A Dream Realized
Atlanta Dream owner Kathy Betty talks about the team’s rise and role within the community.
by Tracy Weissenberg / @basketballista
After losing 30 of 34 games in their inaugural season, the Atlanta Dream were looking for someone to believe in them. Kathy Betty was looking for something to believe in. It would become a perfect partnership.
Betty, who calls herself an entrepreneur at heart, had found plenty of success in the business community as a former partner at Ernst and Young as well as Executive VP of ScottMadden Inc., a consulting firm in Atlanta. “I had lost my husband (former EarthLink CEO Gary Betty) three years earlier so I was looking for a new beginning…the WNBA is a wonderful platform for not only competitive sports but also about being part of the community and giving back and inspiring young girls.”
Betty recalls a childhood filled with sports while growing up in Alabama. “I had a basketball–that was just my sister and myself–but we had a basketball goal, we had a diamond with four bases in my backyard…I had a golf club in my hand at 4 years old. My mother could beat all of the male tennis players in my high school…so we were just a very active sports family.”
The connection to sports remained deep. “In Atlanta I had tickets for every sports event there was. So I had Braves, Hawks, Falcons, Thrashers, Dream,” she said, before quickly adding Georgia Tech.
As a season ticket holder, Betty was in the stands to witness the Dream’s four-win first season in 2008. In 2009, Betty would witness a remarkable turnaround. But this time, she would do it as the team’s owner.
Betty compared her former work as a consultant to her new role as owner, saying, “You’ve got to go out there and give them a compelling reason why to sponsor your product and that’s pretty much what you do when you sell consulting work as well.” The Dream did their part by giving a compelling argument on the court with 18 wins and a playoff appearance in their second season. The +14 turnaround was the second largest in WNBA history. The season resulted in a Rookie of the Year award for 2009 No. 1 pick Angel McCoughtry and a Coach of the Year title for Marynell Meadors.
In 2010, the Dream compiled a 19-15 record. The team started the season 6-0, but lost six of their final seven games, including two to the Washington Mystics, their first-round match-up.
Throughout the season, did Betty hear any talk of a championship from the team’s locker room? “This is a team that believes in themselves,” she said. “They believe that the only reason you go out there to play is to win. And I think starting off 6-0 helped. I believe they believe they can beat any team in the WNBA but they know that that’s a huge challenge…the competition in the WNBA, especially in our league—Eastern—is incredible. You take the top four teams and on any given night any team can win.”
The No. 4 seed Dream proved their owner right by knocking off the No. 1 Mystics in a two-game sweep. Coming back from a disappointing finish to sweep the first-round series tells a lot about the team’s resilience. “I know, did you see those games!” said Betty. “It was like the beginning of the season,” she added, “they put it in a new gear and got back into their game, playing the way they need to play.”
The Dream won Game 2 against the Mystics 101-77, including a 33-7 second quarter and a 26-0 run. The team celebrated their first playoff series win in front of their home crowd at Philips Arena, which included former NBA champion Steve Smith and Hawks center Al Horford.
Betty calls the support incredible. “The business community, the women’s business network, the other sports franchises have all come out and supported us,” she said, “and really, truly I just feel like I’m a facilitator of our community because they have really taken a level of support to help all of us out this year.”
And being connected to the community is something Betty has worked hard to make a pivotal aspect of the franchise. She mentions the initiative “Dream Dads,” in which fathers and daughters attend Dream games in order to encourage young women to emulate the potential they witness firsthand. “We talk about the importance of girls playing sports,” said Betty, who says her ultimate goal as Dream owner is to facilitate an atmosphere where all young women can aspire to play sports.
“And it’s not just basketball,” she said, “I want every young girl that can put a ball in her hand, and we don’t care what kind of ball, that steps out on a court, and we don’t care what kind out court, but we want them to dream about playing professional sports because that’s what women need. We need young girls with role models that play sports.”
The Dream have a roster full of women who can attest to the opportunities possible when sports play a large role in a young girl’s life. One of those women is Angel McCoughtry, who became the face of the franchise as quickly as she helped transform it.
“She is incredible,” said Betty of McCoughtry. “She makes moves to the basket that I don’t even know how a human being can do it. And you know what’s so fun for me is when I’m at away games and it’s fun to hear people behind me talk about, ‘Oh my goodness, look at that move she just made, or, can you believe her?’ I love to hear the other fans talk about Angel because she’s really remarkable—a remarkable player not only on the court but off the court as well.”
As the Dream take on the Seattle Storm in the WNBA Finals, Betty said that her title as an owner has provided her an entire new outlook as a fan. “I have never experienced what I’m experiencing this year, especially in the Playoffs. I think I’m gonna have heart attacks before the game’s over. I have been to so many events. I’ve been to super bowls, Finals Four, you name it, I’ve been to…nothing compares. Take those feelings and multiply it times 100 and that’s what you feel like when you own the team.”
With Atlanta heading to the WNBA Finals to face Seattle, what seemed like a dream two years ago has already become a reality.