Having done everything it could to secure a franchise, the group hoping to bring a WNBA team to Tulsa next season didn't have to wait long to have its efforts rewarded.
Tulsa Pro Hoops LLC submitted notice of its desire to exercise its option to purchase a membership in the WNBA on Thursday, Oct. 15. By Tuesday, Oct. 20, league officials were in Tulsa to announce the Detroit Shock would be moving here next season.
"This is a day we'll always remember," Bill Cameron--the lead investor, chairman and chief executive officer for Tulsa Pro Hoops--said at the press conference at downtown's Mayo Hotel and Luxury Apartments that also featured WNBA Commissioner Donna Orender, Gov. Brad Henry and Mayor Kathy Taylor. "Not because of what we've accomplished to get here, but because of what we're starting. Today is the day we take a major step in getting Tulsa on a national stage."
The Tulsa franchise apparently will inherit the Detroit players but little else. Box indicated at the press conference that public input would be sought on everything from the team name to its colors to its mascot.
But the players could prove to be the most important element in the ultimate success of the team, and by all appearances, Tulsa is being handed a franchise that has ranked as one of the WNBA's best. The Shock won league titles in 2003, 2006 and 2008. The team finished third in the Eastern Conference last season with an 18-16 mark and advanced to the playoffs, defeating Atlanta in the first round before falling to Indiana in the conference finals.
The team appears to have a solid nucleus of talent. Guard Shavonte Zellous made the WNBA's All-Rookie team while averaging 15.6 points, 5 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. Teammate Deanna Nolan, another guard, earned second-team All-WNBA honors by averaging 21.6 points, 1.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists per contest.
That winning tradition will be augmented by the presence of Nolan Richardson, who was hired a few weeks ago to serve as the coach and general manager of a potential Tulsa team. Richardson won a national title in men's basketball in 1994 at the University of Arkansas, taking the Razorbacks to the Final Four two other times, while also leading the University of Tulsa to the NIT title in 1981.
That combination left Box positively gushing about the team's prospects at the press conference, where he described Richardson as the pre-eminent coach in the league and the BOK Center--where the team will play its 17 home games--as the WNBA's best arena.
"As I said to the press a few weeks ago, the hiring of coach Nolan Richardson may very well prove to be the smartest decision we've made," he said. "He not only brings integrity and passion to the game, he also brings credibility, wisdom and marketability."
The success of the Tulsa Pro Hoops proposal was the culmination of a concerted effort by Box and his business partner Cameron, both of Oklahoma City.
"Bill Cameron and myself probably have two years in this project," Box said on Oct. 16. "That's a lot longer than Bill and I would have expected."
The two went public with their plan in July at a press conference at the BOK Center. Their original deadline for forwarding their proposal to the league was Sept. 1, but that date was pushed back to allow the group more time to meet its benchmarks for attracting investors, sponsors and season-ticket buyers.
Last week, Cameron announced the group had met its target figures and was submitting a proposal to the league. Five days after that, Tulsa had itself a team.
At the press conference, Cameron took time to thank the investors who have come onboard in recent weeks, as well as the fans who committed to buying tickets for a team that didn't formally exist.
He also marveled at the attention his group's bid already has brought to the city.
"In the past few weeks--before we had a team, before we even had a coach--this story has been played out in USA Today, Sports Illustrated and on ESPN," he said. "And next year, when we tip off in May, how cool will it be to see the skyline of downtown Tulsa during national broadcasts?"
Box acknowledged last week that a number of local observers remain skeptical about Tulsa's ability to support a women's professional basketball team, but he looks forward to changing their minds beginning next summer.
"These are the finest female athletes in the world coming to Tulsa, Oklahoma," he said. "There are always a few people who want to take the time to be negative, but I think we'll turn them around. Bill Cameron and myself are committed to it. We want to be a model franchise."
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