WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert insists that any expansion talk won’t begin earlier than next summer. If so, an all-Black ownership group from Oakland, CA would be the first in America to start a major league franchise from its beginning.
The African American Sports & Entertainment Group (AASEG) announced October 27 that at present all municipal hurdles have been cleared, including unanimous approval from the city council, Alameda County Board of Supervisors, and the stadium commission for a WNBA team to play at Oakland Arena, once the home of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors (1971-2019).
Several key individuals involved in the AASEG WNBA project were introduced to the media virtually, including the MSR. Founder Ray Bobbitt told reporters, “Many of us were born or raised in East Oakland, and many of us have had contact with sports and entertainment growing up.”
Pushing for a women’s pro basketball team, he said, “is something that’s very, very exciting for us, and everybody who’s involved in the project is highly committed to it.”
Recently retired WNBA player Alana Beard heads the all-Black female leadership group along with Oakland natives, attorney Jade Smith-Williams, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, and local entrepreneur Samantha Wise among other notables.
“This is huge for the city of Oakland,” said Wise. “We have the city support, the leadership support, the community support. So it’s time for us to bring sports back to the city.”
Although not a city native, the Southern-born Beard, now working and living in Oakland, pointed out, “I strongly believe in our ability to accomplish great things together. So I’m excited about this partnership.”
Even more important, the AASEG has secured the necessary funding for a sports franchise start-up, noted Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan when asked about it. Too often money questions pop up whenever a Black individual or group gets involved in team ownership, she added. “Sometimes [there] tend to be people who put inappropriate questioning on Black-run groups,” said Kaplan, who has been involved in trying to bring the WNBA to Oakland since 2014.
Loop Capital, the largest Black-owned financial organization in the U.S., is a major backer of the Oakland WNBA project, reported Kaplan. “I think it is an incredible assemblage of talents and competence.”
“This is an opportunity for Black women to be out in front,” added Smith-Williams.
Asked to speak on the historical possibility of an all-Black female ownership group in the WNBA, Garza told the MSR, “It’s actually one of the reasons that I’m on board with this project. Black women have taken an important and incredible leadership role in making change and being change makers. This project is the leadership of Black women.
“It just aligns at almost every level in terms of my values and the things that I prioritize and want to invest my time in,” said Garza.
The MSR asked Commissioner Engelbert about the Oakland AASEG group during her August 31 visit to Minnesota. She stressed “committed owners” are among the many factors the league will consider if and when expansion cities are selected.
“We will be talking about [expansion] more seriously, how many and the types of cities, this time next year,” Engelbert predicted.
Bobbitt told the MSR, “I’m directly in communication with Christy Hedgpath, the CEO of the WNBA. She has helped us go through the process of knowing exactly what the requirements are going to be.
“We weren’t necessarily waiting on the expansion strategy of the league per se,” he said. Nonetheless, the AASEG wants “to be prepared to execute immediately when that becomes available. They have been receptive.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.