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Did Magic Johnson Save the WNBA by Buying the Sparks?



Other journalists can say the WNBA would have survived without the Los Angeles Sparks, but I tend to think otherwise.

If the Sparks had folded, the WNBA would’ve been down to 11 teams total with only five in the Western Conference. That means every team in the West except one makes the playoffs.

L.A.’s demise would’ve also meant one of the original teams, one of three still remaining from its original city, would’ve been gone. The Sparks would’ve become another name to add to the six folded teams and three additional teams that have relocated.

A team with two WNBA championships and the team home to the greatest player to play in the league’s history in Lisa Leslie would’ve been gone.

All the amazing fans and season ticket holders that made L.A. the league leader in attendance the last two seasons would be without a team too.

A defunct Sparks team would’ve meant young girls in Southern California would lose their role models, which were plentiful in L.A. as the team featured the reigning MVP in Candace Parker, the 2012 Rookie of the Year in Nneka Ogwumike and the 2012 Most Improved Player in Kristi Toliver. Speaking for women’s sports, it’s sad to think a team with that much talent, ranking second in the league in scoring at 81.9 points per game last season, is suffering.

However, probably most importantly, being that L.A. is one of the biggest sports markets in the country, if the Sparks had folded, it would be hard to justify that the longest lasting women’s professional league in American history deserves to make it.

Luckily for the WNBA, it no longer has to think about what would have been without the L.A. Sparks, but simply what will be.

After past owner Paula Madison abruptly announced the team’s folding in December, saying she had lost $12 million, including $1.4 million last season, and didn’t expect to see any change in the upcoming season, the WNBA fought hard to find new owners. It seems the league put everything aside — a new schedule, a date for the WNBA draft, etc. — to ensure the Sparks continued to exist.

Uncertainty surrounded the franchise for just over a month. While the Golden State Warriors showed great interest in purchasing and relocating the team, one man ensured the team stayed where it belongs.

Ervin “Magic” Johnson earned his name once again. Teaming up with chairman of the Dodgers, Mark Walter, the pair bought the Sparks exactly one week ago. Johnson, the man known for revitalizing the Lakers in the 80’s and buying a small portion of the bankrupt Dodgers, clearly spearheaded the purchase and is saving an L.A. team once again.

He called buying the team a “no brainer” as his three sisters and daughter play basketball. Walter has a daughter who plays as well. In a world where women’s basketball is often pushed aside and looked down upon, this is a good sign for the WNBA: a big-name figure believes in women’s basketball just the way it is.

The WNBA can also take pride in the fact that in approximately a month from the previous owner’s announcement of giving up, the league found new owners in a time of crisis. This is leaps and bounds better than just a few years ago when the WNBA ran the defunct Houston Comets for time but couldn’t find owners, or when the league simply gave up on the Sacramento Monarchs immediately after their folding. Both were also original franchises with championships.

In fact, up until the news on the Sparks, the WNBA seemed to be making great strides. WNBA Commissioner Laurel Ritchie recently announced that over half the teams in the league last season were profitable with the league being profitable as a whole.

In addition, the WNBA signed an extension with ESPN, extending coverage of WNBA basketball through 2022. At the end of last season, viewership was up 86 percent on NBA TV and 41 percent on ESPN2. Attendance and merchandise sales had also increased, with the “3 To See” rookies from last season claiming the top spots on the league’s top-selling jersey list. This season, over 80 regular season and playoff games will be televised.

Finally, national brands such as Jamba Juice, Boost Mobile and Proctor & Gamble have signed on as sponsors, and are shown written across the jerseys of all WNBA teams. This brings in more money, and more and more teams have been getting sponsors than in years past.

All in all, the future of the WNBA seems to be looking up.

Would all of this have continued without a team in L.A.? Maybe, maybe not. Thankfully, women’s basketball will never have to know.

 

A version of this article appeared on page 9 of Feb. 12th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.

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