LOS ANGELES -- Good news appears to be on the horizon for fans of the WNBA keystone franchise, the Los Angeles Sparks. Earlier today, a Sparks season ticketholder, who asked to remain anonymous, informed Full Court staff that she had heard from a highly placed member of the Sparks' staff that an announcement would be forthcoming that would be pleasing to all ticketholders who wanted to see the team remain in Los Angeles. Full Court recently reported on the frustrations of Sparks' fans, some of whom were contemplating litigation, after advancing substantial sums to reserve their season seats only to receive no word for more than a month on the fate of the team after league president Laurel Richie and Sparks' majority owner Paula Madison announced on Jan. 2 that Madison and her investment company, the Williams Holding Group, were withdrawing from further involvement with the team for financial reasons.
Sparks president Vincent Malcom did not respond to calls from Full Court requesting comment on the report of a buyout that would keep the team in Los Angeles.
However, early Tuesday evening, the WNBA issued an advisory alerting the media to a press conference to be held at 10:00 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 5, at Staples Center's Star Plaza, featuring Richie and Los Angeles Laker legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson. Since then, both ESPN and the Los Angeles Times have published reports from unnamed sources that Johnson, Mark Walter, the controlling owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and a number of other members of the investment group that purchased the bankrupt Los Angeles Dodgers major league baseball team from Frank McCourt for a record $2.15 billion in March 2012 have come together to purchase the Sparks franchise and keep the team in Los Angeles. Wire services, including The Sports Network, have since picked up the reports.
In the face of a media blackout following the announcement of the Williams Holding Group's withdrawal from ownership in early January, speculation about the future of the team ran rampant. Would the team fold, and if so, could the league survive with only 11 teams and without one of the country's major media markets? Or would the franchise be moved elsewhere, as had the former Detroit Shock when it was taken over by an ownership group in Tulsa, Okla.?
The most concrete among the various rumors circulating about the Sparks' future involved Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob, a Stanford women's basketball season ticket owner, who had previously expressed an interest in returning a WNBA team to the Bay Area. In the wake of the Madison announcement, spokespersons for the team reiterated the team's interest in acquiring a WNBA franchise, and specifically, in taking over the Sparks. That news led to a petition drive by fans hoping to keep the team in Los Angeles, and to social media requests directed to Johnson and others, seeking their intervention on behalf of one of the league's inaugural and most successful franchises.
Johnson has long been known for his support of women's basketball, and of the Los Angeles Sparks in particular. He is known to have spent time working out with Sparks' marquee center Lisa Leslie, in the WNBA offseason during her storied playing career, helping her perfect the baby hook for which he was renowned. Johnson also wrote the foreword to Leslie's autobiography Don't Let the Lipstick Fool You, and appeared at Staples to honor Leslie on a variety of occasions, including her retirement ceremony and more recently the announcement of her joining the Sparks as a minority owner.
Johnson has been silent about the purchase on his usually active Twitter account, and the WNBA has not replied to a request for confirmation of the reported buyout. However, most are interpreting the media alert of Wednesday's major announcement as all the confirmation required for the celebrations to begin.
If true, the resolution of the Sparks' immediate future will pave the way for the release of a 2014 WNBA schedule, a date for the 2014 WNBA Draft and the conclusion of a new collective bargaining agreement between the league and the WNBA Players Association, all of which have been marking time while the quest for new owners for the franchise has been underway.