Column: Whoever follows Lisa Borders has a tough act ahead — and to follow

Photo Credit: David Dow/Getty Images

The 2016-2018 period of the WNBA can now be officially referred to as the Lisa Borders era.

And what an era it was.

Somebody say amen.

This week it was announced that Borders, former Coca-Cola executive, former Atlanta city councilwoman, and now former WNBA president, will be stepping down from her post to take on the role of president and CEO within Time’s Up.

When looking at how the WNBA has found its voice not only as a sports organization of women, but as an agent of change, Borders’ time within the WNBA and her status as a staunch supporter of women’s rights set her up beautifully to take on her new role.

With other executives, reportedly, also having stepped down, it appears the WNBA is in more flux than previously thought. Mark Tatum, the deputy commissioner of the NBA is set to lead the W on an interim basis, but whoever assumes Borders’ now vacant post will have plenty on the plate.
That plate will have two main courses.

The top item on that plate is, of course, the CBA. With looming labor negotiations between the WNBA and its 12 teams, players have been more outspoken about issues within the W than in years past. A hot-button topic of conversation lately has been how much WNBA players receive in its revenues compared to that of the NBA. The WNBPA, headed by Terri Jackson and Nneka Ogwumike, hopes to change that as the CBA talks unfold.

The union could decide to opt out of the CBA next month. The debate over salaries could also be a reason as to why one of the best players in the world in Liz Cambage may leave the WNBA. Marketing will be a hotly discussed item as the CBA negotiations unfold and a frustration of many WNBA afficionados is why those such as Cambage, who on paper would be easily marketable, are not more greatly pushed in terms of marketing.

The second item taking up much of the plate is the looming sale of the New York Liberty, the franchise that plays in the WNBA’s flagship market, which also happens to be one of its strongest.

Approximately a year after MSG and James Dolan announced that the Liberty were on the market, a sale has yet to be completed and the team just came off a 7-27 season where they played the majority of their games at the Westchester County Center in White Plains, which did not exactly garner rave reviews.

Since the end of the season, all has been mostly silent on the #LibsWatch front, but as the Borders news demonstrates, that can change at a moment’s notice.

The CBA and the Liberty sale/arena situation are the two immediate issues that whoever follows Borders will be dealing with. Once the dust settles from those issues (hopefully with a better CBA for the players and the Liberty with a stable foundation in New York), Borders’ successor will have a tough act to follow.

Hopefully that is an act that sees more stability for the WNBA. Borders time at the W was shorter than that of Val Ackerman, Donna Orender, and Laurel Richie which has led some to believe some are simply using the platform of WNBA president to advance to even bigger gigs in the future.

The WNBA has seen definite growth and advancement during the Borders’ tenure, even if it was a mere three years. Slowly, but surely, ratings are on the rise and interest in women’s basketball is on the increase. Attendance was down in 2018, but a big reason for that was the Liberty playing in Westchester.

The playoff format gave us two unforgettable WNBA Finals in 2016 and 2017 between the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks. The WNBA signed a daily fantasy deal with FanDuel, a streaming deal with Twitter, and got into the game via EA Sports’ NBA Live.

Somebody say amen.

One of the league’s signature events – the All-Star Game – was held in Seattle and Minnesota for the first times in history. The W also found a footing in the emerging sports market that is Las Vegas, where the Aces, led by coach Bill Laimbeer and Rookie of the Year A’ja Wilson, competed for a playoff berth in its first season since moving from San Antonio.

Oh, and speaking of the All-Star Game…it will be in Las Vegas next season.

Somebody say amen.

There will be those who will lament on Borders’ staging of the WNBA Draft in smaller venues than in years past, or those who believe the W does not press for more media coverage or marketing in the mainstream. There are those who will also mention how the late-season travel situation with the Aces was handled or why so much praise on the County Center when it was not exactly the view shared by most.

All in all, the W is a better league and a more visible league as Borders steps out the door than when Borders came in the door as Richie’s replacement. And that is why one can hope that the next league president can take some notes from the soon-to-be-departing Borders and make the WNBA into an even bigger and better league for its players, coaches, staff, media, and fans.

Somebody say amen.

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