A longtime architect of women’s professional basketball in Seattle, it’s common for Karen Bryant to have handfuls of scrap paper filled with notes, affirmations and ideas.
When a few recent chicken scratches, as Bryant called them, intimated a change in life, she knew she needed to talk with the Storm’s ownership group, Force 10 Hoops. The result was Friday’s announcement that Bryant would resign as president and CEO of the Storm.
Bryant, 46, will leave at the end of the 2014 season for a smooth transition in finding a replacement.
“It’s really important to me to finish strong as we head into 2014 and at the same time really start to formulate a plan,” Bryant said. “Because as I sit here today, I don’t have one … it’s a blank slate and I’m excited to see over the next several months what starts to fill up that piece of paper.
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“But the players are an important part of my journey and a really meaningful part. It was important to me to take my seat on the sideline, again, and have one more season to watch those guys compete.”
Bryant was the organization’s inaugural hire when Seattle was granted a franchise in June 1999. Before the Storm, she was general manager of the defunct Seattle Reign and helped its staunch fans transition to accepting a WNBA team.
A Edmonds native and former player at Washington and Seattle University, Bryant used her hometown roots to form the Storm into one of the league’s ideal franchises with a passionate fan base, strong sponsorship backing and perennial All-Stars in Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson.
The team will celebrate its 15th season this summer, which also marks the 10-year anniversary of the Storm’s first title in 2014. The Storm is anticipating the return of Bird and Jackson, who missed the 2013 season due to injuries.
Overall, Bryant has guided the franchise through four ownership changes, three coaches, two championships and a split from the NBA when the Sonics relocated to Oklahoma City in 2008.
“Karen has been with this organization from the very beginning and she’s got knowledge that’s going to be irreplaceable,” Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel said. “That’s going to be the hardest thing for us and I’m not sure how we think about replacing that piece of it. That’s the trickiest part of this whole thing.”
Bryant’s departure adds to a tenuous outlook on the WNBA. Los Angeles Sparks chairman Paula Madison announced her family-owned company would no longer operate the team. And the WNBA doesn’t have a collective-bargaining agreement or 2014 schedule, which now will have to wait until a decision is made about L.A.’s future. The WNBA did not resume control of the team.
L.A. was one of eight charter teams for the league in 1997. It won back-to-back titles in 2001 and 2002 but would be the fifth of those teams to fold.
Those associated with the WNBA were stunned at Madison’s decision. Owners met last fall and six teams saw a profit, including the Storm. ESPN extended its television contract through 2022 and there was a 1 percent bump in attendance after averaging an all-time low in 2012.
“We’re so optimistic about it and I was so puzzled L.A. just sort of walked away,” Brummel said.
It’s that optimism in the Storm’s future that allows Bryant to walk away.
“It’s time for the organization to gain value from a fresh perspective,” she said.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org