Kelly Loeffler’s tenure with Atlanta Dream over, franchise sold to real estate investor

Dream guard Renee Montgomery reacts to a score against the Washington Mystics on Sunday, August 26, 2018, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Caption
Dream guard Renee Montgomery reacts to a score against the Washington Mystics on Sunday, August 26, 2018, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Former Dream player Renee Montgomery part of investor group

Kelly Loeffler’s ownership tenure - tumultuous in the past year - of the Dream is over.

The sale of the team was completed with the announcement that the WNBA franchise has been sold to majority owner Larry Gottesdiener, chairman of the national real estate firm Northland, on Friday. He is joined in a three-member investor group with former Dream player Renee Montgomery and Northland President and Chief Operating Officer Suzanne Abair. The owners and the league declined to disclose the ownership percentages.

The sale of the WNBA franchise was described as “imminent” to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last month by a league representative. The AJC first reported that the sale could be announced Friday.

Co-owned by former U.S. Sen. Loeffler, the team has been embroiled in conflict over her remarks about the Black Lives Matter movement. Dream players were open in their support of the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who defeated Loeffler in a runoff election for her Senate seat last month.

Despite remarks that she did not plan to sell the WNBA franchise, co-owned with Mary Brock since 2011, the sale was completed Friday with the league announcement that it has been approved by the WNBA and NBA Boards of Governors.

“Last year, 2020, the players of the Dream refused to just shut up and dribble,” Gottesdiener said. “They found their collective voice and the world listened. We are inspired by these brave women who navigated sports and activism in the midst of a pandemic, and we want to celebrate and honor them. We are particularly proud to be stewards of this team, in this city, at this time.”

Gottesdiener said there are no plans to relocate the franchise.

Caption
Larry Gottesdiener, the majority owner of the Atlanta Dream.

Credit: Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Dream

Larry Gottesdiener, the majority owner of the Atlanta Dream.
Caption
Larry Gottesdiener, the majority owner of the Atlanta Dream.

Credit: Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Dream

Credit: Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Dream

Montgomery, a two-time WNBA champion, will be the first former player to become both an owner and executive of a WNBA team. Montgomery sat out the 2020 season to focus on social-justice issues and recently announced her retirement from the league after 11 seasons. Montgomery has been working on broadcasts of Hawks games this season.

“I’m so excited because when I opted out, I didn’t know what was going to happen, but the Atlanta community, the basketball community, all the different communities, reached out to make sure I was OK,” Montgomery said. “For me, I’m excited because that connection has already been made. Hearing what Larry and Suzanne envision for the Dream, I’m excited because that’s exactly what I would want to do with the Dream as well. … For me, that was important because as you all know, I believe in standing for something. I’m happy to be standing with Suzanne and Larry and trying to connect Atlanta to the Atlanta Dream because that is the next step.”

Dream players protested Loeffler comments about the Black Lives Matter movement last year by wearing T-shirts and with social-media posts. They wore the T-shirts before a nationally televised game against Phoenix. Several players were active in the process leading to the runoff election, including taking part in videos encouraging participation in the election.

The issues between owner and team began in the summer amid the nationwide protests over social-justice issues and the Black Lives Matter movement.

The players’ union called for Loeffler to be removed from ownership, but WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said Loeffler would not be forced to sell, noting she was not involved in the day-to-day operations of the team.

Following the announcement of the sale, the Women’s National Basketball Players Association issued a statement that, in part, read: “May it send a strong reminder that the players of the W are bigger than basketball and that together they stand for equity, justice, diversity, inclusion, fairness and respect. … It is time for the women of the Atlanta Dream and their fans to have an opportunity to heal and move forward. 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 gain or favor. Those actions were unbelievably selfish, reckless and dangerous. And those who would conduct themselves in that manner have absolutely no place in our sport.”

Pressed in July about her stake in the Dream, Loeffler said she hadn’t decided whether she would sell the team and blamed the criticism on a broader “cancel culture” that she said the Black Lives Matter protests fueled. However, by the beginning of this year, the sale was nearly complete. Engelbert helped connect Montgomery with Gottesdiener and Abair. However, the league did not broker the sale with Loeffler and Brock.

Loeffler and Brock commented on the sale in a statement issued through the WNBA.

“Ten years ago we stepped up to keep the Dream in Atlanta, as an important asset for a vibrant and diverse city. It was also important to us to help level the playing field for women’s professional sports. We are proud of what we accomplished and wish the team well in their next chapter. We will always value the hard work and dedication, and the memories, fans and friendships that sustained our commitment to the Atlanta Dream over the last decade.”

Gottesdiener is the founder and chairman of Northland Investment Corporation, described as a $10 billion real estate private equity firm. Gottesdiener said he had interest in purchasing a professional sports franchise for several years, including the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins. He said at one time he looked into buying the Atlanta Thrashers, who were sold and moved to Winnipeg nearly 10 years ago.

Gottesdiener, originally from New London, Conn., said he splits most of his time between Massachusetts and California. He said he was a big fan of the 1995 undefeated University of Connecticut women’s basketball team. Montgomery won a national championship at Connecticut in 2009.

“What really got me to become a supporter and hopefully a champion of women’s sports was having a really gritty first-born daughter who was so (ticked) off that the high school team didn’t have a girl’s wrestling team that she went out and competed on the men’s team,” Gottesdiener said.

“... I’m surrounded by really strong and thoughtful women in my personal and professional life. Present company included, I’m referring to Renee and Suzanne. I believe in them. I support them whatever they ask to support. I think this is just an opportunity to expand that support for women’s sports generally, but women’s basketball particularly.”

The WNBA has yet to announce a schedule for the 2021 season. However, the Dream have been busy re-shaping their roster following the start of free-agency signing period Feb. 1. The Dream have signed Cheyenne Parker, Tianna Hawkins and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and traded for Yvonne Turner.

The Dream also hold the No. 3 overall selection in the WNBA draft.

“I’d also like to take this time to thank the WNBA players, particularly the Dream players,” Engelbert said. “They were put in a difficult position. I was proud of the way they handled the situation. They stood for their values with the upmost professionalism. They served as role models for advocacy and continue to do so. Huge respect.”

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