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EXECUTIVES & ENTREPRENEURS

Can Alana Beard and the WNBA Revitalize Oakland Sports?

The WNBA star is teaming up with the African American Sports and Entertainment Group to bring pro basketball back to the Town.

After the success of its historic 25th season, the question of WNBA expansion no longer appears to be one of if, but when.

And if it’s up to 15-year WNBA veteran and four-time All-Star Alana Beard, the answer is simple: very soon. Beard has joined forces with African American Sports and Entertainment Group (AASEG) to formally announce the desire to bring a WNBA expansion team to Oakland, California.

The key goal of the move? Simple: the empowerment of women. And in order to make it a reality, the ownership collab tapped an extensive list of Black women to help them advocate for their cause, including a pair of Oaklanders: Alicia Garza, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, and Gina Johnson, mother of NBA superstar Damian Lillard.

Garza summarized their intentions succinctly: “As we all know, Black women get it done, and this won’t be an exception.”

These things take time, but in a virtual press conference held via Zoom on Thursday, Beard was joined by the extended ownership group to provide details of their proposed bid. And it all begs a key question — after the Warriors left for San Francisco and the Raiders bailed for Las Vegas, is a WNBA expansion team the key to revitalizing pro sports in the Town?

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Alana Beard’s Future

After announcing her retirement from the WNBA in January 2020, Alana Beard moved her family from Washington, DC to San Francisco.

Throughout her 15-year career, both in the WNBA and overseas, Beard had accumulated nearly every accolade possible, from Defensive Player of the Year (twice) to WNBA champion. She left it all on the court.

The cross-country move was the first step towards a life after basketball. But to be clear, Beard has been putting all these pieces together for years.

With the move, the former Duke standout acquired yet another title: Senior Associate at Silicon Valley Bank. Beard had been interested in venture capital for many years, securing offseason internships to build her resume. But with the experience, came a growing awareness of the lack of diversity in the VC space–and a desire to change that.

Thus, when she was approached about spearheading the play for an expansion team in Oakland, it was a no-brainer. Beard points to other retired WNBA veterans like Renee Montgomery, who joined the ownership group of the Atlanta Dream following her retirement, as her inspiration.

She noted that the opportunity to own a franchise not only allows her to promote the game she loves, but also provides a critical entry point to meaningful community and social justice work — a cornerstone of every WNBA team.

When asked about the brand of the proposed team, Beard said their intentions were simple, “To be authentic. Being authentic to who I am, what I’m about, and what we’re involved in.”

To help in this effort, AASEG is proving to be the perfect partner. The community development group has a history in Oakland, and in advance of their proposed bid has invested in local youth sports teams in the community.

Putting the Pieces in Place

While the path to league incorporation is estimated to take approximately 18 months to traverse, Beard and her colleagues illustrated the steps that they have already taken to make this dream a reality during Thursday morning’s press conference.

Ray Bobbitt, founder of AASEG, confirmed that the ownership group has secured a term sheet with the Oracle Arena Group. And with the move, cleared the way to be considered a legitimate contender for the WNBA’s next team.

Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland’s vice mayor, cited all the ways in which the Town was the perfect place for expansion. Specifically, Oracle offered a centrally located space with abundant access for fans from around the Bay and beyond.

He also revealed that they have been working in concert with the league’s COO, Christie Hedgpeth, and that she was assisting them as they created a framework and took the steps required to move in the right direction towards incorporation.

Opening a New Chapter for Oakland Sports

The East Bay is no stranger to sporting success. For the WNBA, this legacy makes Oakland appealing (and viable) as a potential market.

The championship roots of the A’s, the Raiders, and the Warriors run deep. However, recent years have unavoidably included some major departures, leaving Oakland residents yearning for those halcyon days.

The Raiders left for Sin City. The Warriors crossed the Bay Bridge to open up the Chase Center in 2019. But it was precisely these moves move that may have set the stage perfectly for the WNBA’s next phase of growth.

And let us never forget that just 80 miles northeast, one of the WNBA’s original eight claimed a home. The Monarchs played in Sacramento from 1997-2009, building a rabid fanbase that has persisted even years after the team’s discontinuation.

Prior to their dissolution, there were rumblings of trying to move the team to San Francisco, but the plans never came together. So for Beard and AASEG, the opportunity to bring the game to Oakland would be a dream come true.

“This is a blueprint… for the next generation to see us as a blueprint of what it takes to build something big,” Beard said on Thursday.

But the blueprint is merely in its beginning stages, and it’s now on the WNBA to make the call as to whether Oakland’s sports legacy has the chance to be rebuilt.

If it’s up to Beard and AASEG, they’ve got next.