Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: Expect WNBA to return to Sacramento

Published: Sunday, May. 26, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Wednesday, May. 29, 2013 - 8:20 am

Amid the music and the cheering and the throng of 15,000 spectators strong – and the other poignant vignettes from Thursday's celebration at Cesar Chavez Plaza – was the promise of even more to come.

But let's call this what it is: a prediction based on instinct, insight and observation. This is strictly me talking. But the WNBA will be back. The Monarchs will be born again. Not next month or next season and, realistically, probably not until the new sports and entertainment complex opens in 2016.

So why is there not a shred of doubt in my mind that the region's only professional basketball team to win a championship will rise from the ashes?

Because these incoming Kings owners love their daughters, love the fact their daughters are devoted and accomplished hoopsters, and because the WNBA adds dates to the calendar and bodies in the new building.

Now, when asked specifically if he had plans for a WNBA franchise, majority owner Vivek Ranadive evaded the topic and pleaded for patience. Understandably. Escrow has yet to close on the sale. The business operations department is being transformed. The basketball front office will be overhauled within days. Members of the design crew are off, evaluating the league's elite venues.

"We're just getting started," the Silicon Valley software entrepreneur said. When pressed about the WNBA, he added, with a slight smile, "I'm a huge women's basketball fan."

But not just any basketball fan. (Beware, the next Kings head coach.) Ranadive, who previously pursued a WNBA franchise for the South Bay, once coached his daughter's junior national team. One of his partners, Mark Mastrov, the founder of 24 Hour Fitness, is a similarly impassioned backer of the women's game.

In a casual conversation the other night, Mastrov gushed about his own daughter's wicked crossover move.

So, yeah, I already like these guys. I appreciate men who appreciate female athletes.

During their 13 seasons here, the Monarchs would have benefited immensely from a few more in-house allies. With a few exceptions such as Jerry Reynolds, Bobby Jackson, Elston Turner, Mike Bibby and the Maloofs, en masse, they were tolerated in the practice facility but never embraced. Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie attended one game and was resentful of coach/GM John Whisenant, yet his attitude was downright pleasant when compared with Rick Adelman's open hostility.

But that scene at the plaza the other night? Ranadive's daughter singing? Mastrov crooning about his daughter's handle? Coincidentally, the woman handling the public relations for the league was Amanda Thorn, whose father, Rod, is a longtime NBA executive and one of the most influential backers behind the WNBA's formation in 1996.

When the time comes and the Monarchs return, one suspects this will be a whole new day. And not that the Ranadive group needs a nudge, but Monarchs and heirs of Monarchs were prominent and present throughout Thursday's festivities.

UC Davis men's coach and former Kings guard Jim Les leaned against the fence with his daughter, Hannah, soaking up the scene. Hannah, he noted, was an infant when he accepted his first coaching position – as a Monarchs assistant under Sonny Allen.

Original Monarch Ruthie Bolton addressed the crowd. Kara Lawson's husband, Damien Barling, flew in from Connecticut to represent his wife. "Kara would have been here if the (WNBA) season wasn't opening up this weekend," he said. "We have monitored this situation for years. When the commissioner (David Stern) announced the vote was 22-8 (against relocation on May 15), we started screaming, 'We got it. We got it.' "

Ticha Penicheiro, the WNBA's career leader in assists and steals when she retired last season, said she feverishly had exchanged calls and text messages with former teammates for days.

"Sacramento is a big part of my heart, my home," said Penicheiro, wearing a white Monarchs jersey with the familiar No. 21. "I still feel terrible about the way it ended. We were all forced to leave without a proper goodbye. None of us knew our last game (in 2009) was our last game. That hurt. We brought a championship, won in front of our fans, our family, with all the confetti flying. We had a parade … "

On a flight to Chicago when the historic vote was announced, an anxious Penicheiro, now a sports agent, turned on her cellphone the minute the wheels hit the ground.

"I had a ton of messages with the news," she continued. "Everyone was just so happy. This is the way it should be. The Monarchs need to be back just like the Kings never should have left."

Amen to that.

Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin (916) 321-1208 and follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. She earned a bachelor's degree in political science from UNLV and a law degree from the University of San Diego before committing full time to journalism.

Her career includes stops at the San Diego Union, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and time spent as the backup beat writer for Dodgers and Angels, Clippers and NBA beat writer, sports columnist, along with numerous assignments covering international events and the Olympics. Ailene joined The Sacramento Bee in 1997.

Phone: 916-321-1208
Twitter: @ailene_voisin

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