Tulsa, Here We Come!!

By Perry A. Farrell
Updated: October 21, 2009

DETROIT — Tom Wilson lamented the departure of the Shock on Tuesday.

“The losers are sort of us and the fans we had, because we had a wonderful ride,” said Wilson, president of Palace Sports and Entertainment. “We had a lot of great times and great memories. We still fundamentally believe in the product. We couldn’t find the magic to make it work.”

Wilson blamed the economy for the Shock’s departure to Tulsa, Okla., as well as the summer sports climate in southeast Michigan.

“As we looked at things here from a financial standpoint, everything is so hard right now,” Wilson said. “The eight major teams you are fighting with — and it’s basketball in the summer, when we want to spend our time outdoors.”

The WNBA season extends from June to September.

“It’s all the things we sort of struggled with all along,” Wilson said. “And we just were never able to get that critical mass of people that you need to be successful — despite hundreds of people here working on this thing and dedicated to it. We just couldn’t seem to make it work.”

At a news conference in Oklahoma on Tuesday, WNBA president Donna Orender praised the Davidson family, the Pistons organization and Shock fans in Detroit for “helping us grow the game of women’s basketball.”

Bill Davidson, who owned the Pistons and the Shock, died in March.

Terms of the Shock’s transfer to Tulsa Pro Hoops LLC, an ownership group led by Oklahoma City businessmen Bill Cameron and David Box, were not disclosed. Cameron also is a part of the ownership group of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.

Shock veteran Plenette Pierson said Tuesday: “I’m still in shock right now. It hasn’t really hit me yet.

“We understand it’s a business venture to take on a WNBA team. … The reason why we’re moving to Tulsa is that we didn’t obtain the necessary fans and revenue that we needed. This is a job. People are being hit by the recession and losing their jobs. We’re just thankful that there’s another city willing to take us.”

The Shock — winners of three WNBA championships in 12 seasons — is believed to have lost about $20 million in the past 10 years. Wilson said discussions with the league about the team’s transfer began a month to six weeks ago and intensified about a week ago.

“We told them we were out of ideas,” Wilson said, “and in this economy it’s going to be how long before things turn around? We have our own challenges with the Pistons, as all the sports teams are having right now with ticket sales and advertising. We needed to concentrate on the bigger projects that we have and not take our focus off that. …

“It was a perfect opportunity (for Tulsa). It keeps all the ladies employed, allows them to stay together, and gives a new market a competitive team rather than taking everybody’s ninth player.”

Wilson said seeing the team leave is mostly bitter, but the sweet part is the three championships the Shock won in 2003, 2006 and 2008.

“The hardest part is that we did have a lot of success,” Wilson said. “When you have 20,000 people in here for a championship game … it was incredibly fun and incredibly electric.”

“You kind of thought even after the first championship, ‘Boy, next year we’re really going to see the uptake,’ and it just never quite came. … For us we just couldn’t make it work financially.”

Said Pierson: “Winning the championships in 2006 and 2008 were great memories for me. I’ve learned so many things here … intangible things I’ll never forget.

“The way they treated us as players, and the organization was great to us. There was nothing in the world we had to want for. Everything we wanted we had.”

Wilson said he sympathizes with the Shock faithful.

“People are upset,” he said. “They are disappointed or angered by the move, and we understand that. One of the things about sports is it touches emotional cords, and losing something that is a part of your particular life is difficult.

“But again there aren’t millions of people feeling that. We never became sort of water-cooler talk for the masses.”