WNBA approves Montgomery’s role in new Dream ownership group

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Renee Montgomery

FILE – Atlanta Dream guard Renee Montgomery (21) passes the ball in the first half of a WNBA basketball game against the Chicago Sky in Atlanta, in this Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019, file photo. Larry Gottesdiener has been approved as the head of a new three-member ownership group of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream following pressure on former Sen. Kelly Loeffler to sell her share of the team. Friday’s, Feb. 26, 2021, unanimous approval of the sale to Gottesdiener means co-owner Mary Brock also sold her share of the team, which will remain in Atlanta. Gottesdiener is chairman of the real estate firm Northland. The three-member investor group also includes former Dream guard Renee Montgomery and Northland president Suzanne Abair.(AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

ATLANTA (AP) — Former Atlanta Dream guard Renee Montgomery made history on Friday as part of a three-member investor group that was approved to purchase the team.

The ownership change follows pressure on former Sen. Kelly Loeffler, a Republican who angered WNBA players with her opposition to the league’s racial justice initiatives, to sell her share of the Dream.

Real estate investor Larry Gottesdiener was approved as majority owner of the team. The investor group also includes Montgomery and Suzanne Abair, president of Northland Investment Corp. in Massachusetts, the firm Gottesdiener founded.

Montgomery becomes the first former player to become both an owner and executive of a WNBA franchise. She said she would play an active role with Abair in the leadership of the team.

“I’m going to be working with Suzanne and she’s going to lead the way,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery said she first began considering her role in an ownership group after Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James tweeted about the possibility of being part of such a group.

“That tweet prompted my mind,” Montgomery said, adding she “started to figure out if that could become a real possibility.”

She said she also was motivated by James’ role in the “More Than a Vote” campaign that worked to increase voter turnout and reduce voter suppression in the Black community.

James applauded Montgomery’s ownership role by posting on Twitter: “So proud of this Queen. This is everything we are about!”

Montgomery sat out the 2020 season to focus on social justice issues and recently announced her retirement from the league after 11 seasons and two WNBA championships.

“I think it’s great that Renee has stepped up after she retired from playing the game to continue having an impact on the game,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said Friday. “I’ve seen her strong work ethic. I’ve seen her advocacy and knowledge of the game and I’m sure that’s going to be an asset to Larry and Suzanne and a huge benefit to the team.”

The 34-year-old Montgomery won WNBA titles with the Minnesota Lynx in 2015 and 2017. She was an All-Star with the Connecticut Sun in 2011, when she set a career high with her average of 14.6 points per game. She was the WNBA’s Sixth Woman of the Year in 2012.

The approval by the WNBA and NBA Board of Governors was expected and unanimous. It means co-owner Mary Brock also sold her share of the team.

Though his business is based in Newton, Massachusetts, Gottesdiener (pronounced Got-es-DEE-ner) said the team will remain in Atlanta.

“This is an Atlanta asset,” Gottesdiener said. “The Dream isn’t going anywhere.”

The WNBA announced on Jan. 20 the ownership change was close to being completed.

Players around the league had called for Loeffler to sell her 49% stake in the Dream after she wrote a letter to Engelbert over the summer objecting to the league’s advocacy for racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Dream players wore “Vote Warnock” T-shirts in support of Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock, who defeated Loeffler in Georgia’s Senate runoff. Warnock’s victory, along with Jon Ossoff’s win in Georgia’s other runoff, handed control of the Senate to Democrats.

The high-profile campaigning against Loeffler by players on a team she owned was credited with boosting Warnock’s candidacy.

“I want to take this time to thank the WNBA players, particularly the Dream players,” Engelbert said Friday. “They were put in a difficult position. I was proud of the way they handled the situation. They stood for their values, they stood for professionalism. They served as role models with their advocacy and continue to do that.”

Gottesdiener said the Dream players captured his attention and respect.

“The last year, the players of the Dream refused to just shut up and dribble,” Gottesdiener said. “They found their collective voice and the world listened. We were inspired by these brave women who advocated sports and activism in the midst of the pandemic and we want to celebrate and honor them.

“We’re particularly proud to be stewards of this team in this city at this time.”

Engelbert, Montgomery and Gottesdiener would not rehash the controversy in a conference call on Friday. Instead, they kept their focus on the team’s future.

“Today does mark a new beginning for the Atlanta Dream organization,” Engelbert said.

Montgomery said her new role can set a tone.

“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,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery is in her first season as a studio analyst on Atlanta Hawks broadcasts for Fox Sports Southeast. She said she plans to continue in that role.

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