It was a week full of (mostly) positive women’s hoops news:
Expansion is official
The WNBA’s long-awaited expansion era finally has dawned…and it’s golden!
As first was reported in late September, the ownership group of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors will be bringing a WNBA expansion team to the Bay Area, with the yet-to-be-named franchise to begin play in the 2025 season. The team will play in the Chase Center, the home of the Warriors.
Joe Lacob, the controlling owner of both teams, wasted no time announcing his “light years”-like ambitions for the team, telling ESPN, “We’re coming in here, number one, to win. Number two, we want to see this league and women’s basketball grow, and we hope to be a big part of it.”
An owner of the ABL’s San Jose Lasers in the late 1990s, Lacob also asserted his commitment to women’s sports, saying, “Both my boys and my girls played basketball. And I was very much into Stanford basketball, men’s and women’s. So that was one of the reasons I did the ABL [and the Lasers]…So this is a big full-circle thing for me.”
At Thursday’s announcement at the Chase Center, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert stated, “We are thrilled about expanding to the Bay Area and bringing the WNBA to a region with passionate basketball fans and a strong history of supporting women’s basketball.”
Women’s basketball luminaries, from Sheryl Swoopes to Seimone Augustus to Stanford Cardinal alums, also were in attendance for the announcement.
Portland’s got next?
As the WNBA announced its expansion to the Bay Area, The Athletic reported that Portland, Denver and Toronto were under strong consideration for additional expansion ahead of the 2025 season before subsequent reporting from The Next identified Portland as the expected home of the second expansion team.
According to The Next, Portland’s bid, led by local billionaire Kirk Brown, has reached the Board of Governors. Engelbert visited the city last February, with US Senator Ron Wyden leading an event at The Sport’s Bra, a local bar that celebrates women’s sports. A spokesperson for Wyden told The Athletic, “As a lifetime lover of basketball, Senator Wyden knows full well that the game has lots of action before the final buzzer. He continues to work hard with everybody teaming up for Portland to earn a WNBA expansion franchise. And he remains confident the scoreboard will end up with Portland winning that franchise.”
Venue issues seem to have stalled any expansion momentum for Denver and Toronto.
The WNBA will expand tomorrow, adding two more teams for the 2025 season.
Denver will not be one of them.
Source close to ownership tells me the WNBA has not been in contact since the site visit in August.
Another tells me league was not happy with idea of playing at DU.
— Arielle Orsuto (@ArielleOrsuto) October 5, 2023
My hope is that talks will continue and Toronto will earn a team soon. The city was an incredible host for that game, the fans sold it out instantly and the vibes were incredible. https://t.co/yLKSrppHyi
— Sarah Spain (@SarahSpain) October 5, 2023
The Mercury are leveling up
The growth of the WNBA must not be limited to expansion franchise, but also include improvement to existing franchises, with longstanding organizations redoubling their commitment to providing a top-tier professional athlete experience for players.
Mat Ishbia appears to be embracing this approach as owner of the Phoenix Mercury, announcing the construction of a new, state-of-the-art practice facility for the Mercury and Suns.
The Phoenix Mercury unveil plans to build a dedicated state-of-the-art practice facility opening 2024
Owner Mat Ishbia continues his investment in the team and his commitment to women’s sports! pic.twitter.com/XGy8ErFSQA
— Phoenix Mercury (@PhoenixMercury) October 5, 2023
Ishbia asserted, “This is phenomenal. We’re going to give the Phoenix Mercury their own space, their own curated environment. We’re going to have the best practice facility in the WNBA.”
Even more eyes on the WNBA
After Game 2 of the New York Liberty vs. Connecticut Sun semifinal series already established some of the highest viewership numbers in more than two decades, the decisive Game 4 again attracted a record-setting number of viewers, with a season-high 579,000 tuning in to see the Liberty secure their first trip to the WNBA Finals in 21 seasons.
Expect the WNBA Finals to attract even more eyes!
Brady’s Aces’ bid is official
Just in time for the Finals, WNBA owners approved Tom Brady’s purchase of a minority stake in the Las Vegas Aces.
Tom Brady: “I have always been a huge fan of women’s sports, and I admire the work that the Aces’ players, staff, and the WNBA continue to do to grow the sport…” pic.twitter.com/Kez0rWKfLm
— Nick Hamilton (@NickHamilton213) October 2, 2023
While it is encouraging to see high-profile former male professional athletes, like Brady and Dwyane Wade, choose to tangibly invest in the growth of the WNBA, it is neccessary not to cast these men (nor the likes of Lacob or Ishbia) as saviors of women’s sports. It is the women on the court that have made the WNBA an initiative worth investing in. And it is these women, and those that came before them, that deserve the shine and camera time.
It also is important to remember that Brady does not have the best arm in the Aces’ organization. That honor still belongs to Kelsey Plum.
Dearica Hamby files EEOC suit
All the positive news about the growth of the W also should not distract from issues that cannot be cured by new teams, new owners and more viewers.
The Los Angeles Sparks’ Dearica Hamby has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Las Vegas Aces to the Nevada Equal Rights Commission and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Hamby’s suit alleges that head coach Becky Hammon accused her of signing a contract extension with the Aces, despite knowing that she was pregnant. According to ESPN, which obtained a copy of the lawsuit, Hamby also alleges that the organization “began to retaliate against me and caused the work environment to become unreasonably abusive and hostile.”
Months after the WNBA investigated her allegations that the Las Vegas Aces had retaliated against her because of her pregnancy, former Aces standout Dearica Hamby has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the team that lists similar allegations.
— ESPN Women’s Hoops (@ESPN_WomenHoop) October 4, 2023
That Hamby decided to file the lawsuit indicates she was unsatisfied with the WNBA’s investigation into her allegations against the Aces. The investigation, which provided little public clarity, resulted in a two-game suspension for Hammon and the loss of a future draft pick. When refuting Hamby’s allegations in May, Hammon insisted Hamby’s pregancy “wasn’t a problem,” saying of the organization’s decision to trade her to the Sparks:
We made the decision to move Hamby because we could get three bodies in her one contract, and we wanted to get three more people in….That’s all it was. Nothing personal. I had a great relationship with Hamby the whole time. Which is why she probably felt the way she did. You know, it feels like a betrayal. But like I said, it’s a crappy part of my job, but somebody’s got to be the bearer of bad news.
Soon after the news of Hamby’s suit, the WNBPA posted a response on Instagram, defending the maternity protections bargained for in the 2020 CBA while also insisting upon the wrongness of any discriminatory treatment of players due to race, gender, sexuality and parental or pregnancy status.