland Coliseum complex. The complex includes the Oakland Arena, which the AASEG has said would serve as the home floor for an Oakland WNBA team.

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If there were competing bids in the Bay Area, this would be a tough choice.

Warriors owner Joe Lacob is a billionaire and has established ties to the women’s game, including his years as an owner in the American Basketball League and a Stanford women’s basketball season ticket holder. He could quickly put the team in the same financial echelon as New York and Las Vegas.

But the opportunity to have a ground-breaking African-American ownership group, led by a former player in Beard, would be hugely appealing to the players, and almost certainly to the league. And while the league has not yet set an expansion fee for teams interested in joining the league in 2025 – it’s speculated to be around $50 million – it’s believed the group could meet this price and would be able to give a WNBA team its full attention.

I’m putting my stake in the ground.

It has to be Oakland.

In a perfect world, Lacob and AASEG, who are already in a “cooperation agreement” with the Oakland Roots and Oakland Soul soccer teams, could partner to make this happen. The Warriors get a chance to tangibly show their support for the city they left behind and attach their brand to the women’s game. A barrier-busting ownership group in AASEG gets a deep-pocketed partner to immediately elevate a new franchise.

The team would have an NBA-caliber arena to play in, a community that would embrace them, and Oakland fans get something to look forward to.

And man, do we deserve it.

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.


  1. Bob Lamm on June 12, 2023 at 8:03 pm

    This is so painful to read.

    When I was nine or 10 years old, living in a suburb that borders the Bronx, my father came home from work and told me that my beloved Brooklyn Dodgers were abandoning me and the city I love. I’d seen Jackie Robinson play in Ebbets Field. I cried. I will always curse Walter O’Malley.

    Michelle Smith has had a very distinguished career and obviously knows 100 times more about women’s basketball–or sports in general–than I do. But to write “It HAS to be Oakland” and “… man, do we deserve it…” of course she’s right. EXCEPT that this is not the sports world–or the larger business world–of the United States. Never has been. I learned that in my tears all those decades ago. I’ve lived 66 more years to be bitterly proven right again and again.

    I taught a class on “The Politics of Sports” at Queens College in NYC in 1975. It focused on sports and sexism, sports and racism, sports as a capitalist industry, and the fan pathologies of sports. It was one of the first such college classes in the U.S. Has there been progress since then? Yes. Absolutely. But the same poisons still rule. I love sports. I love athletics. I hate our sick, corrupt, bigoted sports world. When the next horrific scandal happens in basketball or wherever, will anyone be surprised?

    For the sake of Michelle Smith, for the sake of WNBA fans and all sports fans in Oakland and nearby, I dearly hope that Oakland gets a WNBA team in the coming expansion. I’ll be shocked if that happens. I hope I’m proven wrong in this case. I know I’m not wrong about our sports world.

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