Orender moves on with great memories of WNBA
The favorable numbers and statistics are nice. They're good for the resume, too.
But years from now when she looks back on her six years as president of the WNBA, Donna Orender won't flash first to attendance figures, television ratings or sponsorship numbers.
All of those areas of the WNBA grew under her leadership. She's proud of that, sure.
But Orender says she's even more proud satisfied, really of something else, something that has WNBA written all over it.
"It's the people. I feel they're a part of me," Orender said. "I am going to miss the players and the relationships with them. I'm going to miss the fans. Fan interaction was so key for me because I respected them so much and how much they love the WNBA."
Many fans love the WNBA for the same reasons Orender will miss it. They love the grassroots, family feel of the league, the accessibility of the players and management.
They love how down-to-earth and real even the best players are.
Orender, who announced late last week that she will resign as president of the league at the end of the year so she can launch her own independent marketing company that will serve as a platform for women and young girls, got a crash course in the way things work in the WNBA just days into her tenure.
"It was one of the first moments after I got this job. I flew out to Seattle," Orender said. "I was going to give out the championship rings there (to the Seattle Storm). We were at a local community event at an elementary school there and one of their players, Simone Edwards, came up to me and said, 'I really would like your help.'
"I looked around and was like, 'Is she talking to me?' I've been here for five minutes and she wants me to help her?"
Edwards told Orender about how she's from Jamaica and that she had been working hard to help the poor children of Jamaica with funding and donations. Edwards wanted to know if Orender could help her figure out a way to do that better.
"I'll always remember that moment," Orender said. "I remember it to this day, because I knew at that moment that I was in the right place working with the right people. Simone is just indicative of what the heart and soul of the WNBA is all about."
But despite getting to experience those kinds of feel-good moments, not to mention all of the positive growth that happened since she took over in 2005, Orender says her time to move on has come.
She says her decision to resign was part professional and part personal. That it was a good time to leave the WNBA and an even better time to be more present in her family life.
"I've got kids who are starting high school and I absolutely wanted to be more involved in their everyday life," Orender said. "I also have other professional goals that I would like to accomplish. And I just felt that if I was going to move on, which inevitably I was based on my family and my kids, then this is probably a good time to do it, when the league is ascending."
Cynics still see the WNBA as a losing venture, teetering continually on the brink of extinction.
It didn't help that three teams disbanded under Orender's watch. Her sudden departure is seen as another bad sign.
But Orender calmly refutes those ideas, pointing to her ability to negotiate an eight-year extension of the league's television rights with ABC and ESPN. She also orchestrated major sponsorship deals in 2010 with Coca-Cola, Pirate's Booty and Jamba Juice.
Meanwhile, just last season, the Connecticut Sun was the first WNBA team in history to become "cash flow positive."
"From a business perspective, I feel like the WNBA is on the rise," Orender said. "We had our best year ever (in 2010). Things are in place where it can continue to move on that trajectory. That makes me feel good.
"I can rest my head on my pillow feeling that the WNBA is a much larger part of the consideration set (consciousness) of this country and that people feel good about it. I'm really proud of that. I'm really happy with that."