Donna Orender played key role in WNBA growth

WNBA president Donna Orender has stepped down from her post in order to launch her own independent marketing, media and strategy company after five-plus years. Her tenure will come to a close on Dec. 31. Orender is leaving the league during its crucial adolescent years, but the league's connection with the NBA, and its improving product will help it stay afloat during this period of transition.

NBA commissioner David Stern, who serves as an ambassador for the WNBA whenever given the chance, will help select the next president and set criteria for the position. NBA senior vice president Chris Granger will serve as an interim president for the league. Stern says the new president could be male or female.

"I would like to continue the growth that we've seen in Donna's watch, particularly in the fact that there is a lot to be said about having great role models for young women who want to compete in sports, business and life."

The WNBA will no doubt survive and prosper because the big boys at the NBA have got their back.

Prognosticators want to peg Orender's resignation as a sign of the WNBA's downfall, but really Orender's exit is just growing pains of a league in its teenage years. This isn't the first time the league has lost its president. Orender replaced league president Val Ackerman in 2005 and saw the league's success grow. The same should happen with the initiation of the new president. At 14 years old, the WNBA has survived longer than any women's professional league in the nation. Under Orender's reign, the WNBA has increased in attendance, sponsorships and TV ratings. She also created labor peace, something the NBA is struggling with, with a six-year contract extension with the players' association.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

Donna Orender spent five years at the helm of the WNBA before resigning late last year.

In its infancy, the WNBA did survive because its losses were subsidized by the NBA, but things have changed.

"The NBA is doing better than breaking even on the WNBA," Stern said in the Los Angeles Times.

The WNBA has become profitable, even more profitable than the NBA, and should see growth, even in a slowing economy. But like any adolescent, the WNBA had its growth spurt accompanied by a few blemishes.

During Orender's period in office the WNBA lost three franchises: the Charlotte Sting, Sacramento Monarchs and four-time champion Houston Comets. Then there was the relocation of a successful Detroit Shock team to Tulsa. Winning did not make a team immune to financial woes. Those who want to point to the relocation or disappearance of these teams as a sign of the league's collapse need to look back at the history of the NBA.

The NBA is way past its adolescent years but has moved teams from Rochester to Kansas City to Sacramento, then Charlotte to New Orleans and had early teams like the Indianapolis Olympians fold. With these moves, no one spoke of the NBA's downfall, they were just financial moves that needed to be made. Now with the NBA on the precipice of a labor lockout, the idea of contraction has been tossed around as a way to improve. Retaining teams with owners who have lackluster interest or teams in financial trouble won't help the WNBA move into the future. A league's got to do what it's got to do to survive.

Orender has stressed that she is not leaving because of issues with the league but just to take another step in her life. She plans to do consulting work for the league after she leaves.

In a recent ESPN.com article she said, "My work on behalf of women and girls around the world will only deepen as will my ongoing engagement in sports. I am pleased to be able to continue my involvement with the WNBA as I move ahead."

Keeping a business savvy woman like Orender on staff and having an ally in commissioner Stern will help carry the WNBA into the future. Also the growing talent pool of girls with ankle-breaking crossovers who have grown up with the league is what will really keep the WNBA in people's homes and hearts.

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