WNBA takes control of Sparks amid search for new owners
JAN 02, 2014 8:06p ET
The WNBA has taken control of the Sparks as the league tries to find new ownership, WNBA President Laurel Richie told The Times on Thursday after Sparks Chairman Paula Madison informed the WNBA that she and her family-owned company would no longer be involved with the team.
All Sparks front personnel, including the team's general manager and president have been laid off, according to person close to the situation.
The Times obtained a copy of an email that was sent by team President Vincent Malcolm to Sparks employees on Tuesday.
"As we discussed, we received notification that the WNBA LLC is terminating the Los Angeles Sparks membership and interest in the WNBA. As a result, Gemini Basketball LLC is closing its doors and no longer will be in business. Accordingly, we regret to inform you that effective December 31, 2013 you no longer will be employed by the Los Angeles Sparks."
“This was a big surprise to us and we are literally day-by-day doing the research to understand exactly where things have been left by (Sparks chairman Paula Madison) and her team.”
Madison, a former NBC executive and partner of Williams Group Holdings, officially became involved with the Sparks in 2007 as chairman in an ownership group that also includes Kathy Goodman (a former film executive and current high school teacher), Carla Christofferson (an attorney) and former Sparks star Lisa Leslie.
Richie said that the league was currently in the process of informing the Sparks' players and coaches of the situation. She said she was not sure whether they were still being paid.
"I honestly don't know," Richie told The Times. "The players salary ends with the season; we have not done anything with their benefits beyond that. This was a big surprise to us and we are literally day-by-day doing the research to understand exactly where things have been left by Paula and her team."
Richie said that several entities have expressed interest in owning a WNBA team and the league is now exploring those options in regards to the Sparks.
"Once we got the news from Paula, we have reached out and had discussions with those entities," Richie said.
The Sparks are one of the WNBA's original eight teams in 1997. They have won two championships, in 2001 and 2002.
The team was bought by an investment group led by Goodman and Christofferson from late Lakers owner Jerry Buss in 2006. Madison and her company then joined the group the following year.
"This is an issue for a particular ownership group," Richie told The Times. "We are very respectful of that and we are knee deep in exploring what this means for us and what our plan is going forward.