For Renee Montgomery, Atlanta Dream ownership started with a tweet

Renee Montgomery played for the Dream in 2018 and 2019. (Gregory Payan/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Renee Montgomery played for the Dream in 2018 and 2019. (Gregory Payan/AP)

Forgive Renee Montgomery for still saying ‘we’ when referring to WNBA players.

It’s not easy to leave an 11-year professional career behind — even to become a team owner.

Montgomery made WNBA history on Friday when she joined majority partner Larry Gottesdiener and Suzanne Abair in purchasing the Atlanta Dream. Montgomery is the first former player to become both an owner and executive of a WNBA franchise.

The career path was not something that Montgomery, who spent her final two seasons with the Dream, envisioned when she opted out of the 2020 season to focus on social justice issues. It is, however, why she announced her retirement earlier this year. You see, you can’t be both an owner and a player in the WNBA.

It started in earnest with a tweet.

Montgomery had been involved with LeBron James and his More Than a Vote campaign, a group of Black athletes and artists with a stated priority of “combating systemic, racist voter suppression by educating, energizing, and protecting our community.” On Jan. 6, James posted on social media a picture of Atlanta Dream players in ‘Vote Warnock’ T-shirts and wrote: “Think I gone put together an ownership group for the The Dream. Whose In?”

As it turns out, Montgomery was in.

“That tweet actually prompted my mind,” Montgomery said Friday after the sale was approved. “And just a little backstory, in October I kind of started to figure out if this could be a real possibility, and then when I did see that tweet, knowing the connection that I had with More Than a Vote and just their connection to the league and to the WNBA, I just reached out to them, and I was like, hey, you know, if you guys are serious, I’m interested, as well. If you could like point me in the right direction or if you could help me get to the next step, and the next step was (WNBA commissioner) Cathy (Engelbert). They helped me get there, and I spoke with Cathy and I told her I understand that this would mean that I’m no longer a player, but I’m very passionate about it and I would love to be able to be in that conversation.”

On Jan. 19, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the sale of the Dream was imminent, a sign that ownership of the franchise was about to transfer from Kelly Loeffler and Cathy Brock to Gottesdiener and Abair, both with real estate firm Northland. Montgomery was added to the group. She said she spoke a prayer of thanks after their first phone call for a shared vision.

Montgomery related a conversation she had with fellow player Diana Taurasi in 2019 about ownership. Taurasi said ownership was “where the real decisions are made.” Montgomery was still in player mode she said. However, a seed was planted.

“There’s been a lot of different things along the way that’s just kind of coaxed my mind, and then even seeing people like LeBron James who he’s talking about what ownership means and what it could mean to have the right people in ownership,” Montgomery said. “That just kind of fueled me, and I just continued along that journey, and as I talked about, there were a lot off allies along that journey because me thinking it wanted it happen doesn’t just make it happen and there were so many people along the way that really helped along that journey, More Than a Vote, I keep saying those people, Cathy, because I’m just so thankful. I wouldn’t be talking to you guys if it wasn’t for them.”

Gottesdiener said he will mostly take a hands-off approach as majority owner, letting Abair and Montgomery be involved in the day-to-day operations of the Dream. Montgomery was to get involved in the marketing of the WNBA and the Dream. Montgomery also plans to keep her role as studio analyst for Atlanta Hawks broadcasts.

“It’s exciting when you see representation at any high level of management,” Montgomery said. “It’s exciting, and there’s been a lot of talk about it amongst players, and there’s been a lot of talk about what would it look like for a player to be in that position. And so, I recognize that this is an opportunity not just for myself but for players as a whole and whether that’s women that are players or men, just seeing themselves differently, in a different light.”