Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Unanswered Questions

By Mel Greenberg

Tuesday's announcement that Black Entertainment Television co-founder Sheila Johnson had become part-owner of the WNBA's Washington Mystics and will run the team as president left a few unanswered questions, based on the account of the transaction by the Washington Post and Associated Press.

The Washington Times' internet site did provide not coverage of the deal at the time we decided to make some commentary.

What was reported is that Johnson is a philanthropist and chief executive of Salamander Hospitality LLC and is also the former wife of Bobby Johnson, who owns the NBA Charlotte Bobcats and WNBA's Charlotte Sting.

Abe Pollin, chairman of of Washington Sports and Entertainment, sold the rights to the Mystics to Lincoln Holdings, LLC., whose majority owner and chairman is Ted Leonsis.

The group also owns the NHL's Washington Capitals and has a stake in the MCI Center and NBA's Washington Wizards, which Pollin said he does not expect to yield anytime soon.

Sheila Johnson will have a stake in all three franchises, which is believed to make her the first black woman involved in part-ownership of three professional sports teams.

NBA president David Stern, who was at the press conference in Washington along with new WNBA president Donna Orender, said that the price for a WNBA team is $10 million.

That's the fee the Mohegan Indian Tribe spent several years ago to take over the former Orlando team and bring it to their Mohegan Sun Casino and entertainment establishment.

Cynics have noted they probably got their investment back within several days of the purchases due to the daily influx of cash at the complex in Uncasville, Conn., near New London.

Chicago real estate investor Michael Alter also paid that sum for the new team that will begin play next season in the Windy City.

Thus, question No. 1, and remember we're asking these in the middle of the night writing this and not attuned earlier to the news when the announcement was made.

That's the price of enjoying some mandated time off from the print side of our operation.

Back to the question.

Who gets the $10 million -- Pollin or the WNBA?

When the Mohegans bought the team, Orlando had given it back to the NBA, which then owned all the WNBA teams and was in the middle of changing the WNBA business structure to individual control.

The transactions were never reported involving the NBA groups who retained operations of their sister squads such as the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, and Houston Rockets.

Technically, they had already paid for a stake in running teams at the outset, but perhaps not $10 million.

Alter's purchase involved a brand new team, so that is oboviously purchased from the league.

Potentially, Pollin could have given the team back to the league in a cash transaction before the onwership transferred.

That could mean $20 million has come into WNBA hands through these two recent deals in Chicago and Washington, one reason why the women's pro basketball operation is now perceived much healthier than several seasons ago.

Moving on to question No. 2.

Susan O'Malley held the presidential title and ran the Mystics before the sale and she was able to get Tennessee coach Pat Summitt involved in front-office activities involving player personnel decisions.

So, is O'Malley's involvement totally gone and, if so, will Summitt still hang around especially since her former Volunteer star Chamique Holdsclaw was traded to the Los Angeles Sparks in the offseason?

Audition time?

It was funny in New York on Sunday when Detroit Shock coach Bill Laimbeer mentioned that he would not be interested in an NBA coaching job until his daughter graduated high school.

Asked when that would be, he wisecraced: "In about a week."

The incident is recalled only because on Tuesday night with the Shock trailing the San Antonio Silver Stars late in the game, Laimbeer turned over operation of the team to assistants Rick Mahorn, who is new this season, and Laurie Bird.

Laimbeer decided to try something different since he didn't think he was motivated his team.

The Shock rallied and stayed unbeaten in a comeback almost similar to Afleet Alex's stumble and recovery to win the Preakness, Saturday.

So, maybe he knows that the Shock would be in good hands if another opportunity comes his way.

Incidentally, when Mahorn was a player with the 76ers in Philadelphia, he often attended St. Joseph's women's games in the early 1990s.

Laimbeer's move recalls a time veteran Villanova coach Harry Perretta pulled a similar stunt with his Wildcats trailing in a game early in his career.

Perretta took a brief hiatus for several minutes and then called a timeout.

"Now that we know your way isn't working, let's try mine?" he said.

Villanova rallied and went on to become part of Perretta's victory collection which is now more than 500 triumphs.

The Role Model's Role Model

As much as Temple women's coach, three-time Olympic gold medalist, and WNBA all-star point guard Dawn Staley has been a role model to many aspiring young women's players, her own role model is back in Philadelphia as the new coach of the NBA's 76ers.

That would be Maurice Cheeks, who Staley says has always been her favorite when he played for the team he will now coach.

“That's my all time favorite player," Staley said Tuesday from Charlotte after practicing with the Sting.

"I respect him as a player, a man and as a coach, " she added. " I hate to see (Jim) O'Brien go, because I'm a coach.

"Although I haven't lost a coaching job before, I think I have an idea of what that feels like. But, it's (hiring Mo) a no brainer. I just wish it could have happended sooner, another person has lost his job.”

Staley also gave her viewpoint as an observer of the 76ers.

“I'm happy as a fan, as a 76ers fan," the former Dobbins High and Virginia star said. "To have Mo Cheeks on the bench leading the way, I know I'll make it to more games now.”

Staley, by the way, was named on Tuesday's winner of the Wannamaker Award, a top honor to a Philadelphia sports star or team given annually.

It is her second Wanamaker award and she's the only individual woman to have been so honored. The Villanova team was cited two years ago when the Wildcats advanced to the NCAA elite eight and also ended then-powerful Connecticut's NCAA-record 70-game win streak, which occurred in the Big East title game.

As for us, our next game will be in Washington, co-incidentally, Thursday night when the Los Angeles Sparks visit.

Until then,

-- Mel


Anonymous PeachBasket said...


Thanks for this blog. It's great to be able to read your extended thoughts and reporting on a regular basis.

That could mean $20 million has come into WNBA hands through these two recent deals in Chicago and Washington, one reason why the women's pro basketball operation is now perceived much healthier than several seasons ago.

Is this why we're hearing this talk about "a new franchise each year" for the next seven years? It's coming from people like Stern and Orender, so it's clearly being floated as the WNBA business plan. Is this notion being driven mainly by the income from franchise fees, jolts of non-operating income for the existing franchises as a way to resolve their financial problems?

That might juice up some bottom lines for a few years, and best case scenario buy some time for the WNBA to establish a stronger position, but a business plan that depends on non-operating income doesn't do much in itself to confront the real challenges to the WNBA.

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