President Laurel Richie happy with WNBA's handling of 2015 challenges

ByMechelle Voepel ESPN logo
Sunday, July 26, 2015

UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Laurel Richie says the lessons she has learned in five seasons as WNBA president made it easier to deal with a difficult start to 2015.

"What I'm very proud of with the challenges we faced at the beginning of this season is we were very thoughtful, very focused, very committed to letting the process unfold," Richie said in her state of the league address before Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game.

"I am a big believer that when you follow the process and all that entails, whether you are investigating, vetting, deciding, nine times out of 10 you're going to get to the right place at the end."

In April, Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson were involved in a domestic violence incident that Richie had to investigate and determine penalties for. Then came the controversial news in May that Isiah Thomas would become president of the New York Liberty.

Phoenix's Griner and Tulsa's Johnson each received seven-game suspensions. Griner served her suspension and was in the starting lineup for the West team Saturday. Johnson is sitting out the season because she is pregnant with twins.

As for Thomas, he and the Madison Square Garden Co. had been subject to a sexual harassment lawsuit in 2007 for which MSG paid $11.5 million to settle with former employee Anucha Browne Sanders.

Along with his presidency, Thomas also was given part ownership in the team, which was subject to approval by the WNBA Board of Governors.

It was a thorny issue, perhaps even more so since Brown is now NCAA vice president in charge of the women's basketball championship. But it was tabled when the Liberty announced in June that they were rescinding their request -- at least for now -- to have Thomas assume ownership interest. He remains the Liberty's president, and New York leads the Eastern Conference at the All-Star break at 12-5.

As for the evergreen topic of WNBA expansion, Richie said there is nothing imminent on the horizon, but the league will form an expansion committee to further examine the topic.

"That's a conversation that it seems we have every year, and I always say it gets closer and closer," Richie said, adding that the committee will try to form a "concrete plan and strategy for how we think about it, how we approach it, the timing."

Richie and the league will also be dealing with relocation. The Shock franchise announced this week that it will leave Tulsa after the season and move to Dallas. Shock majority owner Bill Cameron made the decision to move, and it was approved by the board of governors.

The Shock moved from Detroit to Tulsa before the 2010 season and had a losing record for their first five years in Oklahoma. This year, despite the loss of star guard Skylar Diggins in June, the team is 10-8 and in contention for a playoff spot.

But following the Shock the rest of 2015 will be, at best, bittersweet for Tulsa fans, who know their team is moving to Texas next season.

"The last thing we want to do is be disruptive to players, coaches and the fans," Richie said. "I think it was apparent to Bill Cameron and his group felt that news of their discussions and ultimate decision might get out. We collectively felt it was important for the team to hear it directly from the ownership group. We were very conscious of the impact."