WNBA has a vacant position: league president


Reneé Brown deserves to be the next WNBA president. Photo by Earl Truitt


They could make history (and make a prediction come true) by hiring Reneé Brown

By Charles Hallman

Staff Writer

The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), which will begin its 15th season later this year, continues to be the “out of sight, out of mind” league among U.S. major pro sports. It is rarely talked about during its four-month regular season during the summer months, let alone during its off-season, which regularly lasts from mid-September to April.  

This certainly isn’t the case with other sports: Virtually every day there’s something written or said about baseball during its off-season, and the same holds for football, hockey and basketball. Even college football is talked about more than America’s longest running women’s pro league, which currently is in its free agent period until February 1. There are 21 unrestricted free agents.  

Several changes have taken place since the 2010 season ended that have only gotten underground notice. Two of the four coaching vacancies were filled by Black women: Pokey Chatmon and Trudi Lacey will hold dual roles as head coach and general manager at Chicago and Washington, respectively. This brings the total of WNBA Black head coaches to five, three of whom are female. 

Teresa Edwards, a former Minnesota Lynx player and assistant coach, was named Tulsa director of player personnel.

The WNBA Board of Governors last month unanimously approved several modifications to the instant replay rules that will go into effect this upcoming season. 

However, the biggest off-season change took place when Donna Orender announced she was stepping down as league president at the end of last year. She succeeded Val Ackerman in 2005.

The league-issued December 3 press release claims that under Orender’s watch the WNBA saw growth in attendance, sponsorship, and the much ballyhooed eight-year extension of its television contract with ABC and ESPN2, which treat the league as poor stepsisters in both coverage and telecast scheduling.

Yet the release didn’t mention that two former league champions (Houston and Sacramento) shut down operations, and a third (Detroit) relocated to Tulsa, where the team essentially became an expansion franchise. All this occurred under Orender as well. 

Throughout her reign I’ve had my qualms with Orender, who seemingly preferred the Pollyanna approach to answering crucial questions about how much money ABC/ESPN2 was paying the WNBA and the league’s overall survival status. Her predecessor Ackerman was more forthcoming and didn’t mind being asked tough questions.

When Ackerman stepped down, I lobbied for Reneé Brown as WNBA president, who at the time was second in command as basketball operations chief and player personnel director. Now, six years later, I again am pushing for Brown, who is still in that position and has been with the WNBA since its founding in 1996. 

She is presently the highest ranking Black woman in pro sports. More importantly, Brown shouldn’t again receive the Simon Gourdine treatment. 

Simon who? Gourdine held three positions during his 11-year stint with the National Basketball Association (1970-81), including seven years as deputy commissioner. When Lawrence O’Brien was named commissioner in 1974, he named Gourdine his deputy, which made him at the time pro sports’ highest ranking Black executive.

However, when the NBA top spot later became vacant, Gourdine was passed over for current commish David Stern, and he eventually left the league. He said in a New York Times article that he had hit a glass ceiling as deputy commissioner and it was time to move on.  

I’d say it was a cement ceiling and he realized it as such.

Gourdine later resurfaced in 1990 as the NBA Players Association general counsel and was named executive director in 1995. But he was accused by players of being too cooperative with the NBA bigwigs during their 1995 labor dispute, which eventually resulted in the league’s first-ever lockout.  

After he successfully negotiated a new deal that many players didn’t like, the players’ reps met in 1996 and voted to replace Gourdine, even though the union’s executive board had earlier extended his contract.

“If sports ever [has] a Black commissioner, it will be in basketball,” said Gourdine in the 1981 Times article.

Brown knows her league inside and out. Wouldn’t it be fitting if, 30 years later, the WNBA bigwigs were to make Gourdine’s prediction come true by naming Brown the first Black president of a major-league pro basketball league that is mostly composed of Black female players?

This columnist says yes.

Lynx Lines  

For the first time in franchise history, Minnesota will play in the WNBA’s season tip-off game at Los Angeles June 3. It is not nationally televised, however — the Lynx’s only national TV game isn’t until August 2 when they host Phoenix. The team’s home opener is June 5 vs. Los Angeles. 

The Lynx still have the 2011 overall pick in the 2011 WNBA Draft. Three of the 15 top draft prospects are Maya Moore (Connecticut), Jantel Lavender (Ohio State) and Amber Harris (Xavier). The six-foot Moore is the best player in the draft, and the UConn senior forward’s name should be called when Minnesota’s turn comes up this spring.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com, or read his blog: www.wwwchallman.blogspot.com.