The league, which begins its 23rd season on May 24, previously was led by presidents, including Lisa Borders, who stepped down in October.
Cathy Engelbert, CEO of professional services firm Deloitte, has been hired as the first commissioner of the WNBA less than 10 days before the league tips off its 23rd season, NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced Wednesday.
Engelbert, who will report directly to Silver, will assume her role with the WNBA on July 17, when her four-year term as Deloitte’s CEO concludes. Prior to Engelbert, the WNBA has been led by presidents, the most recent being Lisa Borders, who stepped down in October.
“Cathy is a world-class business leader with a deep connection to women’s basketball, which makes her the ideal person to lead the WNBA into its next phase of growth,” Silver said in a news release. “The WNBA will benefit significantly from her more than 30 years of business and operational experience including revenue generation, sharp entrepreneurial instincts and proven management abilities.”
Basketball is in Engelbert’s blood.
She played at Lehigh for Hall of Fame coach Muffet McGraw and was a team captain as a senior, and her father, Kurt, played for Hall of Fame coach Jack Ramsay at Saint Joseph’s and was drafted in 1957 by the NBA’s Pistons.
“It is an absolute privilege to be joining the WNBA at such an exciting and important time in its history,” Engelbert said in a statement. “I see tremendous opportunity to bolster visibility for the sport of women’s basketball, empower the players and enhance fan engagement. I look forward to using my business expertise and passion for basketball to promote women in the game and beyond, and to working with the teams and world-class athletes to help grow this league into a thriving business.”
A message from Cathy Engelbert, the first-ever WNBA Commissioner 🗣 pic.twitter.com/Nbw7mW0MJW
— WNBA (@WNBA) May 15, 2019
She will take over a 12-team league whose season begins May 24 and that is going through collective bargaining negotiations with its players union. The WNBPA exercised its opt-out of its existing CBA in the fall, and while terms are in place for this season a new agreement needs to be reached before the 2020 season begins.
It is against that backdrop that McGraw, who is now Notre Dame’s coach, gave her former player a ringing endorsement to ESPN.com in the new position: “Cathy Engelbert is the perfect choice to lead the WNBA. She has the ideal resume for the job: Division I playing experience, plus extraordinary success in corporate America. She is smart, steady, confident, has a passion for the game, and has the respect of everyone she has ever worked with.”
A trail blazer of sorts herself, Engelbert is the first female to lead a Big Four professional services firm in the U.S. and in her role as CEO at Deloitte has been a strong supporter of diversity and inclusion while winning numerous professional accolades.
Borders, the fourth president in the WNBA’s history, stepped down after serving some two years. NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum has served as acting president during the search for Borders’ successor.
Previous WNBA presidents were Val Ackerman (1997–2005), Donna Orender (2005–10) and Laurel Richie (2011–15).