Retiring WNBA veteran leaves behind an ‘extraordinary’ legacy

SOECharlesHallmansquareRenee Brown was an integral part of the WNBA since its drawing-board days. She signed the league’s first players. She has been involved with all on-court basketball operations and player-related programs. She represented the league at USA Basketball since 1996, including as selection committee chair for the U.S. women’s basketball team, which won six Olympic gold medals during her stints.

Brown announced last month that she is stepping down after 20 years. Her last day was October 20, but she will help find her successor before she joins the Jr. NBA Leadership Council.

“To every player who has worn a WNBA jersey, thank you. It has been a privilege serving all of you,” said Brown in a released statement.

Renee Brown
Renee Brown (Onika Nicole Craven/MSR News)

“Renee and I started this league together,” Sheryl Swoopes informed the MSR. She was the very first player Brown inked to a W contract. “I remember going to the NBA All-Star Game — it was me pregnant and Renee Brown,” the Hall of Famer recalled. “[Then] I knew the significance she had.”

That significance over the years — Brown first was player personnel director, then, since 2005, basketball operations and player relations chief — seems to have been overlooked, however.

League President Lisa Borders told the MSR, “I’ve known Renee for 10-plus years. But I had not had the privilege of working so intimately with her” until Borders became head of the league this past spring.

Mostly avoiding the limelight save for conducting the annual draft’s second-round proceedings and handing out individual player and coach honors at the end of the season, Brown nonetheless was one of the few Black women in such a high position in pro sports.

“Her service has been invaluable to the league,” continued Borders of Brown. “Her institutional knowledge is priceless, so Renee has done an extraordinary tour of duty. She will help us find her successor.”

Whenever possible Brown and I would chat, but she usually avoided lengthy interviews, preferring instead to allow her work do the talking. “It’s been great to watch the WNBA,” she told us earlier this season. “Thanks to the NBA, whether it be David [Stern, former NBA commissioner] or Val [Ackerman founding league president] and their vision 20 years ago, it’s great to see.

“I’ve enjoyed it,” added Brown. “I’m lucky that Val 20 years ago invited me. I’ve enjoyed the journey.”

“I’m not sure a lot of people know what her role has been, or [that] people have given her the credit for helping this thing make it,” surmised Swoopes. “She built bridges and connections working with all these different players.”

Brown will be missed, but according to Borders she won’t be forgotten: “She’s never leaving the WNBA family. I got her cell phone number, and I know her email address. So she will stay close with us,” concluded the president. “She has been invaluable to the league, and we’re not going to let her go very far.”

Diversity derailed

What happens to the coach who took a perennial non-playoff club and turned them into contenders in six seasons, including its first playoff appearance in 2013, the finals the following season, and the semifinals this season? She gets fired.

Pokey Chatman, after six seasons, was fired last week as Chicago Sky general manager and head coach. She posted a 106-98 regular season record, including 18-16 in 2016.

Unless something changes, the WNBA in 2017 will not have a single Black female head coach for the first time in league history.


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