It’s been 15 years since the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun set up shop at Mohegan Sun Arena. It was an unusual move, to be sure: for decades professional sports had avoided much direct interaction with the gambling industry to ensure the integrity of the game.
The move was also unusual for another reason: the Sun broke WNBA precedent and set up shop as a team unaffiliated with an NBA team. The original WNBA model called for NBA teams to own and run their WNBA franchises. And, in fact, the Connecticut Sun began life as the Orlando Miracle, owned by the Orlando Magic. The Miracle was not a financial success in Orlando, and the Mohegan Tribe bought the team as a tenant for Mohegan Sun Arena, part of the Mohegan Sun casino complex. Insiders scoffed at the notion of an unaffiliated WNBA team playing out of a casino arena in Connecticut.
In retrospect, a Connecticut WNBA team was a brilliant move, given the success of the UConn women’s team over the years. Some of those UConn stars ended up playing for the Sun, most notably Asjha Jones and Nykesha Sales, and many will be on hand tonight for a 15-year anniversary of the 2003 Sun squad.
But it’s the arena’s success in serving as the spiritual center of the WNBA in some lean years is what many folks will be celebrating this week. From The Day:
Indeed, the Sun’s 14 previously successful summer prompt the question: Would there be a WNBA right now without the support and steadfastness this franchise has provided? Maybe. Maybe not. The WNBA is nothing else if not beautifully stubborn, figuring out ways to survive and continue to call itself the longest continuing women’s professional sports league in history.
But there’s no denying that the Sun’s contribution has been noteworthy. All-Star games with full houses. Draft nights with buzz. Playoff games with quite the din. Never forget the first game of the 2004 finals when the ever quotable Sales walked into the locker room and yelled, “it was LIVE in there tonight.”
The Connecticut franchise hasn’t merely found success in the league’s smallest market. It has thrived. And while it still seeks that elusive championship, the future is brighter than it has been in years.
Indeed. It’s hard to imagine the successes enjoyed by the WNBA today if it weren’t for Mohegan Sun Arena and the Connecticut Sun. It is a success that really should not have happened: an Indian tribe owning a team playing out of what was considered a small arena 15 years ago. But as it ends up the arena was the perfect size and the market was ripe for professional basketball.
Image courtesy Mohegan Sun.