Sure, we’re into the college season right now, but it’s been hard to push from my mind what happened to the Sacramento Monarchs. The Maloof family pulled the plug on the franchise with, apparently, no thought to letting the players know first.
Basic etiquette rules will tell you that while “breaking up” is almost always hard to do, there are right and wrong ways to do it.
The right way is to not be a coward – to face the person you’re going to hurt and understand that they are going to be upset. Let them vent their frustration and ask, “Why?” You might not have a very good answer, but you at least owe them something.
Or … there’s the absolute wrong way. Such as the breakup via post-it note on “Sex in the City?”
I can’t … I’m sorry … don’t hate me.
Well, from all indications, the Maloofs gave their players even less “courtesy” than Berger did to Carrie. It was as if the players were supposed to understand they were disposable at a moment’s notice and not even be too surprised by it.
All business owners have to think in business terms if they want to be successful. And yet it never fails to amaze me how so many people who reach power through successful businesses can sometimes fall so far short of the responsible way to deal with other people, particularly their employees.
Certainly, the Maloofs had the right to pull out of the WNBA if they felt it was financially too burdensome for them. But they could have said proper farewells to the players and those who worked for the Monarchs organization. They could have faced the music in that way.
And maybe this illustrates one of the differences between the NBA owners who took on WNBA teams and independent owners. The latter often has displayed a different emotional investment in what they’re doing.
When the Western Conference finals were over this past season, LA Sparks co-owner Kathy Goodman came into the team’s locker room and thanked the players for a good season, telling them she appreciated their effort and she had faith they would achieve greater heights in the future. She seemed truly sad the season was over, just the way a fan would be.
Of course, Goodman and fellow owner Carla Christofferson were fans before they took over the Sparks. It mattered to them how the team did even when they had no financial stake in the results.
That doesn’t mean they aren’t serious businesspeople looking out for the bottom line of their investment. But I go back to an analogy I’ve used before in regard to the college game about the difference between school administrations that simply “fund” women’s programs vs. those that actually enthusiastically support them.
To wit: It’s like the comparison between a parent who searches all over for the *perfect* birthday present for a kid vs. the parent who just writes a check. It’s not that the latter for certain doesn’t care at all. But it’s likely that he/she probably doesn’t care as much as the parent who spends the time to look and would know instinctively (or ask) what the kid really wanted.
And it makes you look back at the start of the WNBA and its brief “competition” with the ABL, doesn’t it? The ABL launched first, in the fall of 1996. The WNBA came the following summer, and we had the classic Wal-Mart vs. small chain competition. For the relatively brief period both leagues were in operation at the same time, there were those folks involved who kept insisting utterly inane things such as it was great for women’s hoops players to have two options.
That was ridiculous, of course, because no one could possibly have thought two pro women’s basketball leagues were going to survive in the United States. A lot of ABL supporters were hostile toward the WNBA, convinced the ABL really believed in what it was doing while the NBA was just trying to prevent competition by launching something it didn’t care much about anyway.
I thought then and still think now that was too paranoid and harsh an assessment of the NBA’s motives. Never forget that Val Ackerman – a former player and true believer if there ever was one in the viability of women’s pro hoops – was there from the germination of the WNBA as she worked for the NBA. The NBA didn’t just throw together its plan for a women’s league in response to the ABL; Ackerman had been working on it for many years.
Still, rather than merge or work together with the ABL, the WNBA just watched it die (and, no doubt, did whatever it could to hasten the death) because those involved in the WNBA were convinced they had the right plan and that they didn’t need anything from the ABL but its players.
Since the original ownership model called for NBA teams to own WNBA franchises, the people who were involved in trying to make the ABL work obviously weren’t involved with the launch of the WNBA. Because they were competitors.
And when you think about that, it’s a shame. The NBA had far, far greater capital to launch a women’s league, but the ABL had a greater percentage of people involved who really loved women’s basketball. If both had worked together, with the ABL giving up on the idea of the season being in the “traditional” winter months and the WNBA opting to include non-NBA owners from the start, maybe the synergy would have helped the WNBA avoid some of its mistakes and failed franchises.
I always believed the WNBA was the preferred league to survive because it had, among many advantages, more cash, more sponsorship ties and a more identifiable brand name. And I always agreed with the need to play in the summer months. But I also thought there was at least some arrogance or hubris involved in regard to how those launching the WNBA saw the ABL.
As if it were just an inferior predecessor that barely beat the WNBA into business, an annoying pest that was surely bound to fail and needed to just “get out of the way” to let the WNBA take over. But the WNBA should have understood that the ABL actually was worthy of more than just a deathwatch.
Now, to be fair, those involved in the ABL perhaps were just as resistant to being absorbed into the WNBA. I remember at the time that you could never be sure who was posturing and who wasn’t, and it’s not that much clearer in retrospect. But …
As the WNBA continues to gain more independent owners and lose those involved in the NBA, I can’t help but think these independent folks seem more like they have an “ABL” mindset. And that a decade ago, there was a missed opportunity for real collaboration between the ABL and WNBA that could have paid some long-range dividends.