“Expect Great” is the slogan of the WNBA. Greatness is what we saw when Trusteeship members Carla Christofferson and Kathy Goodman, co-owners of the Los Angeles Sparks, welcomed The Trusteeship to a Special Access event at Staples Center to see the Sparks on June 10.
After arriving at the Staples Center, we were quickly directed to the VIP Lexus Club. The beautiful room, overlooking all of LA Live, was set up for dinner with a Mexican buffet and taco bar. During dinner, Carla and Kathy explained to the group just how they came to be owners of the Los Angeles Sparks. Both avid fans and season ticket holders, they shared some of the same opinions on the teams’ previous management. Kathy detailed, “One summer we were particularly unhappy with the coach of the day and were constantly saying things like, ‘If we owned this team it would all be different!‘ Finally one day Carla said ‘Okay, I give up, we have to buy the team!’” And that is exactly what they did. “We really believe in the product. We like the idea of being able to build a community around the Sparks and to showcase these women for what they deserve to be,” Kathy shared. She also said that they saw the market had growth potential, “it was the opportunity to get in on an asset that was severely undervalued.” Additionally, Carla and Kathy, as the first female team owners, started a trend of women purchasing WNBA teams. Today, 1/3 of WNBA teams have female owners.
Penny Toler, the General Manager of the Sparks, also made an appearance during dinner and shared with the group how much the WNBA means to her. Penny played for the Sparks for 3 years before becoming the team’s general manager and has the distinction of scoring the first basket in WNBA history. She detailed for the group many of the characteristics that make the WNBA such a great organization. “The WNBA has the best women basketball players in the world,” she shared, “Before the WNBA, if women wanted to play basketball after college, they had to go abroad. Now, women from all over the world come here to play, and they come here to play for the community.”
We learned additional noteworthy characteristics of the WNBA, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. For example, female players can’t jump to the pros, as is possible in men’s basketball. Every player on the Sparks has earned her college degree. Another difference between the NBA and WNBA is player salary. The salary cap for an entire team in the WNBA is less than the rookie minimum for a NBA player. “That’s why a lot of people love our sport,” Penny explained, “because its not dominated by just someone being a superior athlete. You still see plays, you still see schemes, you still see coaching. It’s not about the individual athlete; it’s about the team. And this is what makes women’s basketball so unique… and we hope for everyone to have an opportunity to see it.”
The demographic of fans at a typical Sparks game is varied, including many women and children. Our group was no different, as many Trusteeship members brought their families, children and grandchildren to share in the day. About a dozen grandchildren joined the group for the reception and game, including Arielle Janger, granddaughter of member Judi Davidson. A basketball player herself, the nine-year-old was thrilled to get to see the Sparks game. “I love getting to see them play. But my favorite part of today is probably these!” Arielle giggled as she held up the Sparks goodie bags stuffed with Sparks memorabilia including a yellow and purple basketball for players to autograph after the game. Having a family focus and community around the Sparks is important to Kathy and Carla. “This is what we love to see,” Carla explained, “Little girls and little boys seeing women in different roles and expanding the idea of who they could be.”
With time before tip-off ticking away, we began our special access tour of the Staples Center. You could easily get lost in the winding hallways and tunnels that house all the pressrooms, locker rooms, and other areas that support the 900,000 square foot Staples Center. The hallways’ red walls feature narrative pictures of events, performers, games and concerts that had been held in the facility. We made it around to our assigned mid-court seats just in time for tip-off and to enjoy the big game.
It was a wonderful night, for all who attended and for the team. The Sparks beat Phoenix Mercury with a final score of 98-84. Go Sparks!