On Friday, the Atlanta Dream announced that co-owners Mary Brock and Kelly Loeffler have sold the team to Larry Gottesdiener, chairman of Northland, a leading national real estate firm.
Gottesdiener along with former Dream star Renee Montgomery and Northland President and Chief Operating Officer Suzanne Abair will make up a three-member investor group. The breakdown of their shares as well as the team’s financial valuation is currently confidential. However, Gottesdiener is a majority owner of the team.
“It is a privilege to join a team of inspiring women who strive for excellence on the court and equity off the court,” Gottesdiener said in a statement.
During Friday’s press conference, Gottesdiener spoke about the activism of the Dream last year.
“Last year in 2020, the players of the Dream refused to just shut up and dribble,” Gottesdiener said. “They found their collective voice, and the world listened. We’re inspired by these brave women who navigated sports and activism, in the midst of a pandemic, and we want to celebrate and honor them. We’re particularly proud to be stewards of this team in this city at this time.”
Montgomery will also serve as an executive for the team, making her the first former player to serve as an owner and an executive of a WNBA team. The former point guard signed a multiyear contract with the Dream in 2018, but opted out of playing the 2020 season to focus on social justice matters. By becoming an owner of a team, she’s effectively retired as a player.
“When I opted out, I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Montgomery said in a press conference Friday. “But the Atlanta community, the basketball community, all the different communities reached out and made sure I was okay.”
On Jan. 6, after Loeffler lost her seat as a U.S. Senator, LeBron James tweeted that he wanted to put together an ownership group for the Dream. Montgomery responded, saying “I’m ready when you are.”
At the time, she said she was already working with WNBA Commissioner Cathy Englebert and the More Than A Vote Foundation to take the steps to get to an ownership position.
Since 2011, Brock owned 51% of the Dream and Loeffler the remaining 49%. Brock’s husband, John Brock, is the former CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises.
“We are proud of what we accomplished and wish the team well in their next chapter,” said Brock and Loeffler in a statement about the sale of the Dream. “We will always value the hard work and dedication, and the memories, fans and friendships that sustained our commitment to the Atlanta Dream over the last decade.”
In December 2019, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp appointed her as U.S. senator to replace Johnny Isakson due to health concerns. After Loeffler lost a special election in the January runoffs in her bid to retain the seat, The New York Times reported that Brock was considering selling her stake in the team.
In July, during a summer of protests calling for racial justice, Loeffler denounced the WNBA’s support of Black Lives Matter. And, in a later campaign speech, she equated the movement to Marxism.
In a form of protest to her statement, WNBA players across the league wore T-shirts saying “VOTE WARNOCK” to endorse her opponent, now-Sen. Raphael Warnock.
Data suggests that the T-shirts elevated Warnock’s campaign. His campaign raised nearly $200,000 in two days, and his polling numbers jumped.
After this, Commissioner Engelbert stated that Loeffler would not be forced to sell the team. However, last summer, ESPN reported that Brock was providing financial information about the team to potential buyers. Loeffler then insisted she would stay with the team.
Elizabeth Williams, a Dream player and WNBA Players Union executive, has been at the forefront of fighting against social injustice and speaking out against Loeffler. She told The New York Times she felt as if Loeffler was using the team and the Black Lives Matter movement for Loeffler’s own political gain.
Layshia Clarendon of the New York Liberty expressed a similar sentiment, saying that Loeffler “distancing herself from the WNBA and [Black Lives Matter] only strengthens her political power.”
Doug Collins, a Republican rival in the senatorial election who former President Donald Trump favored, weaponized her actions with the Dream to boost his own campaign. In 2018, Loeffler honored Stacey Abrams while she was running against Brian Kemp for governor. Loeffler and Collins both made efforts to distance themselves from Abrams in hopes of appearing more conservative than the other candidate.
Loeffler has not spoken out against the league’s Pride campaign, a celebration of LGBTQ+ individuals, and has reportedly supported Planned Parenthood in their partnership with the Dream (but later called this “fake news”). Collins used these points to accuse her of pretending to be a conservative in a campaign release, according to Insider.
In 2014, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was caught on tape making racist remarks. He was subsequently banned for life from the NBA, was fined the maximum penalty of $2.5 million and sold the Clippers.
Clarendon called Loeffler’s statement about Black Lives Matter a “Donald Sterling moment.”
The Dream will remain in Atlanta and are set to play at Gateway Center Arena at College Park for the 2021 season.