In the 27th year of its life, the best women’s basketball league on the planet found a home in the epicenter of American progress.
The WNBA is coming to the Bay Area. To San Francisco, where it will play its games at Chase Center. The team’s headquarters and practice facility will be in Oakland, atop the downtown Marriott, moving into the space where the current Warriors were cultivated. And, yes, San Jose also is a member of this basketball family.
“If you look at the San Francisco Bay Area, you look at the demographics and psychographics, you look at our current fan base here but also nationally and, hopefully, we’re building a global platform as well, it’s really important that when technology is driving your economy and the tech center of your country doesn’t have a WNBA team, that doesn’t seem right to me,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said Thursday.
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This overdue development wouldn’t be happening without the persistence and pocketbooks of Warriors CEO Joe Lacob and co-chairman Peter Guber, who are paying a hefty franchise fee to acquire the rights to the team scheduled to begin operating in the 2025 season.
But, also, there is the influence of Stephen Curry, the man most responsible for helping Lacob realize his lofty NBA ambitions.
Perhaps the most visible male athlete offering full-throated support of women’s basketball, Curry was not among the dignitaries sharing the stage during the announcement Thursday at Chase Center. But his ability to grow the game and pave roads for all genders was the current running through the building.
The Steph Effect comes in concentric circles, and this is the latest ripple. His presence and popularity have been the essential ingredient to the Warriors winning multiple NBA championships, escaping relative anonymity and becoming a franchise of the world. If Curry had been drafted by, say, the Minnesota Timberwolves, Chase Center still would be in the recesses of imagination.
Golden State Warriors
That’s real juice, enough to generate and maintain momentum to bring a WNBA team to a region not only deserving of professional women’s basketball but also wholly compatible with the concept.
The Bay Area is, after all, the cradle of innovation and a longtime leader in diversity and gender equality. Women thrive here.
“I do want to take this time to recognize the passing of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a true champion of equality and empowerment for women everywhere,” Engelbert said in her opening remarks. “She was a trailblazer, breaking barriers and shattering ceilings throughout her remarkable career that started here, in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her advocacy for women’s rights matches the values that we hold dear in the WNBA, as women continue to define and redefine the boundaries of possibility.”
Feinstein was America’s first high-profile, big-city mayor, taking office under tragic circumstances in 1978 and remaining in place for 10 years before taking office as a United States senator.
London Breed, the city’s second female mayor, attended the proceedings Thursday. Oakland’s third consecutive female mayor, Sheng Thao — who succeeded Libby Schaaf, who succeeded Jean Quan — was said to have had “other obligations.”
Also in the building was Stanford women’s coach Tara VanDerveer, a local institution who happens to be the winningest coach in college women’s basketball history.
Lacob, Guber and Co. are jumping into this hoping to take their successful experience in rebuilding the Warriors and apply it to the WNBA team. They’re pouncing after studying the landscape of women’s sports.
“It’s finally the moment when we feel, as an organization, that we can do our best job to have a WNBA team in this building and in this market,” said Lacob, whose interest in owning a women’s professional basketball franchise dates back more than 30 years. “I also think that women’s basketball — women’s sports in general — is really starting to take a big upswing.”
Women indeed are taking a bigger bite of the professional sports market. Soccer is a force, as are tennis and golf. As for the WNBA, attendance was up 16 percent over last year, TV viewership was up 21 percent and social-media engagement was up an astounding 96 percent.
The Warriors are the envy of the NBA and much of the sports world beyond. And here they are, adding to the empire. The Steph wave remains a solid revenue ride for the Bay Area. Why not capitalize on the moment?