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Sale of WNBA's Atlanta Dream approved, ending ownership of former Sen. Kelly Loeffler

The Republican from Georgia was critical of the WNBA's efforts to draw attention to social justice issues and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Jocelyn Willoughby #13 of the New York Liberty and Courtney Williams #10 of the Atlanta Dream reach for the ball during the game on Sept. 3, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Fla.
Jocelyn Willoughby #13 of the New York Liberty and Courtney Williams #10 of the Atlanta Dream reach for the ball during the game on Sept. 3, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Fla.Stephen Gosling / NBAE via Getty Images file

The WNBA and NBA approved the sale of the Atlanta Dream, officials said Friday, ending the contentious ownership of former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler.

The Republican from Georgia was critical of the WNBA's efforts to draw attention to social justice issues and the Black Lives Matter movement, prompting players from her own team to campaign for Raphael Warnock, the man who eventually beat Loeffler in a Senate runoff election last month.

The boards of the WNBA and NBA "have unanimously approved the sale of the Atlanta Dream" to an investor group led by Northland real estate Chairman Larry Gottesdiener, company COO Suzanne Abair and former Dream star Renee Montgomery, according to league officials.

Terms of the sale were not disclosed.

“With the unanimous WNBA and NBA votes, today marks a new beginning for the Atlanta Dream organization and we are very pleased to welcome Larry Gottesdiener and Suzanne Abair to the WNBA,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement.

“I admire their passion for women’s basketball, but more importantly, have been impressed with their values. I am also thrilled that former WNBA star Renee Montgomery will be joining the ownership group as an investor and executive for the team. Renee is a trailblazer who has made a major impact both in the game and beyond.”

Montgomery is now the first former WNBA player to become an owner.

“My Dream has come true,” Montgomery said in a statement. “Breaking barriers for minorities and women by being the first former WNBA player to have both a stake in ownership and a leadership role with the team is an opportunity that I take very seriously."

Loeffler, who had held a 49-percent stake in the women's basketball team, said she opposed the league's embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement, even as millions of Americans protested against systemic racism this past summer.

Players said Loeffler's views were far out of step with a league in which nearly 70 percent of players are Black. When Loeffler publicly bucked protests, Dream and other WNBA players saw an opening to make their voices heard, especially at the ballot box.

Many even donned "Vote Warnock" shirts during pre-game warmups.

“We did it in the best way that we knew how,” Los Angeles Sparks star and players union president Nneka Ogwumike told NBC News earlier this month. “And that was by asking people who knew what they were doing and us just listening. That's what it takes, and us bringing our voice to the table where we felt it was needed.”

In a joint statement on Friday, co-owners Loeffler and Mary Brock said they were proud of their 10 years in charge, calling the Dream "an important asset for a vibrant and diverse city."

"It was also important to us to help level the playing field for women’s professional sports," they said. "We are proud of what we accomplished and wish the team well in their next chapter. 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.”

Randi Richardson contributed.