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Powerful Women Join Forces To Bring The WNBA To Oakland

Scott Ostler San Francisco Chronicle

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The 12-team WNBA reportedly is studying expansion, and the group making the case for Oakland includes WNBA All-Star Alana Beard as well as Shonda Scott (owner and CEO of 360 Total Concept).

San Francisco

Reports of Oakland's death as a home for major-league sports franchises may have been greatly exaggerated.

An Oakland group of Black businesspeople is seeking to land a WNBA expansion franchise. The group, African American Sports and Entertainment Group (AASEG), is assembling a bloc of powerful, high-profile women to lead the team.

On Thursday, AASEG held a video news conference to introduce the leader of that power bloc, former WNBA All-Star Alana Beard, and provide updates on the organization's progress.

Beard played 15 years in the WNBA and was a four-time All-Star and two-time Defensive Player of the Year. She has not yet been given an official title, but will head the team's ownership group.

Now that AASEG has a respected leader for its basketball team, and it has a place to play (Oakland Coliseum Arena), and it claims to have sound financial backing, now all it needs is a WNBA franchise.

The 12-team WNBA reportedly is studying expansion, and AASEG has been pounding on the door for the past year, presenting its case for Oakland.

"They (league officials) have been receptive, very respectful and very helpful ... every step of the way," said Ray Bobbitt, one of AASEG's founders and leaders. "We are in direct communication at the highest level in the league."

Bobbitt said the league has indicated that any expansion team(s) would require an 18-month run-up, from acceptance into the league to joining the action.

Beard gives the Oakland group street cred and boardroom cred in its pursuit of a franchise. When she retired from basketball in early 2020, Beard moved from Washington, D.C., to the Bay Area to explore a career in the world of venture capital. In July she contacted Bobbitt to express her interest in AASEG's WNBA dreams, and in short order she signed on to lead the charge.

Beard won't be alone. If the dream is realized, the new Oakland team will be the first major league sports team to begin life under the leadership of powerful women.

The power bloc includes attorney Jade Smith-Williams (Bailey Glasser LLP), as well as Shonda Scott and Samantha Wise, both of whom are African American businesswomen and members of AASEG. Scott is owner and CEO of 360 Total Concept and Wise is a community and corporate leader, podcast host and entrepreneur. Oakland vice mayor Rebecca Kaplan has been an outspoken advocate for the city's WNBA efforts since 2014.

"I think the impact of just seeing positive and accomplished people of color in ownership is super-impactful for players across all sports, and it's inspiring in communities of color," Beard said of her role.

"That's the one thing that drives me and motivates me. This is a blueprint; this is what we want to build so that the next generation can see us as leaders and aspire to be more than what we are."

Alicia Garza, co-founder of the international Black Lives Matter movement, joined the news conference to lend her support. Garza said, "We all know that Black women get it done, and this will be no exception."

With the WNBA surging in popularity, based on TV ratings and merchandise sales, Oakland is likely to have spirited competition from other cities, including San Francisco. Warriors owner Joe Lacob has long expressed interest in owning a WNBA team, and on Wednesday he reaffirmed that interest to The Chronicle. Lacob was the primary investor in the American Basketball League, which sprang into existence in 1996 and lasted two seasons.

AASEG, however, believes it may have built up an early lead in the competition. Bobbitt said, "There has been no other group that's submitted a formal proposal (to the WNBA). Not the Warriors, no other group. ... At this point in time we don't have any competition, and we hope that as we move this process forward quickly and we have the momentum we have, the league will identify all the pieces we have together and will be in a position to select us to represent the Bay Area in their expansion plan."

Participants in the news conference stressed that a new Oakland team would represent more than just a boost for the city's rep as a sports town.

Garza said she is attracted to this project because its leaders are asking, "How do we make sure that this isn't just about brand-building for Oakland, but that it's really deeply investing in the communities that have been far too long underserved, under-resourced, overlooked and left behind?"

___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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