SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Joe Lacob’s love and support of women’s basketball dates back nearly three decades to when he became one of the original investors in the former American Basketball League.
It became one of his first big sports ventures after watching Tara VanDerveer lead the Americans to a gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Now, after years of hoping and planning, the WNBA is finally coming to the bay.
“It’s awesome,” Golden State superstar Stephen Curry said.
Lacob is spearheading the operation and happy to do his part, along with everyone else within the Warriors, to build the game — and Stanford coach VanDerveer was in attendance to cheer him on Thursday when Golden State’s expansion franchise became official.
“I wouldn’t care as much about women’s basketball if it weren’t for her,” Lacob said of the Hall of Famer, the winningest women’s coach of all time. “She’s the goddess of women’s basketball.”
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced the expansion team will begin play in the San Francisco Bay Area for the 2025 season. Engelbert has faced constant questions about when the league would expand, to which she would reply when the time was right. The WNBA, which started in 1997, currently has 12 teams.
“It’s thrilling, it’s absolutely thrilling,” VanDerveer said. “I didn’t even know what I would feel and it’s like, ‘Whoo!’ Awesome. I have goosebumps. It takes a lot to get goosebumps for me, too.”
With the addition of the 13th team, Engelbert also hopes to add another ahead of the 2025 season. Sacramento has expressed interest, among other cities.
“I’ve made no secret, I’ve been to Portland, I’ve been to Denver, I’ve been to Toronto. We had a sold-out preseason game in Toronto this year,” she said. “Philadelphia, there’s many — Charlotte.”
The NBA powerhouse Warriors have planned for this since before the opening of Chase Center in 2019. The WNBA team will play in the same arena where Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are stars.
“The right time, the right moment is today,” Engelbert said, while welcoming, “the next generation of leaders, mothers and athletes.”
Not yet named — Lacob says that will be soon and he’s receiving a flood of suggestions — the organization will be headquartered and train in the Warriors’ former practice facility in Oakland, where the Warriors still hold their youth summer camps.
The plan is to have female executives, likely from the outside, running the new WNBA franchise’s front office, Lacob said. While some positions will be filled from within, Lacob expects to build the team with a mix of those already within the organization and candidates from elsewhere. Resumes are already arriving from coaches and executives.
“Joe is passionate about this sport,” coach Steve Kerr said. “The Warriors’ fortunes changed the second Joe bought the team and said we’re going to win in five years, because he delivered every resource to strengthen the organization at every level. … He’s going to make sure this is a first-class operation because that’s what Joe does.”
Kerr looks forward to perhaps learning from some new perspectives brought into the fold for the women’s franchise “with similar goals but maybe a different way of doing things.”
On hand for the announcement along with VanDerveer were former player and current California coach Charmin Smith, WNBPA Director of Player Relations Jayne Appel and other former stars such as Sheryl Swoopes and Seimone Augustus.
“The Bay Area is firmly aligned with our already strong fan base of diverse and engaged basketball fans,” Engelbert said “This is a hub for women’s sports with six Division I women’s basketball teams in the Bay Area, three which are represented today.”
San Francisco Mayor London Breed reiterated what this moment means to the entire Bay Area, not just her city.
“I don’t know if anyone in this room is more excited than I am that we are finally getting a WNBA team to play in San Francisco, to practice in Oakland, what it means for the Bay Area, and the visionary leadership that it took to get us here,” Breed said.
Lacob can’t wait to get going with VanDerveer’s support. She made sure to see him before heading back to The Farm to hit the practice floor with her team. And Lacob guaranteed a championship within the first five years for his WNBA team — “no surprise,” Curry quipped.
“The league is really poised to take off in a big way. We believe that. We want to be a part of that,” Lacob said. “We think this is the time to jump in and to, obviously, use the great base that they have built in terms of a league.”
Thompson, for one, plans many a trip across the bay in his boat to see some games.
“Huge WNBA fan,” he declared. “… Special day for basketball lovers around the region.”
AP WNBA: https://apnews.com/hub/wnba-basketball