The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, July 8, 2020

Gaming out Kelly Loeffler's departure — Sylvia Fowles talks Bradenton — Must-click women's basketball links

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Gaming out Kelly Loeffler’s departure

A day after Kelly Loeffler’s letter to Cathy Engelbert appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, arguing that Black Lives Matter was a divisive statement in a country that has largely accepted (however belatedly) that it very much is not, the obvious consequences of Loeffler using her largely Black team as a prop in her election effort has been universal condemnation across the landscape of women’s basketball.

I’m going to assume if you’re here, you’ve seen much of it already, though I must share the one that hit closest to home, Layshia Clarendon’s initial response.

It’s hard to overstate how much the act itself of releasing that letter when Loeffler did reflects a fundamental disregard for the humanity of her players and staff. To do it on the day they arrived in an uncertain new place, attempting to play basketball and salvage a season that will provide the Dream, and Loeffler, with additional revenue, amid a global pandemic and all the planning that went into it is nothing less than the triumph of ego over any plausible concern for the people who work for Loeffler.

Again, if you’re here: I don’t need to explain how or why this is a problem. The real question is, now that the league has taken the initial step of saying Loeffler is not involved in day-to-day operations, and an array of players have responded by pointing out this isn’t nearly good enough, what Cathy Engelbert’s options are.

Let’s look to the Donald Sterling precedent, both because most of the WNBA league rules are carbon copies of the NBA — though a large number of folks I spoke to couldn’t hunt down the exact protocol in this situation — and because the reality of the two situations, politically, are quite similar.

Sterling, remember, made deeply offensive remarks about Black people. (It is the difference between 2014 and 2020 that Sterling’s were caught on tape, and Loeffler’s were proudly sent to a prominent newspaper to help aid her pursuit of a major party’s nomination for statewide office.) In each case, the problem is a simple one: a majority Black league isn’t going to play for or against someone who has declared their lives to be unimportant unless there’s a clear exit strategy in place.

This is, by the way, not a one-time problem. Loeffler is actively running. Her opponents are trying to use the WNBA against her. And she’s decided, incredibly, to make the team she owns, with relationships she’s built, as kindling for the dying embers of her race against Doug Collins. Which is to say: the WNBA better act fast, because more is coming.

So what happens next? Well, as someone who covered the NBA during Sterling, it took Adam Silver quickly understanding that the status quo would be untenable, and taking action a way of demonstrating his solidarity with the players. It seemed that the new collective bargaining agreement had done much the same thing for Engelbert, serving as her Donald Sterling Moment, but no, now she gets to have a proper Donald Sterling Moment as well. (Congratulations, Cathy!)

Silver couldn’t act unilaterally. In fact, the worst he could do himself was fine Sterling $2.5 million. He did, however, have the right to ask the Board of Governors to remove Sterling entirely — he’d been kept out of day-to-day operations once the tapes broke, so he was in a similar situation to Loeffler now.

Silver announced his intention to do so, saying that he hadn’t polled the owners, but had spoken to some of them. It would be easier for Engelbert to determine if she has the votes — Silver needed 22 of 29, while Engelbert, if the 75% rule holds in the WNBA, would need 9 of 11. Typically, WNBA sale approvals are unanimous in recent years — both the Stars to Las Vegas and the Shock to Dallas had no opposition, and Joe Tsai was unanimously approved to buy the Liberty.

When the league had concerns over Isiah Thomas becoming an owner — then-Liberty owner Jim Dolan wanted Thomas to not only be president of a women’s basketball team after costing Dolan’s company millions of dollars in a sexual harassment lawsuit, but also for Thomas to receive an ownership stake — the Board of Governors named a subcommittee, made up of six owners, to address it. Ultimately, led by Seattle Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder’s advocacy within the group, Thomas and Dolan gave up the effort. (Whether that led to Dolan leaving the Liberty by the side of the road soon after is a matter of some debate to this day.)

Whether one of these two methods, or another (rock-paper-scissors?) would be employed by the Board of Governors to address the Loeffler problem is something even sources within both the league and Players’ Association didn’t know as of Wednesday.

What happens once it is addressed, however, could deviate from the Clippers’ scenario quite a bit, and affect what actions the league takes. Once forcing Sterling to sell was approved, the level of interest in buying the Clippers was immense — a chance to invest in an NBA team, the value of which has grown exponentially over the past several decades, even as the second team in a market dominated by the Lakers.

The Dream operate at a loss, and multiple league sources tell The IX that the current co-owner, Mary Brock, hasn’t expressed an interest in buying out Loeffler. That leaves some unpalatable options, including finding an owner willing to take on losses in Atlanta or move the team to a new market. The good news is the purchase price of the Dream would be a tiny fraction of the $2 billion Steve Ballmer ultimately paid for the Clippers, so there are more potential buyers in the Dream club.

Engelbert now faces this dilemma at the precise moment the league is attempting a never-before-tried fight for survival within a global pandemic, so you can be sure she is not thrilled with Loeffler, either. Sentiment aside, her timing couldn’t have been worse for the league, and the successes are overshadowed at the moment by the portion of the national media that only covers women’s basketball for its scandals.

