Despite Changes, WNBA Moves On

By Melody Gutierrez
Updated: February 11, 2007

WNBA SACRAMENTO — Two teams were sold and another folded, creating a not-so-off offseason for the WNBA.

And the turnover doesn’t stop there. The league’s two highest-profile coaches — Monarchs coach John Whisenant and veteran Houston Comets coach Van Chancellor — stepped down, while the Los Angeles Sparks’ Lisa Leslie, the most recognizable WNBA player, announced she is pregnant and will miss this season.

However, don’t expect WNBA President Donna Orender to sound the alarms or deviate from the silver-lining prognosis she’s delivered since taking over in 2005.

“The WNBA is moving forward,” Orender said.

Looking ahead may be easier than focusing on the offseason headlines. The Charlotte Sting, one of eight original franchises, folded Jan. 3, bringing the 11-year-old league to 13 teams. The announcement seemed at odds with Orender’s previous statements that the league would expand by a team a year.

However, Orender said expansion in 2008 is a good possibility despite the loss of Charlotte.

“There was a fan base in Charlotte that wants a team, but the WNBA has to move on for now,” Orender said. “We are talking to several markets interested in a team. These are deals that take some time. We should have an additional team in 2008.”

Among the cities that have expressed an interest in a WNBA franchise are Kansas City, Mo., Atlanta and Bentonville, Ark., home city of Wal-Mart.

The sale of the Comets from Les Alexander to furniture magnate Hilton Koch was finalized last week. The Sparks were sold in December to an investment group led by season-ticket holders Katherine Goodman and Carla Christofferson. The team was previously owned by Lakers owner Jerry Buss.

The Sparks and Comets joined the Connecticut Sun and Chicago Sky as independently owned franchises.

In 2002, the NBA Board of Governors granted approval for WNBA teams to be located in non-NBA markets and to be owned by non-NBA owners.

ESPN commentator and Monarchs guard Kara Lawson said the problems facing the WNBA aren’t unique to the women’s league.

“Certainly, it is disappointing to lose a franchise, to lose a city that was one of the firsts,” Lawson said. “If you look all around sports in every league there are franchises dealing with keeping a team. It’s what happens in pro sports.”

As for Orender, she remains busy traveling the country promoting the WNBA, which opens training camp in April. The Monarchs travel to Detroit for their first game on May 19, which will be nationally televised on ABC.

“I wouldn’t call it an offseason,” Orender said. “It’s more of an on-season.”