In the first of a weekly feature with WNBA personalities, Laurel Richie assures readers that she comes from a "basketball family."
Editor’s note: Seattle Times reporter Jayda Evans will have a weekly conversation with a newsmaker in the WNBA. She starts with league president Laurel Richie, who began her position on May 16. Richie, a former marketing executive, is the first black president of any sports league.
Seattle Times: Both of us were in synchronized swimming. How did you like the sport?
Laurel Richie: My mother was from New England, so we’d spend summers in Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard and we went to the beach a lot. In junior high school, I was looking for an activity and I loved to dance. Synchronized swimming was kind of a combination of dance and water. It doesn’t get the respect it deserves. It’s deceptively difficult.
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ST: You also were a cheerleader, in the marching band (flute) and theater. Ever think about pursuing those avenues?
LR: At one point, I thought about being an actress. I loved character development and I also loved the casts coming together.
ST: Growing up outside Cleveland, sports had to be infused in you, right?
LR: Our family (four children) is a basketball family. My dad, when they were building the first arena for the Cleveland Cavaliers, he drove out there while it was still under construction and said, “Whatever two seats are right here, these are the season tickets I want.” And he was a season-ticket-holder until three years ago. He’s 86 now. The kids would draw straws to see who’d go to the playoff games with him.
ST: So why, in the first WNBA media teleconference, did you let it seem like you didn’t have a history with basketball? Although you did go to your first two WNBA games last weekend.
LR: It wasn’t intentional. I’m sure I shared that during my interviewing process. I’m just getting used to meeting with the press. What I meant to say in that first interview is I think what I bring to this opportunity is (that) I am a fan. I’m not a player. And I have not grown up in the sports industry.
ST: What was a WNBA game experience you liked?
LR: All the NBA games I’ve been to, I’ve never sat on the floor. There were moments (at KeyArena) where I was a little scared, thinking, “If one of these women fell on top of me … ” And there were a couple of passes I was glad somebody caught. … One thing that was interesting in Seattle was in the (fourth) quarter when all of the kids went down on the court. I think back to all of the times I sat in the stands and I was just dying to get on the floor. To offer kids the opportunity to observe and then get to touch the floor, I think that’s magical.
ST: Still, that magic has to turn into profit, according to NBA commissioner David Stern. Any concerns?
LR: The league is on the verge of getting there. … We’re seeing sponsorships up. Season-ticket holder renewals are at their highest number this year and we’re seeing some strong attendance. Our key indicators are headed in the right direction. I’m not underestimating the challenge ahead; I absolutely feel it is possible.