On the plus side, Loeffler taking the offensive has done a few useful things for all involved. It’s provided the league with a pretext to remove an owner who is working in an antithetical way to the best interests and beliefs of its players. Loeffler also provides a juicy news hook, and a handy villain, for the players to further the discussion of Black Lives Matter, a core concern of the summer season. And none of it will affect the crowds at Dream games while this is resolved, thanks to the coronavirus making certain there can’t BE any crowds at basketball games.

That’s the best I can do, silver lining folks. This has to get fixed, fast.

This week in women’s basketball

Tina Thompson joined the Knuckleheads podcast.

The Duke job is a fascinating opening, here’s the latest intel on it.

Christine M. Hopkins gets you ready for Indiana Fever basketball.

Mitchell Northam is must-read on the ACC, as always.

Kurt Streeter notes that women’s sports figures are at the forefront of the social justice movement.

Greg Levinsky profiles the Massachusetts players headed to the WNBA clean site.

Brandon Sudge tells the story of how Kimora Jenkins ended up committing to Georgia.

Andraya Carter is a rising star in media, get to know her.

Jackie Powell explains how the Liberty will live without Asia Durr.

Terrific primer on impact transfers from Jenn Hatfield.

Jacob Mox takes you through more vital aspects of the WNBA CBA.

Angel McCoughtry talks social justice plans in Bradenton.

Dorothy Gentry catches up with Isabelle Harrison just before she left for Bradenton.

Jenn Hatfield has a great macro read of the Opals and social change.

Oh, and this is vintage Jenn: a survey of twins, West Coast Conference edition.

Alex English is an important voice for WNBA equality.

Doug Feinberg spoke with some of the… more experienced WNBA coaches.

Leilani Mitchell has mixed emotions about heading to Bradenton.

Billy Heyen spoke to Shenise Johnson about Bradenton.

Lindsay Whalen joined the HerHoopStats podcast.

Bria Felicien talked to Angel McCoughtry about her former team.

Kent Youngblood sets the table for the Lynx in Bradenton.

Val Ackerman joined LaChina Robinson’s Around the Rim.

And Lindsay Gibbs, who is always must-read, is must-read about Kelly Loeffler.

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Tweet of the Week

Five at The IX: Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx

The league’s greatest-ever center discussed life in the bubble on a Zoom Tuesday. H/t Katie Davidson for transcribing!

Michael Rand, Star Tribune: A lot of players were posting both positive and negative experiences about their arrival so far at the Academy. What’s been your experience so far, and how do you think life will be adjusting to this as you go along?

Fowles: My experience has been good so far. I don’t have any issues. I’m in a lodge. But with that said, too, I think I’m just pretty easy-going; it don’t take much to please me. I just want to make sure that I don’t try to complain as much. Not everybody is going to be happy, and you have to pretty much take the punches as you roll. Like Phee said, we just had Day 2, so we’ll see how this thing pan out.

Charles Hallman, Spokesman-Recorder: In terms of The Justice Movement and the committee that has been formed, is there anything you’re going to be doing specifically, or have you had a chance to think about that as you get prepared for the season — especially since you’re from Florida and this is your home state?

Fowles: I haven’t given much thought on what I want to do personally, but I think we’re in a unique situation by having all of us in one space at one time. Just pretty much brainstorming off each other: ‘What are you doing? How can I help? This is what I’m doing. This is how I want you to help.’ I think it’s going to be very important over the next couple of months.

Hallman: Do you feel like you’ve been given enough time to prepare for the season?

Fowles: It’s interesting that you ask that question, but we’ve been doing stuff that they’ve been sending us to do while we haven’t been playing. It’ll be interesting that it’s going to get going fairly quickly, but I think our main concern is just making sure we’re healthy and we’re accountable for whatever happens.

Dawn Mitchell: 2020 has been a crazy year. This is not going to be normal. How much do you have to say that to yourself and some of the younger girls coming in who don’t know any different?

Fowles: Just keeping a positive mindset. It starts with our captains and our coaches just making sure these younger players or these new, incoming players to the Lynx understand this is not normal, it’s not normal for anyone, but you pretty much have to roll with it.

Like [Napheesa Collier] said, everybody is on the same page, we’re pretty much at a blank slate in this. It’s just going to determine your mindset. If you’re positive about it, things will happen for you, but if you just sit and complain, things are not going to work out. We don’t want to be that team that complains. We want to try to work things out as much as possible, and if it’s out of our control, we just have to go with it and suck it up.

Howard Megdal: What’s been the most surreal thing that you’ve experienced just over this last 24-hour period? Obviously, you’re not only experiencing the WNBA at the moment, but you’re experiencing a world no one ever has before. Can you take me through a moment that stood out?

Fowles: I definitely wouldn’t say college. I think mine felt more so like AAU basketball. It’s a unique situation to be in because for anyone who ever played AAU basketball, you understand those are crucial moments in your career where you meet folks, you learn how to trust folks, and that’s when you build relationships. It’s pretty unique to have us in this bubble and to have to go back to the bare basics of (audio cuts out) friends and just having those conversations again.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon  Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.