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The Atlanta Dream is changing ownership hands, putting an end to more than a year's worth of controversy under its former co-owner, ex-Senator Kelly Loeffler.
The WNBA approved the sale of the team to a three-member investor group that includes Renee Montgomery, a former Dream player who announced her retirement this month. The ownership is completed by Larry Gottesdiener, chairman of real estate firm Northland, and officer Suzanne Abair, president and chief operating officer of Northland.
“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," WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement. "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.”
The sale garnered immediate support from fans and fellow athletes alike, including LeBron James. It also elicited a strong, final statement from the WNBPA on the matter that included a "fervent wish that we shall never see again such an abuse of power and arrogant display of privilege."
Montgomery's ownership a first for WNBA
Montgomery, a two-time WNBA champion, will be the first former player to become both an owner and executive of a WNBA team. The new ownership comes at a time when people in the WNBA are pushing for former players to get more looks at positions in coaching and front office roles.
She opted out of the 2020 season to focus on social justice initiatives and said on her "Remotely Renee" podcast she would focus on those in retirement.
“My Dream has come true,” Montgomery, who joined the Dream ahead of the 2018 season, said in a statement. “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. I invite you to join me as the Dream builds momentum in Atlanta!”
Montgomery, 34, won both her championships while with the Lynx. She was the fourth overall pick in the 2009 draft out of Connecticut, where she won a national title her senior year.
Dream sale ends Loeffler affiliation
The team was previously owned by Mary Brock and Kelly Loeffler, the former U.S. Senator from Georgia who was appointed to a position in January 2020. The league's players helped her opponent, Raphael Warnock, win the senate seat she ran for after she criticized the W's support of the Black Lives Matter and Say Her Name movements.
Brock and Loeffler took over the team in 2011 and up until Loeffler's political run, the two were applauded as one of the few all-female ownership teams.
"Ten years ago we stepped up to keep the Dream in Atlanta, as an important asset for a vibrant and diverse city," Brock and Loeffler said in a statement provided to the WNBA. "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."
Loeffler's ownership was becoming a problem for the league even after she lost her race for senate. There were reports that free agents were not interested in playing for her in Atlanta, creating a competitive imbalance for the team.
WNBPA: Strong reminder players are 'bigger than basketball'
On top of her open letter to Engelbert opposing the BLM movement, Loeffler supported former President Donald Trump's baseless claims that the election was stolen and embraced an endorsement from a QAnon supporter. She also ironically stated "no one asked for politics in sports" while running for senate as a co-owner of a sports team.
Multiple times throughout the year, Loeffler insisted she would not sell her stake in the team. While the players and players association initially issued statements saying Loeffler should be ousted, they changed their approach and instead helped tank her political campaign by supporting Warnock.
The WNBPA issued a strong statement of support after news of the sale and called Montgomery's inclusion "indeed welcomed news."
"May it send a strong reminder that the players of the W are bigger than basketball, and that together they stand for equity, justice, diversity, inclusion, fairness, and respect," the WNBPA said in a statement. "Renee's combined position as owner and team executive may be the first of its kind in the league. Importantly, it further elevates and highlights the achievements of former players, women, people of color. Their contributions must be recognized and valued at every level."
The association said it's time for the Dream's players and fans to heal and look forward.
"It is our fervent wish that we shall never see again such an abuse of power and arrogant display of privilege. 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. Because this was not our burden to bear or our problem to solve, this is our final statement on the matter."
In terms of looking forward as an organization, the Dream have the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 WNBA draft. Head coach Nicki Collen is in a good position to continue building around 2020 first-round pick Chennedy Carter.
James supports Montgomery's ownership
Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James previously posed the idea of buying the franchise. He congratulated Montgomery after news of the sale, writing "so proud of this queen. This is everything we are about!"
Montgomery is a part of James' "More Than a Vote" campaign launched last summer to improve voter turnout and reduce voter suppression. She launched her own similar initiative called "Remember the 3rd" and has used the phrase "Moments equal momentum" since opting out for social justice causes last summer.
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