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.

Friday, December 03, 2010

WNBA: Donna Orender Resigns As League President

(Guru’s note: will update reaction, if any arrives)

By Mel Greenberg

The WNBA’s Oval Office is soon to be vacant for an undetermined period for the second time in the league’s 14-year history following Friday’s announcement that president Donna Orender is stepping down effective Dec. 31.

The league in a release said that after serving as head of the WNBA the past six seasons, the commissioner is set to launch Orender Unlimited, an independent marketing, media, and strategy company. A former star at Queens College in the late 1970s when she was known as Donna Geils, she will still serve as a consultant for the league.

A former executive with the PGA Tour before joining the WNBA, Orender also owned her own production company: Primo Donna Productions, so her move will be in line with a business area with which she has familiarity.

Orender’s decision appears to have caught people involved with the league by surprise.

Considering financial cutbacks by the WNBA because of the downturn in the national economy, a move such as Orender’s immediate raises eyebrows in terms of the league’s viability in the future.

It also comes after a recent teleconference by Washington Mystics head Sheila Johnson who discussed the departures of general manager Angela Taylor and coach Julie Plank besides the move to assistant coach Trudi Lacey was elevated to both jobs.

Incidentally, the Mystics Friday announced the return of assistant coach Marianne Stanley, a former Immaculata star who had been a Washiungton head coach in the past. Having guided Old Dominion to three national titles from the sidelines, Stanley was recently inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.

During that Mystics teleconference, Johnson had painted a somewhat bleak outlook of conditions across the league, though she may have overstated the actual situation.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, a former La Salle star in Philadelphia who grew up in South Jersey, does not believe that Orender’s departure should be considered a bad omen.

“I think she has a vision on what she wants to do next,” Reeve said. “I don’t think I would characterize her decision as jumping ship or that it is a bad omen for the future of the league.

“Six years is a long time,” Reeve said. “What did Val (Ackerman) serve – eight years? They both have families with children who are reaching formative years growing up. It will be interesting to see what way the league goes in finding a successor.”

Orender in a statement said: “I am extraordinarily proud to have served as WNBA President and to be a part of this league and all that it stands for.

“While delivering a major-league experience on the court, the WNBA is truly a beacon for global, social, and cultural change off the court. The opportunity to play a role in growing this league, building its business and leveraging the power of sports to truly help change people’s lives has been extraordinary.”

She added: “It was simply time for me to take this step in my life. My work on behalf of women and girls around the world will only deepen as will my ongoing engagement in sports. I am pleased to be able to continue my involvement with the WNBA as I move ahead with my new venture.”

Orender turned down overtures the last time around when the LPGA commissioner’s job was open.

Unlike Ackerman’s exit in the winter of 2004 after serving as the league’s head the first eight years, there was less fanfare and no teleconference, though perhaps Orender will be made available between now and her departure to reflect on her past six seasons.

The WNBA said that a search for Orender’s successor will begin immediately, and NBA Senior Vice President, Team Marketing and Business Operations Chris Granger will oversee the league’s operations on an interim basis.

When Ackerman left, Orender’s hire did not become publicly announced until April 2005 just before the WNBA draft. During the hiatus, Chicago became announced as an expansion city and NBA commissioner David Stern oversaw the press conference in the Windy City.

Stern and NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver are expected to head the search for Orender’s successor, according to a league source.

“Donna’s contributions to the WNBA and women’s sports have been extraordinary,” Stern said in a statement.

“Under her leadership, the WNBA has continued its growth and further solidified its position as an icon for social change, achievement, and diversity. We are grateful for her passion and dedication and look forward to her continuing counsel as we build upon the success she helped sustain.”

The league cited Orender’s achievements, specifically the eight-year extension of the WNBA’s network television contract featuring up to 30 games annually on ABC and ESPN2 – both owned by Disney – and a six-year extension of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

There has been growth in attendance, TV ratings and sponsorships during Orender’s tenure. But three of the original eight charter teams from the summer of 1997 disbanded – the four-time champion Houston Comets, Charlotte Sting, and one-time champion Sacramento Monarchs.

