Point guard Renee Montgomery won a college national championship at UConn and a pair of WNBA titles with the Minnesota Lynx. But when racist incidents plagued the country in 2020, she took a step back from the sport to champion a new cause.
What started as a season-long hiatus from the Atlanta Dream to focus on social activism turned into a retirement from the sport and a new line of work. Montgomery became part-owner and vice president of the Dream following outside pressure on former franchise owner Kelly Loeffler, then a Republican US Senator in Georgia, to sell her share. Montgomery, now 35, is the first former WNBA player to become an owner and executive in the league.
Her management role followed an illustrious playing career that included national accolades in high school (McDonald’s All-American, 2005), college (State Farm First Team All-America, 2008) and the pros (WNBA All-Star, 2011, and Sixth Woman of the Year, 2012). Montgomery also played extensively overseas in Lithuania, Israel, Russia, Australia, Hungary and Poland.
Montgomery is a general partner at Valor Ventures in addition to her role with the Dream. She has made personal angel investments in Buzzer, Uplift Labs and Fan Controlled Football League, while also hosting podcasts and making regular appearances as a TV broadcast analyst. Montgomery appeared on a SXSW panel last week alongside NBC Sports broadcaster Maria Taylor and San Antonio Spurs chief impact officer Kara Allen to discuss social activism, after which she also spoke to SportTechie. Renee Montgomery, playing defense here, is the first former WNBA player to become an owner and executive in the league.
On her use of wearables . . .
I had [a Whoop strap], and I played in my Apple watch, actually. I would just wrap a bandage around it. I was one of those people that wanted to know how many miles I ran. I sleep in an Oura ring right now. I like to know what's going on in my body. It’s amazing, but it’s bad, too, though. You can wake up feeling rested and then see you didn’t sleep well.
On whether she’ll bring tech and sport science to the Dream . . .
A lot of it. I just think that that's where sports is going. We won't be the only team doing it. We’ll be keeping up with the Joneses by doing that . We want to stay on the cutting edge because it is an advantage now. For me, I thought I was really doing something with an Apple watch, but now the things that you can know, like hydration, everything. Yeah, we want to be on the forefront of all that.
You can know [how your] players are going into the game. The day-before practice, you might need a lighter practice or not. You can literally cater your practice schedule and everything around what technology helps you know. That's anRenee Montgomery with her college coach at UConn, Geno Auriemma advantage because, most of the time, you have Monday-Wednesday-Friday, and this is what we would do. And it would just be set out already: ‘This is the Friday lift day, I’m doing this.’ But now on Monday-Wednesday-Friday, your Wednesday might change because you know something different.
But I'm so into tech. We want to move to different things and accept crypto. I get it, I'm all for it. We're going to be one of those teams that’s like, ‘We're here for it all.’
On analytics’ role in the sport . . .
I made the joke about analytics [on the panel], but it really did get rid of the mid-range game in our lifespan. I can remember ‘mid-range is lit’ to where it was not lit anymore. Those analytics really are shifting how things are done. So, you can't be a dinosaur. You’ve got to get on with it. Even on the actual X’s & O’s of basketball, there's so many things now with analytics where it's like, you can know, in the fourth quarter, how many shots you take right there. That's a lot, so why wouldn't you do [it] to help?
On meeting Uplift CEO Masa Kabayama . . .
I can't remember how I met him, but I remember he did this dope demo. I didn't even know it was going to be a live demo. He was showing me all the ways that it tracks the movements of the athlete. And I was like, mind blown. And I was like, ‘Can y'all do it for basketball?’ He's like, ‘Already working on it.’ I think I saw a golf swing, and he was like, ‘We can already do it in basketball for form shooting.’
I just remember thinking about somebody like me that wants to get the extra little edge. When you get to the pros, there isn't much difference between everyone, and they are tightening your mechanics. I could just see professional athletes gravitate towards that. Montgomery has always gone aggressively after what she wants, whether it's getting to the basket or social justice.
On athletes’ changing roles in the past few years . . .
How athletes have owned their brand, how athletes have owned just their whole stance in sports—the athlete empowerment stance. If you look at history, you can see athletes are involved in activism, but I think 2020 made them pick it up a notch.
Athletes really took a stand to the point where the pandemic shut down sports the first [time], and racism shut down sports the second time. I don't think anybody could have predicted a big business shutting down because of racism, but it did. The athlete empowerment was knowing that, ‘Well, we’re the brand. We control the narrative. We are the product.’
On athletes confronting racism . . .
Our reality didn't change just because people were fatigued of it. People got fatigue [from] hearing about what was happening, but people don't understand we can't get fatigued of being Black because that's just what we are. So it was that dynamic of: ‘I know you're tired of hearing about it, we're tired of living in it.’ We wish we didn't have to talk about it.
We just had to talk about it because it was that time in history where it was one of those moments. Whatever people want to say about LeBron James and NBA players in general, I think that the NBA stood up right beside the WNBA, who led the charge. I just think that everybody locked arms and just was like, ‘Enough is enough.’
On investing in the WNBA and the Atlanta Dream . . .
Everybody knows it in a business aspect: it takes money to make money. People know that when it comes to business. But then when you say [about] the WNBA, ‘Yeah, if people would infuse money into it, they would make money.’ People are like, ‘No, it’s the product.’ Just automatically, ‘No, that can’t be it. It has to be the product.’ OK, but in every other business you know, it takes money—marketing money, investment money.
Are they different types of games? Yes, people can like both at the same time, too. I think that's something that needs to be understood. But I just think that, in women's sports in general, the more money you put in, the more money it'll make because the product is good. And the players are good. And they're just as invested on the women's side as the men's side.
We know what was said about our team beforehand. We know that people have thought that we don't invest in our team, we don't put the money in. So we're going to try to do that. We're going to do that and see what happens. We know what's going to happen: the players are going to feel like pro athletes, the players are going to feel like they should feel. It's just interesting when the writing can be right there on the wall. But you still don't see those TV contracts coming in for the WNBA. Why? I don't know. You still don't see those brands putting million- dollar deals in. Why? I do not know because the product is good. You just have to invest in it. As VP and part-owner of the Atlanta Dream, Montgomery says, 'In women's sports in general, the more money you put in, the more money it'll make because the product is good.'
On calling for gender equality . . .
I would say the conversation we're not having is women supporting women. Whether it's sport or whatnot, we see the situations where women have had to fight over the same seat, or women only see a certain amount of places available. So it almost makes it a fight to see who can get that spot.
Whether it's broadcasting, whether it's management, a company might think that they've checked their quota if they have one woman in senior management. They're like, ‘Yeah, but we’ve got Maria, what do you want from me?’ I think we're not talking enough about having more than one. You need to have more than one seat at the table for a certain amount of things. We've gotten past that ‘token one woman’ or ‘the token one.’ We’ve had a lot of firsts—I think there's still firsts happening—and hopefully we get past those first happening to where it’s the normal.