Dallas Wings era opens with high hopes

Coach Fred Williams (far left), Skylar Diggins and Odyssey Sims pose with several members of the Dallas Wings' ownership team, including majority owner Bill Cameron (second from left) and Chris Christian (third from left), and other key community members. Courtesy Gregg Ellman

A couple of years ago, I was walking into my hotel after covering a Tulsa Shock game, and a gentleman in the hallway introduced himself as one of the team's minority owners, Chris Christian.

We talked about the Shock's chances of making things work in Tulsa, and a bit about the state of the WNBA in general. At the time, I was still optimistic about Tulsa's chances with the franchise -- if a few more wins were on the way. (We know now how this turned out.)

Monday, I spoke with Christian again, this time by phone from Arlington, Texas, the new home of the team no longer known as the Shock. Christian is now the vice chairman and managing partner for the franchise to be known as the Dallas Wings.

He remembered our conversation and reminded me of why he became interested in the WNBA.

"It was through my daughter -- I followed her career, and just became passionate about women's basketball," said Christian, a musician, songwriter and producer who counts among his biggest successes helping launch the recording career of Amy Grant. "In fact, three of the Dallas owners who got involved in this team all have had daughters who played basketball."

This dad-fueled evangelism for women's accomplishments in all realms is not new; it's an energy force that's been around a long, long time. In fact, I've often written that I believe it to be one of the greatest agents of social change in human history. When fathers get engaged this way, they make for some powerful advocacy.

Christian's daughter, Savannah Smith, played prep ball at Dallas Covenant (her team once won a game 100-0 that got national publicity) and then collegiately at Abilene Christian in Texas. When she finished her career, he reminisced with her and discovered her fondest memories were not actually about the games she'd won.

"She said it was going to all the practices and games with me, the time we'd had together in the car," Christian said. "I realized the basketball was a lot of fun, but the most critical thing that happened is we'd spent a lot of time together.

"And I think that's something about the WNBA that I hope dads really look at: It's not just about seeing a game, it's a meaningful way to spend time with your kids. It's about those relationships."

All that feel-good stuff is real, and it's a major selling point of the WNBA. But we also have to acknowledge that there are still folks in Tulsa upset about how this move went down. There are fans who feel betrayed after supporting a losing team for several years, and then have it leave following its first playoff appearance. Wings majority owner Bill Cameron and Christian remain defendants in a lawsuit filed by minority stakeholder W. Stuart Price. He says when he invested in the franchise in 2009, he was assured it would remain in Oklahoma.

However that case eventually is settled, though, the team has indeed moved and that's the future. So it's officially goodbye to the Shock of the yellow and black color scheme in Tulsa, which previously was the blue, red and white of Detroit. (Actually, the Shock had a wider mix of colors in their early years, but what most people probably remember are the uniforms from 2002-2009, when the team won three WNBA titles.)

Now it's hello, Wings, whose logo looks like Pegasus with a color scheme of two different blues and green, although not the same shades of the recent champion Minnesota Lynx.

Cameron and Christian hope the Wings will be just like the Lynx in other ways, though, including being able to find a successful foothold in a metropolitan area that has all four major men's professional leagues.

The concern some league observers raised about leaving Tulsa after six seasons was that the city never really had a chance to embrace a winning team in Oklahoma. As mentioned, Tulsa's only season to make the playoffs was this year, and it happened a couple of months after the move already had been announced.

Tulsa advocates believed that the Shock could have truly secured the franchise as an important part of the community there in a way that they feel won't happen now in their new home. There is a much bigger population base now, but also a greater chance to be "lost" in the sports shuffle.

Is a WNBA team better off as a bigger fish in a smaller pond like Tulsa, or a smaller fish in a huge sports landscape like Dallas-Arlington-Fort Worth? People have different viewpoints, but in the end, Cameron's opinion was the one that counted. The metroplex won.

Christian has lived in Dallas the last quarter-century, and he is thrilled by the idea of a professional women's sports team like the Wings truly taking root there.

"The pros or cons on big or small markets are not in my thought process," Christian said of his moving-forward-not-looking-back mindset. "From the press conference we saw [Monday], it was unbelievable, a lot of people showed a huge amount of interest."

However, that was just the start. The test of any sports franchise is whether it can really sustain itself, and there's no way to look into the future and be sure if that will happen with the Wings.

But the franchise doesn't lack for enthusiasm from people like Christian. As to the Shock's makeover into the Wings, he sees it as a kind of positive re-birth.

"The players wanted a new name, too," he said. "It's a fresh day, a different arena to play in, and a new marketplace. I think we have a great team, one with a lot of camaraderie, players who really like and respect each other. To me, that's so crucial in women's basketball, to have that atmosphere. That's something else I learned in watching my daughter play. And I think we have it here."