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Connecticut Gets WNBA Franchise

Mohegan Indian Tribe purchases the former Orlando Miracle. The team will play home games in a 10,000-seat arena at the tribe's casino.

January 29, 2003|From Associated Press

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — The WNBA is betting professional women's basketball will be successful in Connecticut.

The former Orlando Miracle, a team led by former Connecticut standout Nykesha Sales, was purchased by the Mohegan Indian Tribe and became the Connecticut Sun, WNBA Commissioner Val Ackerman said Tuesday.

The Sun will be the first independently owned and operated team in the WNBA. Ackerman made her announcement in front of about 500 fans, many of them children, who screamed loudly at the sight of Sales and several former Connecticut players attending the event.

The team will be based at the tribe's Mohegan Sun casino and play in its 10,000-seat arena. It will be one of seven teams in the Eastern Conference of the 14-team league. Neither league nor team officials would disclose the purchase price.

Besides Sales, the Sun includes 12 other players but no coach. Miracle coach Dee Brown remained with the Orlando Magic, which owned the women's team. Sun officials said a search for a new coach would begin immediately.

The league has said it will allow a casino to own a team as long as there is no sports betting at the facility. There are no sports books in Connecticut; the NBA has played exhibition games at the Mohegan Sun arena.

"It doesn't present a problem for us," Ackerman said. "What we felt we had here was an extraordinary package of amenities that included a wonderful arena, a great management team with experience in promoting sports events. We felt that women's professional basketball could very well thrive in the kind of setting that Mohegan Sun is providing for us."

Officials said entrances will allow fans to bypass the gambling floor and send them directly to the arena.

"People tend to focus a little too much on what seeing a slot machine, what influence it would have on a youngster," Tribal Councilor Jayne Fawcett said. "You take children to a restaurant where people are having drinks and where people are smoking. These are far more injurious to children's health. I don't think there's any comparison."

The league changed its business model in October, ending central ownership of teams and cutting ties that bound teams to NBA franchises. Orlando and the league's Miami franchise folded and the Utah franchise moved to San Antonio.

The Connecticut women's teams have won three NCAA championships in seven years -- the men have won a fourth -- and their games are sellouts at the 10,000-seat Gampel Pavilion on campus and the 16,000-seat Hartford Civic Center.

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