Renee Montgomery had to make a decision. An opportunity arose for her to become a part-owner and the league does not allow active players to be owners. Would she continue to play in the WNBA or join an ownership group to take over the Atlanta Dream?
In the end, it was an easy decision.
“I feel like I’m always going to be a player,” Renee Montgomery said in a phone call with media members after the ownership announcement. “I think that I still could be able to play if I wanted to but I recognized this opportunity the same way that when I opted out in 2020 that there was something happening here. I really got it. This is what I need to be doing. Atlanta is primed for this type of movement. I wanted to be that more than an athlete. I know it sounds cliche but being more than an athlete is being in these types of situations.”
Renee joins Larry Gottesdiener, Chairman of Northland, an industry-leading national real estate firm, and Northland President and Chief Operating Officer Suzanne Abair as part of a three-member ownership group buying the Dream from Mary Brock and Kelly Loeffler. With Renee’s ownership, she has become the second former WNBA player to become an owner of a team (Lisa Leslie having paved the way in 2011), and the first former player to become both an owner and executive of a WNBA team. The ownership change is a big step forward for the Atlanta Dream and the league as it looks to continue to amplify its athletes and their voices.
“Last year started the ball rolling with people knowing that the women of the WNBA aren’t just great at basketball, also they’re great at being advocates,” Renee said. “It’s beautiful when the community embraces it. We just want to continue that.”
The WNBA Players Association released a statement to commend the ownership takeover.
“It is time for the women of the Atlanta Dream and their fans to have an opportunity to heal and move forward,” WNBPA Executive Director Terri Jackson said in the statement. “It is our fervent wish that we shall never see again such an abuse of power and arrogant display of privilege. It is our hope that no one will ever again attempt to use the players for individual political gain or favor.”
Renee and the new ownership group will bring a bounce back into the team’s step. Something the two-time WNBA champion brought as a player.
Renee wasn’t thinking much about ownership until the idea was brought up to her by Diana Taurasi.
“She was like ‘You don’t wanna own it? That’s where the real decisions are made.’ And I was still in player mode,” Renee Montgomery said. “There’s been a lot of different things along the way. There were so many people along the way that helped with that journey.”
In October 2020, it was just a thought for Renee who had chosen to sit out the bubble season. Then, she saw a tweet from LeBron James that was quoted by Carmelo Anthony. The two NBA stars were publicly discussing taking over the Atlanta Dream from Kelly Loeffler, a Republican United States Senator at the time who had opposed the Black Lives Matter movement. She reached out and several phone calls later, including discussion with WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert, Renee was in touch with the current ownership group.
“When I got connected to Suzanne and Larry, I’m telling you it was over,” Renee said. “The first call I had to say a thank you prayer, because honestly I didn’t know what their viewpoints were going to be and what they saw for the Dream and I was so thankful to see that we had the same vision.”
Larry Gottesdiener, who has attempted to buy a sports franchise for years, including a WNBA team, saw what the Dream did in 2020. He was inspired.
“The women of the Dream showed incredible character last year, they were brave in speaking out in what they believed in and we want to solidify that connection, we want to amplify their voices and we want to concretize their place in history,” Larry said. “This is an Atlanta asset. We’re stewards of it. We hope to build something that all of Atlanta will be proud of. … The team isn’t going anywhere.”
The Dream will still play an instrumental role in social and racial justice. Renee Montgomery’s role with the team will be to work on the day-to-day with Abair, pushing to improve the team’s connection to the local community and market the players and team in better ways than before. As a former player, Renee knows what players want and how they want to have themselves marketed. She wants to use the players as an intermediary to connect the culture of Atlanta to the team.
“Every player has a story to tell,” Renee said. “When you make it to the highest level of sports, if you’re a professional athlete, you’ve done some amazing things along the way to get there. Or you might have incredible style and you want that highlighted or you might be a sneakerhead and you want to show your kicks. Whatever way that the players feel is their thing that’s kind of what I want to lean into.”
Renee has a lot of people in her corner. She has her college coach, UConn’s Geno Auriemma, who has already reached out with positive support and offers to help. Her mother was an inspiration to her, described by Renee as a businesswoman with a strong work ethic.
“When I told my family, it was loud. So much excitement,” Renee said. “Honestly, in my 11 year career I don’t think I’ve cried as much in the past few months. This isn’t just me going through this journey, this is my family.”
The move from on the court to the owner’s box is unprecedented in the WNBA, making Renee Montgomery a trailblazer who the league hopes is the first of many.
“I think this is a great example of Renee stepping out and being a role model,” Cathy Engelbert said. “One of the reasons I took this job was to help players in their post playing career.”
Up next, get acquainted with the Atlanta Dream’s point guard Chennedy Carter.
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