NEW YORK — Like so many of her San Antonio teammates, Kelsey Plum was halfway around the world when she heard that the Stars were being sold and relocated.
Stars general manager Ruth Riley emailed the players to say they were having a conference call. The call confirmed rumors that the team was being sold.
Riley didn’t say where the team would be moving, but a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press that the buyer is based in Las Vegas. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because neither the team nor the WNBA has disclosed information about the buyer.
“There was silence for about 15 seconds on the phone. It was so unexpected,” Plum said Sunday in a phone interview from Turkey, where she’s playing this winter. “I think everyone was shocked. Moriah (Jefferson) asked if we would all still be together.”
The players under contract will make the move, but most of the staff will not.
Another person with knowledge of the situation told the AP on Friday that Bill Laimbeer, who played for the Detroit Pistons and previously coached the New York Liberty and Detroit Shock, would be the new coach and general manager of the Stars. That person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the team has not announced the hiring.
The move meant first-year coach Vickie Johnson and Riley would be out of jobs. Johnson said Saturday that she was informed by Riley that Laimbeer would be taking over.
“It’s heartbreaking as we had laid a great foundation,” Johnson said in a phone interview. “They understood what I wanted to do. They understood the system. They understood it was bigger than individual stats. It was about a sisterhood, a trust. Playing the game the right way. They bought into it.”
Johnson, who has had a role in the WNBA since it began in 1997, still wants to still be involved in the league.
“Atlanta is open and I’ll put my name in that hat. Hopefully that will pan out for me. I’m a teacher and want these kids to be successful, be their best and develop as great players. I love this league, I love the W. Made a lot of sacrifices, we all made sacrifices, we wouldn’t want this league to fold, not be successful. My goal, as a former player and former coach of the Stars, is to help this league grow any way I can.”
Plum was excited for the potential move to Las Vegas, which is closer to Southern California, where she grew up.
“My family and friends can get to more games,” Plum said. “Getting to Texas wasn’t the easiest thing for them. Now it’s a short flight or drive for them to come watch.”
She doesn’t know much about Laimbeer.
“I used to watch old game tape of Detroit, the ‘Bad Boys’ club,” Plum said, laughing. “I know he’s a very successful coach and knows what he’s doing. I’ve heard he’s a really cool guy. I play overseas with Kia Vaughn (who played for Laimbeer in New York). As soon as the news broke, she had nothing but great things to say about him. He’s a champion.”
Last year’s top pick, who starred at Washington in college and broke the NCAA scoring record there, felt bad for San Antonio fans who have been loyal since the franchise moved from Utah to Texas in 2003.
“They’ve been super supportive through thick and thin,” Plum said of the Stars’ fans. “Usually when the going gets tough, people bail. We weren’t in the playoff run and they were there. I feel sad for them. It’s tough, they’re losing their franchise.”
Plum wasn’t the only player who felt bad for the fans. Kayla McBride took to social media to express her sadness for them.
Johnson loses the team she’s called hers for the past decade. She came to San Antonio in 2006 to play and helped the team reach the WNBA Finals in 2008. She was an assistant coach for a few years before getting to lead the team this past season.
“For me its way beyond money, it’s about these young ladies and making this league better,” she said.