Additionally, the former three-time champion Detroit Shock moved to Tulsa for last season. But Orender had felt things were solid among the current 12 existing teams.

Young stars have brought additional excitement on the floor with Connecticut senior Maya Moore anxiously awaited as the next No. 1 overall pick in April’s draft, expected to be quickly taken by Reeve and Minnesota.

As to a long list of potential successors, it determines in which direction Stern and Silver want to move.

In the women’s basketball world, Taylor, the former Washington GM, has also been in the front office in Minnesota and also worked at WNBA headquarters.

“I just heard about it and hadn’t given it any thought yet,” Taylor said Friday afternoon of her interests. “I have to find out what (the WNBA) wants to do.”

Taylor still is living in the District.

Renee Brown has been in the WNBA front office since the league’s inception but it is not known if she would have interest.

She could not be reached for comment Friday.

Linda Bruno, currently doing consulting work, is a past commissioner of the Atlantic 10 conference and has served as a chair of the NCAA women’s basketball committee.

Reactions among the populace would probably be mixed over the possibility of former New York Liberty head Carol Blazejowski getting involved.

She was let go by the Liberty after serving all 14 years running the front office.

Though many have taken issue with her personnel moves over the years and some in the fan base have had other objections, Blazejowski, a former Montclair State star who was the all-time national scoring champion, did oversee a franchise in the WNBA’s No. 1 market in terms of population.

In fact, as a member of the NBA’s operations when the league was founded, Blazejowski was expected to be named as the first WNBA commissioner. But Stern chose Ackerman who had been an aide and on the legal team in the NBA front office.

Hall of Famer Ann Meyers-Drysdale has been running the front office of the WNBA Phoenix Mercury producing two WNBA titles since her hire in 2007. She has also done national broadcast work.

In the ownership ranks, Kathy Betty of the Atlanta Dream is considered to be a dynamic businesswoman who has ties back to the early internet service provider Earthlink through her late husband.

It is not known if either Los Angeles Sparks co-owners Kathy Goodman or Carla Christofferson would have interest.

The new WNBA champion Seattle Storm have three women in the ownership group – Dawn Trudeau and Lisa Brummel have ties to Microsoft; Ginny Gilder owns an investment business. Additionally, Anne Levinson, who recently departed the group, is a former deputy mayor of Seattle.

Theresa Grentz, the former Immaculata star who coached St. Joseph’s, Rutgers and Illinois, is known for her business ability.

She is back at her alma mater and has a major role in fundraising, though it is not known if she would have any interest.

Considering Stern is handling the search again, he might draw an outstanding candidate from another sport or business, though it would be helpful if that candidate would have some familiarity with the WNBA.

There could also be a two-headed monster, so to speak, hire in which someone would oversee the infrastructure while someone else serves as the face of the league.

That could allow such fabled names out there to press the flesh as former Sparks star Lisa Leslie. Lynette Woodard has worked on Wall Street.

Nancy Lieberman recently authored a book for women on business skills: Playbook for Success: A Hall of Famer's Business Tactics for Teamwork and Leadership.

However, the Hall of Famer is currently making more history as a female coach of the Texas Legends in the NBA’s Development League.

Then there’s this name to give thought: Former secretary of state Candoleeza Rice on the faculty of the Stanford graduate school of business who once said she wouldn’t mind being commissioner of the WNBA.

Stayed tuned.

-- Mel


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blaze? No. Isn't she known for being really really hard to get along with and kind of a control freak? Didn't she alienate many of the NY season ticket holders by essentially having no clue about what they wanted or needed? Wasn't she mostly rude to them until the last couple of years when she finally realized the Garden was half-empty and she'd better play nice?

Mel, sounds like you've listed a plethora of better options, especially those with executive-level experience in sports, so please, Mr. Stern -- not Blaze.

As for Condi Rice, would she be much more than an attention-grabbing pick? And would she really leave Stanford for the WNBA? I don't know, but should things somehow go that way, I hope that wouldn't mean her pal George would be attending a bunch of games. Unless ... does the Secret Service have to pay for tickets? Nah, still not worth it.

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