New WNBA team for Toronto is also for all of Canada 

May 23, 2024 | Headlines, Sports

Outside Hotel X, metres away from the Exhibition Place and the BMO Field, the sunshine glared off the parked black cars with tinted windows as more fancy cars kept arriving, envisioning an intriguing scene that hinted something big was about to happen.

Former NBA Raptor champion Kyle Lowry stepped out of one of the cars and started to chat with Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri in the hall.

As rapper Drake joined the conversation, a parade of dignitaries led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau started to head to a spacious room and got on stage, with Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert taking seats next to him. Raptors star Scottie Barnes was among the attendees.

As the anticipation built, Engelbert stood up and finally made that much-awaited statement that resounded in Toronto. But it also echoed across Canada.

“I’m honoured to officially announce that we have awarded the city of Toronto with the 14th WNBA franchise,” she said in a media conference held this Tuesday.

The enthusiasm popped up with a boisterous ovation as the WNBA officially announced that Toronto will have a team, as Humber News reported last week and first reported by CBC.

The team, still unnamed, is expected to start to play as soon as May 2026 and will host its home games at the Coca-Cola Coliseum at Exhibition Place in Toronto. The venue has a capacity of 8,700 spectators.

However, the first non-American WNBA franchise in history has a strong purpose of spreading the Canada-belongs feeling across the country.

In its president’s words, Larry Tanenbaum, the business group that will own the organization, will bring home games to other cities.

“This is not just a Toronto team…(and) there will be games in Vancouver and Montreal, unifying the country through our franchise,” he said.

Tanenbaum is also the chairman and a minority owner in the Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), which owns the Maple Leafs, the Raptors, TFC, the Argos and the Marlies.

Humber News went to cover the event but was denied access to the room despite reaching out to the league multiple times to apply for credentials.

Teresa Resch, an NBA championship-pedigree executive, was announced as president of the WNBA team. Resch stepped away as a vice president of basketball operations in the Raptors in March after 11 years working in the franchise.

Although it remains unknown who else will be part of the organization, one source with connections with Canadian basketball and another one with links with the WNBA said they expect more personnel with experience in the Raptors to be part of the project.

Different reports hinted last week that Ivan Gazidis, a former executive with the Arsenal and Milan premier football clubs, would have an important role in the organization’s management. Humber News reached out to Gazidis, but he has yet to respond.

Resch said she is open to suggestions from the public for the team’s name.

“We’re very much looking forward to sourcing information and suggestions from the Canadian public so keep an eye out for that,” she said.

The WNBA announced in a release the new team has committed to building a new practice facility dedicated to the team and community initiatives.

The executive said she believes Toronto will be an interesting market for the WNBA players.

“Toronto has a unique perspective both in the makeup of demographics and how we do business. (It) has a uniqueness to it, and it will be attractive to a lot of WNBA players and we will it use to our advantage in the free agency. Watch out the other 13 teams,” Resch quipped.

The WNBA currently has four Canadian players Kia Nurse, Bridget Carleton, Aaliyah Edwards and Laeticia Amihere.

Canada’s women’s national team coach Victor Lapeña told Humber News last week he expects the WNBA Toronto team to count on Canadian players.

Among the dignitaries, Olivia Chow looked the most excited.

“It’s time for women basketball heroes,” she said.

The WNBA has finally put down roots in the country where the basketball inventor James Naismith was born and the city where the Toronto Huskies and the New York Knickerbockers played the first NBA game ever in 1946.

“We are ready for another championship parade,” Chow said.