WNBA announces sale of Atlanta Dream from ex-senator Kelly Loeffler

The WNBA and the NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved the sale of the Atlanta Dream on Friday, ending defeated Republican senator Kelly Loeffler’s tumultuous stint as a WNBA owner.

Larry Gottesdiener, chairman of the Massachusetts-based real estate private equity firm Northland Investment Corporation, will head a three-member investment group comprised of himself, Northland president and chief operating officer Suzanne Abair and former Dream star Renee Montgomery, who will become the first former player to become both an owner and executive of a WNBA team.

“With the unanimous WNBA and NBA votes, today marks a new beginning for the Atlanta Dream organization and we are very pleased to welcome Larry Gottesdiener and Suzanne Abair to the WNBA,” league commissioner Cathy Engelbert said. “I admire their passion for women’s basketball, but more importantly, have been impressed with their values. I am also thrilled that former WNBA star Renee Montgomery will be joining the ownership group as an investor and executive for the team. Renee is a trailblazer who has made a major impact both in the game and beyond.”

Players around the league called for Loeffler to sell her 49% stake in the Dream after she wrote a letter to Engelbert over the summer objecting to the league’s initiatives to advocate for racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Loeffler, who established a reputation as an ultra-Trump loyalist following her appointment to the upper chamber by Georgia governor Brian Kemp in 2018, alleged the organization supported “the defunding of police, called for the removal of Jesus from churches and the disruption of the nuclear family structure harbored anti-Semitic views, and promoted violence and destruction across the country”, adding that highlighting one “particular political agenda undermines the potential of the sport and sends a message of exclusion”.

When calls by the WNBA players’ union for the CEO-turned-lawmaker to sell her shares of the team went unanswered, WNBA players started to endorse and campaign for her opponent, Democrat Raphael Warnock, who defeated Loeffler in Georgia’s runoff election on 5 January. That result, combined with Jon Ossoff’s victory in a runoff for Georgia’s other Senate seat, handed Democrats control of the US senate.

A campaign organized by Seattle Storm point guard Sue Bird three months before the November election, which saw players throughout the league wear “Vote Warnock” T-shirts to games rather than broadcast criticism of Loeffler, was credited as key factor in elevating Warnock’s profile.

The sale of the team was celebrated on Friday by prominent WNBA figures who have decried Loeffler’s views as antithetical to everything the 24-year-old league stands for.

“It is time for the women of the Atlanta Dream and their fans to have an opportunity to heal and move forward. It is our fervent wish that we shall never see again such an abuse of power and arrogant display of privilege,” Terri Jackson, the executive director of the players’ union, said in a statement. “It is our hope that no one will ever again attempt to use the players for individual political gain or favor. Those actions were unbelievably selfish, reckless and dangerous. And those who would conduct themselves in that manner have absolutely no place in our sport.”

Loeffler commented on the sale in joint statement with co-owner Mary Brock, saying they were proud of their decade-long stewardship and wished the team well moving forward.

“Ten years ago we stepped up to keep the Dream in Atlanta, as an important asset for a vibrant and diverse city,” it read. “It was also important to us to help level the playing field for women’s professional sports. We are proud of what we accomplished and wish the team well in their next chapter. We will always value the hard work and dedication, and the memories, fans and friendships that sustained our commitment to the Atlanta Dream over the last decade.”

Montgomery, a two-time WNBA champion with the Minnesota Lynx who sat out the 2020 season to focus on social justice issues and recently announced her retirement after 11 pro seasons, embraced her role as a trailblazer in statement.

“My Dream has come true,” Montgomery said. “Breaking barriers for minorities and women by being the first former WNBA player to have both a stake in ownership and a leadership role with the team is an opportunity that I take very seriously.”

The Dream become the second WNBA franchise to change ownership in the last two months. The Las Vegas Aces were bought, pending approval from the board of governors, by Mark Davis, owner of the NFL’s Raiders.


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