Column: Kelly Loeffler should go – but who should replace her?

Photo Credit: AP

Shoutouts to everyone out there that had “Kelly Loeffler becoming the most loathed name in WNBA circles” on their 2020 W bingo cards.

Since making her entry into the political arena via being appointed as Johnny Isakson’s successor of the Georgia senate seat, Loeffler’s name has been mentioned more often on F*x N*ws than ESPN. At the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, a report came out that Loeffler had engaged in backroom deals while publicly informing Americans that there was nothing to worry about in regards to Covid-19.

When your husband is the guy that runs the New York Stock Exchange, one can get away with their fair share of stock trades.

Then her name began resurfacing in WNBA headlines and among WNBA watercoolers for a litany of all the wrong reasons.

There was a F*x N*ws interview that she conducted where she compared the concept of open carry by Black Americans as “mob rule.” Note – three of Loeffler’s favorite initials are N, R and A.

That did not exactly endear herself to the WNBA community as the calls for her ouster began to grow louder.

And if there was any shred of credibility she had left within the W’s ecosystem she still had after those comments, she put that to rest too by coming out against the WNBA’s plan to highlight #SayHerName and #BlackLivesMatter during this season at Florida’s IMG Academy.

For many within the W, that was the last straw.

The Donald Sterling vibes that have been given off by the Atlanta Dream co-owner turned Georgia senator have been overflowing the last few days – and WNBA players – even on the Dream as Renee Montgomery’s tweet suggested have had enough.

The WNBA itself was even compelled to put out its own statement in response to Loeffler, which both W and political Twitters have replaced her first name “Kelly” with “Karen.”

If the consensus is that Loeffler needs to be ousted as the Dream’s co-owner, the question is who should replace her.

The Sterling comparison is apt because the NBA and Adam Silver forced him out as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers after revelations of racism came out regarding him. Eventually, the Clippers were bestowed upon Steve Ballmer and he has visions of moving the Clippers to a new arena in Inglewood near SoFi Stadium, where the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers will eventually call home.

A key element of remembering the Ballmer story is that the NBA had him in its back pocket since the early 2010s. Ballmer was originally part of a Seattle-based ownership group headed by Bay Area hedge fund manager Chris Hansen to return the NBA to the Emerald City and build a new arena in Seattle’s SoDo district.

That group also included Peter and Erik Nordstrom as well as Wally Walker and eventually Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (aka Mr. Ciara).

Hansen and Ballmer’s group struck a deal with the Maloof family to purchase the Sacramento Kings and move them to Seattle, but that pact was shot down by the NBA and its owners in a 22-8 vote.

Eventually, Ballmer was not going to wait for the NBA to give Seattle another chance to own a franchise. He saw his opportunity when the Clippers mess took place and pounced – which is easy to do when you are carrying Steve Ballmer-type money.

Does the WNBA have a Steve Ballmer waiting in the wings for the Atlanta Dream? If so, Cathy Engelbert could call a vote of its Board of Governors and have Loeffler gone by sunset. If not, then it is complicated.

What happens if Loeffler is actually forced out? Will Mary Brock, the other co-owner of the Dream, also feel compelled to sell her share of the franchise as well? Also, who will buy the team? Will the WNBA effectively take over the Dream in the interim until a new investor or investors are announced?

Would that new investor(s) even keep the Dream in Atlanta? The term “San Francisco” has thrown around aplenty in WNBA circles the last few seasons and it is one of the worst kept secrets that Joe Lacob (Golden State Warriors) would love to take over a team.

Atlanta is called Black Hollywood for a reason. There are lots of influential Black celebrities and businesspeople in Atlanta that can drop a few stacks on the Dream. Ideally, a few of them would band together, form an investment group and rescue the Dream from Loeffler.

That would also be the best case scenario for the WNBA, which does not want to be in the business of relocating teams anymore. Engelbert (and Lisa Borders, an Atlantan herself who was influential in the W’s expansion to the ATL) both have their eyes on expanding the WNBA into new (or previous) markets, but in order for that to happen, they said, stability would have to be established among its 12 incumbent franchises.

Even if a team were to move because one of the owners put their foot in their mouth one too many times, it would not signal stability to any other potential investors that may be considering giving the WNBA a try. The best case scenario would be for Loeffler to be ousted to avoid a PR disaster and for the Atlanta Dream to remain the Atlanta Dream.

Another reason it is critical to ensure the Dream remain in Atlanta if a sale were to take place is the WNBA has no other teams in the southeast. It has three teams in the northeast, three in the midwest, three in the southwest and two along the west coast.

The obvious political overtones to this story cannot be overstated as well. One of Loeffler’s opponents in November’s “jungle primary” in Georgia (Doug Collins) pounced on Loeffler’s comments by saying she is pretending to be a conservative to win votes.

He conveniently left out that Loeffler has donated money to Republican candidates in the past – including to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. She was a pretty big financial backer of Republican candidates even before she was appointed to the Senate job by Brian Kemp, Georgia’s governor.

Oh … and the Stacey Abrams he was referring to? Remember the WNBPA tweet calling for Loeffler to go? Stacey Abrams is on the WNBPA’s Board of Advocates.

The Dream as a franchise have been much-maligned as a franchise from its struggles to draw consistent attendance that is up to par with other WNBA teams, the Angel McCoughtry situation and its television deals among others.

Perhaps a new owner(s) with a new vision could be exactly the shot in the arm the Dream need. Perhaps a new owner(s) would be one that could stabilize the team’s future in Atlanta, continue to grow the team into a consistent title contender and finally turn the Dream into the attendance juggernaut it has the potential to be. Because keeping Loeffler will only hurt Atlanta long term as it becomes a virtual no-woman’s land for draftees and free agents.

This past offseason was already a potential start between getting Courtney Williams, Kalani Brown, Shekinna Stricklen, Glory Johnson – plus the drafting of Chennedy Carter out of Texas A&M and she is possibly going to give a good case for Rookie of the Year honors that are projected to go the way of either Sabrina Ionescu (New York Liberty) or Satou Sabally (Dallas Wings).

If this pressure keeps up, Loeffler could very well be out as Atlanta Dream co-owner and she will have all the time she needs to focus on her reelection bid. Perhaps – whoever ends up assuming Loeffler’s place will be someone who actually embodies what the WNBA stands for as an agent of change.

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