It’s the first WNBA season that Renee Montgomery did not suit up to hit the hardwood floor at the Gateway Center Arena at College Park. Instead, the two-time champ has stepped into her new role as co-owner of her former team, the Atlanta Dream. Just a year ago, Montgomery decided to sit out of the 2020 WNBA season to answer the call of social justice. Last summer, many Black women were faced with making decisions about their careers. Whether it was the demands created by the pandemic or the desire to find work that fuels the soul and create impact, we were finding ways to own the next chapter of our lives.
“My heart was in the community, not in playing basketball, and if my heart is not 100 percent in, then I’m out,” Montgomery told Atlanta Magazine. During that time, she watched her WNBA sisters play in the Wubble while she spent her time off of the court protesting for racial equality, organizing to get former Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler out of ownership and unseated in the United States Senate. Today, she is in the front office of a sports team making history and hoping to change how Black women see themselves in the sports industry. Montgomery shared with ESSENCE what it means to transition from player to owner that can help us with making our career pivots.
Montgomery made history as the first former WNBA to co-own a WNBA team. As co-owner, she also took on the role of vice president of the team while also taking on broadcast analyst roles for the Atlanta Hawks games and the 2021 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. Since stepping into her new roles, Montgomery shared that she has been involved with the marketing and community relation responsibilities. “One of those things includes making sure that our team’s presentation exudes what we want our Atlanta Dream to stand for, which is a representation of Atlanta’s culture and community,” she shared. Her unique position as a former player and now an owner is “insight and relatability.” With the overwhelming amount of changes happening within the Dream, Montgomery has been hands-on and present for the day-to-day decisions and opportunities to advocate for players. “I feel that players know that I understand where they are coming from and that I will give them the benefit of the doubt in all situations. I also understand the struggle, which is something that a lot of players don’t feel from their ownership groups,” she said.
Taking advantage of her years as a veteran player.
Every day a Black woman makes a corporate exit to become an entrepreneur. Montgomery decided to exit her career as a player for ownership. Although her experience is different, she believes what makes it similar is the steps towards leadership. “I’m sure that leadership skills play a role in the corporate workplace with important tasks, and ownership is an extension of that,” she said. The WNBA all-star believes using her experience as a veteran player to her advantage has helped her show up as a leader in her ownership group. Think about everything you learned and the skills you gain within a corporate setting. Those same systems can be applied to your own business. “As a captain on the court and as a vet, we deal with many different personality types, and we have to function as a unit. Good communication that gets through to people is essential off the court and in the front office. We have to be able to make decisions that best benefit the team and organization as a whole. It’s a team mentality,” she explained.
Work on your mindset shift.
A mindset shift has to take place to go from playing basketball and now being a corporate owner. It is true of those of us who go from employee to owning our business. You currently have a stake in this business, and the way you move needs new energy and mindset to take your business vision to new heights. What helped Montgomery with her transition to the front office was the instilled belief that she could do anything. “The skillset that you have does not change when you switch positions; the only thing that changes is the responsibilities that you have. You were always capable; now you just have the opportunity to prove it,” she said. Being in the front office has its own sets of rules, but Montgomery insists that the political game is not the organization’s focus. “I have teammates in my ownership group that support and validate me. We are all doing this for the first time, but we complement each other,” she said.
Knowing that it’s bigger than her.
Montgomery may be the first, but she is hoping that she is not the last. She hopes more female athletes have the opportunity to be a part of ownership groups in the future. “It’s just about getting that opportunity that we’ve earned through sweat equity. It opens up the discussion for player ownership and executive roles that are representative of the player population,” she shared. As Montgomery opens the door and the discussion of what a front office can represent within the sports industry, she knows how much responsibility her position holds. “I’m a firm believer that moments will always equal momentum; you just have to go after it,” she added. Her advice for Black women making their career transitions: to be bold is to lead with confidence; because your representation matters.