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Its a Crying Shame

by Kelly Chopus

January 6,2007

So much for holiday spirit and the season of giving. 2006 for me ended much the same way it began – obsessing over the fate of the Charlotte Sting and the Charlotte Bobcats, both owned by Bob Johnson. I used to be somebody over there once upon a time.

Now, our team has disbanded and our players will be dispersed through a lottery draft to the remaining teams in the WNBA. And far far away from their home in Charlotte.

Hence the obsessing.

The WNBA and the Charlotte Sting hold a special place in my heart. The Sting in particular is like my fourth child. We re-located here to be part of the remarkable family of employees launching both team organizations for Bob Johnson. I have been in Charlotte for almost five years because of women’s professional basketball. I love the players, the staff, the league, our fans. I miss them every day. Our fans were the most ardent and most loyal in sports. It took a long time to recover (how I cried when it was all over!) from the frenetic pace, the pressure, the historical ramifications of working for the first ever minority owner of a sports franchise. I took every part of that job personally. Still do. Fatal flaw No.1.

Much has been whispered and written recently about the failed attempt to purchase the women’s team and keep it here in the Queen City, the eventual cessation of operations of the Sting and continued turmoil (read: re-structuring yet again) at Bobcats Sports Entertainment. Bob Johnson is taking the hit for a lot of this, but is this really about Bob? Or is this indicative of Charlotte? Reporters called me for my take on all of it. I was too dumbstruck and heartsick to respond at first. Now I just want closure.

There is no big secret to running a successful sports franchise. Owners are in the business of making money. The Charlotte Sting drained an infant and struggling franchise of needed cash. No matter how talented and devoted the staff, no matter how many wins were earned, no matter how many community appearances players made at schools, neighborhood events or girl scout jamborees, what mattered most was ticket sales and butts in seats, night in and night out. Cash. And not enough people in Charlotte paid to see the Charlotte Sting play. Every aspect of the industry is predicated on the amount of fans in the stands. That was and is the business reality. Period. Anybody who tries to say otherwise has no clue about the business of sport in the 21st century.

Still, I know that the WNBA was good for Charlotte and will be missed. That is my fantasy anyway. Fatal flaw No. 2. The Charlotte Sting was a charter member of the WNBA – 2007 would have been their 11th season of play in a region with no other professional sports teams for women. The Charlotte Sting checked an important box for selling this city as one with a creative and inclusive culture. Charlotte continues to tout itself as a cool and hip place for business, raising a family and racial and gender equity, but can this be truly so if we can’t manage to hold onto and support a basketball team featuring professional women athletes? If memory serves, Charlotte also lost its only other women’s professional sports team in the 1980’s – Carolina Fast Pitch Softball Team – due to lack of support.

The WNBA has done a fantastic job of showcasing diversity, deep athletic talent and a powerful legacy of community involvement. The league is good for women and great for little girls who aspire to grow up to be something other than a lawyer or doctor or teacher. With role models like Andrea Stinson, Dawn Staley and Allison Feaster to emulate, young women and girls have exciting career opportunities in sports. It is a shame that Charlotte girls won’t have the local touchstone any longer.

Perspective and hindsight are funny things. I feel like Al Pacino/Michael Corleone in the Godfather III when he anguishes “just when I think I am out, they pull me back in.” The difference is that now, I am done. Except for the crying. Fatal flaw No. 3.

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