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Renee Montgomery's Atlanta ownership is turning Dream into reality for WNBA players

Ex-Atlanta Dream guard Renee Montgomery is the first former player to become both an owner and executive of a WNBA franchise; WNBPA President Nneka Ogwumike says Montgomery has 'opened the doors and the minds of players to consider how they want to continue to be involved going forward'

Renee Montgomery during her Atlanta playing career (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)
Image: Renee Montgomery during her Atlanta Dream playing career (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

Renee Montgomery is not the first former player to own a piece of a WNBA team. That honour goes to Lisa Leslie, who told the Associated Press in 2011: "I think [ownership is] sort of the responsibility we have as former players to try to continue to grow the sport of basketball."

LA Sparks legend Leslie acted more as an investor rather than taking a leading role in handling the day-to-day business of running the franchise. She relinquished her stake in the team in 2013, and Williams Group Holdings sold the team to a new group that includes NBA and LA Lakers legend Magic Johnson.

Another former player includes Chicago Sky co-owner Margaret Stender, but her basketball career peaked at being a co-captain at the University of Richmond and she failed to turn pro.

Sources suggest up to five groups were interested in acquiring the Atlanta Dream, including a number of former players, and even some current and former NBA players expressed an interest.

Montgomery’s joint bid with Larry Gottesdiener and Suzanne Abair makes the two-time WNBA champion the first former player to also become a team executive.

"Honestly, in my 11-year career I don’t think I’ve cried as much as I have in these last couple of months," she said in a press conference introducing the new owner.

It’s emotional because it’s the start of a new journey for the recently retired Dream guard and her family, but it has also been a trying situation for the team and the league.

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Renee Montgomery is one of the new owners of the Atlanta Dream (AP image)
Image: Renee Montgomery is one of the new owners of the Atlanta Dream (AP image)

The previous co-owner Kelly Loeffler took ownership of the team in 2011 with her partner Mary Brock. To begin, there was the usual optimism and it worked out well for Atlanta - reaching the Finals twice - with the owners taking backseat roles and employing executives to run the Dream.

Over the years, Loeffler quietly contributed to Republican Party fundraising efforts, to which few people batted an eyelid. Even last year, former Dream player Angel McCoughtry said: “I love Kelly Loeffler. She has done nothing but give give give!! She has helped us women continue to maintain a job even when she had made nothing in return. Kelly has always had my back when I needed her, And she would have yours too. I will never judge a person on their political views. That’s what makes the world unique. We get so caught up on what’s going wrong. I remember the million things Kelly has done right.”

This endorsement came after allegations of insider trading, but she became more of a household in early 2020 when she became the interim Senator after the Republican incumbent suffered from ill-health.

The seat was up for election during the Presidential election, and early in the process Loeffler was considered by some in the party to be too liberal to be taken seriously - due to her ownership of a women’s sports franchise - so she went out of her way to publicly promote her pro-gun, pro-life, pro-wall and pro-Trump views, as outlined in Lindsay Gibbs' Power Plays column.

Former Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
Image: Former Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Loeffler’s views flared up last summer during the protests sparked by George Floyd’s murder, when she wrote to league Commissioner Cathy Engelbert to air her disapproval for the WNBA’s plans to honour Black Lives Matter and Say Her Name campaigns during last season.

Players spoke openly about the need to remove Loeffler from any association with the WNBA, and even her own team began campaigning for her political opponent in the Senatorial race.

So when the ownership change was announced, supporters from all walks of life expressed their admiration. Two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry told Kerith Burke: "It really speaks for itself in terms of how you flip a terrible situation and a misrepresentation of what the WNBA is about on its head. For Renee and that group to come in, it’s awesome to see and very inspirational in terms of where we are headed, in terms of turning these conversations into action and opportunity and accomplishment like that."

WNBA MVP and the WNBPA President Nneka Ogwumike told Sky Sports how the move might have a knock-on effect for other players who look to build careers after their playing days are over: "She has definitely opened the doors and opened the minds of players to really consider how they want to continue to be involved going forward.

"I’ve never really considered myself being involved in ownership but I'm definitely someone who can continue to influence women in sport, especially in basketball. As we experience Renee becoming part of the Atlanta Dream ownership group, I hope that it brings attention for other women, who are clearly in the position and have resources to own women’s sports teams, to do so."

One current player who is glad to see Montgomery make moves is Minnesota Lynx guard Lexie Brown. While she told Sky Sports that she had never had aspirations to be an owner, Brown said: “It could definitely grow into that eventually though.

"I always knew it was possible. I’ve seen players become owners of other female teams and I’ve always wondered why it’s never been a WNBA team. Hopefully, this encourages more women to invest in our league."

Chicago Sky’s Candace Parker and her daughter Lailaa recently bought into the women’s soccer team Angel City FC, along with other athletes. This concept is a big reason why Montgomery received the backing she has.

Her partner Gottesdiener is the chairman of Northland, a real estate investment company, and was impressed with what the WNBA achieved last year. He said: "They have a voice, and we’re proud in this situation to be helping Renee break some barriers and trying to bring more women and more women of colour into senior management.

"Not just in the W but particularly in the W, there are some incredibly intelligent thoughtful women that need to see that there are opportunities in management, in ownership, and leverage off their incredible talent for future careers."

Candace Parker in action for the Los Angeles Sparks (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Image: Candace Parker in action for the Los Angeles Sparks (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Montgomery has enthusiasm in abundance. You only have to listen to an episode of her Remotely Renee podcast to hear what a cheerleader she can be and the former All-Star praised the great women in her life when being introduced as the new owner.

"I was very fortunate to play for some powerhouse women," she said. "One of the first that pops in my mind is [Lynx coach] Cheryl Reeve and [Dream coach] Nicki Collen. I was able to play for women, and that was exciting. Not to say that I didn’t really enjoy playing for men, because as you guys know, I love me some Geno Auriemma, so I'm excited; I went to UConn and played for him. But it's also exciting when you do get to see women in these power positions.

"The women of the WNBA are not just great at basketball, which they are, but also they're great at being advocates and they have things to say. And so it's beautiful when the community embraces it, and we want to just kind of continue to add fuel to that."

Montgomery has taken the most inspiration from her mother, who she affectionately calls 'Snooka Booka'.

She said: "[My mother has] been everything. She showed me what it looked like to be a powerful businesswoman from a young age. She was working multiple jobs, she was a professor, and she was working other jobs just to make sure that we had more than we needed and not just enough.

"I saw her work ethic and it was exciting to me. I’m sure that's why I get it from both of my parents. My parents have been married 40-plus years. They're the prototype for me in the sense of just how to go about things, not only as a business professional but just as a human being living with other people, and that meant to be respectful and to carry myself a certain way. I always took pride in that."

From her mother to the players that came before her, Montgomery has been inspired by incredible women. She sat out last season to stand up for social justice and the beliefs that have been instilled in her.

Her actions helped oust someone from the league who does not stand alongside the WNBA's beliefs, and now Montgomery is clearing a path to ownership for others behind her. She might not be the first in some ways, but because of Montgomery's actions this past year, she will definitely not be the last.

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