Donna Orender, David Stern on WNBA
Donna Orender announced her decision Friday to step down as WNBA president, and neither she nor NBA Commissioner David Stern said they knew who would succeed her.
Stern, who said he will be "very much involved in the process," said no names have been thrown around, but added, "There will be no shortage of great candidates."
Orender will be resigning Dec. 31 after six seasons as president to launch Orender Unlimited, an independent marketing, media and strategy company.
"It's just time," Orender said. "I feel really positive and good about where the WNBA is currently and where it's going to progress."
Orender said she had been thinking about pursuing other endeavors for about a year, and said she will not be involved with finding her replacement.
According to the WNBA, the league experienced growth in attendance, ratings, digital consumption and sponsorships during Orender's tenure.
Orender's resignation surprised Stern. When asked if he knew in advance that Orender was stepping down, he said "not precisely."
"I was disappointed," he said. "I think she's done a great job -- there have been wonderful things done under her watch and we've had a great working relationship."
The WNBA which was founded in 1997, has experienced some recent financial hardships. Within the last four years, the league saw the collapse of three teams -- Charlotte, Houston and Sacramento -- and another sold and moved -- the Shock, from Detroit to Tulsa.
That doesn't worry Stern, though.
"You could fill in the blanks and that could be the NBA," he said. "It could be the team that went from Vancouver to Memphis, from Charlotte to New Orleans, Kansas City to Sacramento. We've had a fair amount of movement ourselves over the years. It happens, especially when you have a league that's new. It's coming to our 15th anniversary and the naysayers said we wouldn't get past two."
Stern acknowledged that in past years, the NBA subsidized the WNBA with as much as $3 million to $4 million a year, but said now, "The NBA is doing better than breaking even on the WNBA."
Orender said her resignation had nothing to do with any of the league's woes, and pointed out that the Connecticut Sun this year was the first team to become "cash flow positive."
"I lived with it through thick and thin and was committed to moving it in the right direction," she said. "I feel great about my decision. It's bittersweet. I don't like saying goodbye."
The league's first president, Val Ackerman, stepped down on Feb. 1, 2005, and was replaced by Orender in April of that year. Stern said he estimates a similar time frame for finding the next WNBA president.
"We've got plenty of time," he said.
As for the next president, both Stern and Orender have similar goals.
"I think that I want the future president to continue the notion that the WNBA is iconic and it stands for the ability of women to have the same opportunities that are available to men," Stern said.