Dare to Dream: Renee Montgomery makes history with Atlanta ownership

Published March 31, 2021, 7:00 PMRenee Ticzon

Atlanta Dream co-owner Renee Montgomery opened the door for women athletes to consider pursuing team ownership and executive roles after their playing careers.

“All it takes is a single moment, a single choice to create momentum. All you need is a second to change everything,” said Renee Montgomery.

From the hardwood to the streets of Atlanta to the boardroom of the Dream, Montgomery has been making waves in every single thing she does.

It all started when she was recruited to join the University of Connecticut. Montgomery quickly showed her abilities on the floor as she became a key player for the Huskies. She was a decorated guard, starting 147 times, including a stretch of 139 in a row. This was the most by any player in UConn program history and the most nationally. She made history at UConn by ranking 23rd on the career scoring list with 1,346 points and 10th in both career assists and steals. She also scored in double-figures in 27 of her last 30 games overall.

Her collegiate prowess caught the attention of the Minnesota Lynx who drafted her as the fourth overall pick in the 2009 WNBA Draft. She bounced around a few teams only to return to the Lynx in 2015, eventually helping them claim two championships.

She moved to the Atlanta Dream and finished her career as an All-Star and Sixth Woman of the Year awardee. Overall, she made 37 playoff appearances, matched the WNBA season record of eight straight games with a 3-pointer, and became a lethal shooter from the arc with 532 makes in her career.

Montgomery’s decision to skip the 2020 WNBA Season put her in the headlines recently. She announced that she wouldn't play in the WNBA Bubble, which served as her retirement after 11 seasons in the pros.

This decision came in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing. The tension amid calls to end police brutality and racial injustice shifted Montgomery’s perspective and eventual career path. She wanted to give herself enough time to focus on the social justice movement, which for her, meant taking a break from basketball.

With the Black Lives Matter movement becoming more relevant and powerful, Montgomery believed that the community needed her time and attention more. She found herself dedicating most of her efforts to activism instead of training, so she made the decision to take a step back from her professional basketball career.

At first, she didn’t really have a plan. It started with distributing water, walking and chanting with the people – the typical things people do to help a protest. She then received a call from LeBron James’ More than a Vote project, directing her into becoming a community leader in Atlanta.

Soon after, she entered the next step of her professional career. Montgomery always knew that the coaching route was not meant for her. As a former WNBA player and a communications graduate, it made sense for her to jump into sports broadcasting. However, the road was tougher than she thought. She assumed that being in the basketball world for so long, getting into the media side of it would be a walk in the park. 

Well, apparently not.

Like many people entering the media industry, she had to go through the grueling process of attending meetings, auditions, and interviews. After she completed the process, she became part of the broadcast team that handled the G-League and Atlanta Hawks. She also created her own podcast called “Remotely Renee” which launched during the pandemic.

Coincidentally, her professional life and advocacies intertwined. As a media personality, she was given a platform to speak about her programs. As an advocate, she was able to spread the word through her platform. It made sense.

“If you’re trying to do something, which I’m trying to do, and you’re trying to educate and enhance, you need people to hear what you have to say. I’ve been very fortunate in that,” she said.

Later on, she decided to make another big step, one that would change the course of history.

The Atlanta Dream, Montgomery’s final team, had gone through a lot in the last few months. The Dream’s ownership was left vacant after being buried in controversy surrounding its former co-owner and former senator Kelly Loeffler. Around that time, Montgomery had a chance to talk to Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury during the All-Star Game in Chicago. The two were casually talking about their careers when Taurasi brought up the topic of ownership.

Shocked and a little confused, Montgomery realized that this path had never even crossed her mind. She was so used to hearing either the media or coaching route, talking to someone so sure about moving towards ownership was bizarre to her.

And then it hit her. 

“She was just so sure about it, and she’s right,” Montgomery said in her podcast.

It is a fact that there aren’t enough members of the minority who are part of the coaching and managerial roles, but what about ownership? It has become a norm to society that the position of ownership is often reserved for wealthy, white men who love basketball. Probably because society doesn’t want you to. Probably because those positions are so unattainable. Probably because being a powerful, black woman isn’t a common narrative in sports ownership.

“If I hypothetically wanted to do this, how do I even go about it?” she asked herself.

She had a lot of doubts, but she knew in her mind that she could flip the script. She knew she wanted a seat at the table, so the question moved to "how do we make it happen?"

Being the competitive and curious woman she is, Montgomery decided to start talking to a group of people about it. She found investors who were interested in buying the Dream and she wanted to be a part of it. She partnered with Northland executives Larry Gottesdiener and Suzanne Abair, who represented their value-driven business focused on women empowerment, social justice, and erasing homelessness.

A few weeks later, it became reality.

“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,” said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert. “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.”

This was the best news for a badly bruised Atlanta Dream, but also for the community at large. For the first time in history, a former player became the owner and executive of a WNBA franchise.

As a young, black, female athlete, she knew that this position would help represent the dreamers. She represented all the athletes that didn’t even think of owning their team, or the young girls who thought they could never become an executive for something as big as a WNBA team.

"I think it's great that Renee has stepped up after she retired from playing the game to continue having an impact on the game,'' Engelbert said. "I've seen her strong work ethic. I've seen her advocacy and knowledge of the game and I'm sure that's going to be an asset to Larry and Suzanne and a huge benefit to the team.''

Right now, the work is not over for Montgomery. She continues to work on her foundation – which aims to serve the community of Atlanta – while broadcasting games, hosting podcasts, and leading a franchise.