Connect with us

Sports

The WNBA is officially coming to Toronto with a familiar Raptors veteran as its president

Published

on

Open this photo in gallery:

Teresa Resch at Hotel X in Toronto on May 22. Resch will be announced as the president of Toronto’s WNBA expansion team at a Thursday press conference.DUANE COLE/The Globe and Mail

Teresa Resch, the former Toronto Raptors executive who Masai Ujiri considered his “right arm” and Larry Tanenbaum says inspires with passion will lead the Women’s National Basketball Association’s 14th club, a team set to tip off in Toronto in 2026.

The WNBA will officially announce Toronto’s expansion team at a Thursday morning news conference, and introduce Resch, a familiar name in the city’s sports scene, as team president.

“I’m glad we got it to the finish line and we will officially be able to announce it to the world,” said Resch, speaking about the new team for the first time in an exclusive interview with The Globe and Mail on Wednesday. “We’ve been working so much on the details and now we finally get to center on how historic it is, how exciting that this is really happening.”

Until March, Resch was the Raptors’ VP of basketball operations for 11 years, including during its championship season in 2019.

In recent months, she has been helping land the WNBA’s first team outside the United States.

“She’s got the passion and that’s what you truly need to inspire people. She’s very detail oriented and she was with the Raptors for over a decade, with the NBA office before that, and the NBA has told me numerous times that they were very sad to lose her,” Tanenbaum told The Globe. “I only employ the best and she stood out as a great individual to lead this team.”

Resch has been quiet about the new gig until now, even as she was inundated with messages after CBC first reported in March that Kilmer Sports Ventures, led by Tanenbaum, was pursuing a team. Tanenbaum is also the chairman and a minority owner of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which owns several Toronto sports franchises, including the Raptors and Maple Leafs.

“We weren’t done, we didn’t want to pre-celebrate, we were still in the nuance,” Resch said. Still, she saw the overwhelming reaction from Canadian fans and throughout the sports industry. “That was an added bump of confidence, that this is going to work.”

Tanenbaum’s Kilmer Sports Ventures company was created to invest in sports not already part of his portfolio, including women’s sports.

“I have felt passionately over the last 10 years, that with the growth of our national women’s national teams in basketball, hockey and soccer,” Tanenbaum said, “that our overall system lacked professional women’s sports.”

Open this photo in gallery:

Until March, Resch was the Raptors’ VP of basketball operations for 11 years, including during its championship season in 2019.DUANE COLE/The Globe and Mail

He told Resch he was interested in a WNBA team and asked her to be president.

“I said absolutely, but I also want to be part of it before and I want to help shape it,” Resch recalled. “He was open to that. I appreciate the opportunity he’s given me.”

That meant taking a leap, leaving her job with the Raptors despite having no guarantee yet that the WNBA would award them a team.

Tanenbaum had reportedly wanted to bid on a team with MLSE, but the idea was not pursued, so he pursued it on his own, outside of MLSE.

Resch, 42, has been in sports all her life. The native of Lakefield, Minn., played college volleyball at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, S.D., and got an MBA at St. Thomas University in Miami. She interned with the Miami Heat, the Orange Bowl committee, University of Miami and at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports. She also worked as senior operating manager for the popular Ultimate Hoops program across Life Time fitness clubs.

She met Ujiri while she was working for the NBA on international basketball operations, specifically on the Basketball Without Borders program, which Ujiri was involved in. She impressed him back then with her business savvy and personal skills and he tucked that away.

Resch was among those he tried to hire when he joined the Denver Nuggets but she turned it down. He offered again when he got to the Raptors and she accepted.

“Masai has been my best supporter,” Resch said of Ujiri, who made her one of his first hires when he took the Toronto job in 2013.

She became a key liaison between the Raptors and MLSE, merging the team and business sides, working across many aspects and getting people the resources they needed. She was key in several projects, such as building the Raptors’ practice facility; moving the team to a temporary home in Tampa during the pandemic; helping make executive hires; and launching Raptors 905, the team’s G-League franchise. Her profile grew as a female in a top NBA team role.

She was also part of the NBA’s Global inclusion Council, which advances the development of women in operations and coaching jobs.

When Ujiri was asked how he felt about her departure from his team to lead a Toronto WNBA expansion club he said: “this has been a dream for all of us.

“I have known that this would come at some point, and I’ve known that she’s the right person for it,” Ujiri said. “I’m sad to lose somebody that was once like my chief of staff, and my right arm everywhere, but then kind of let her fly and gave her the reins, and now this is the next step for her. She’s phenomenal. She’s been part of the incredible success we’ve had, all the ups and downs.”

Resch shied away from using her platform with the Raptors to bring attention to herself as one of the few women in executive positions with an NBA team. She soon warmed to the phrase, “speak up, even if your voice shakes.

“Then ultimately,” she said, “I realized that I had his platform and I needed to be more front and centre, so that other people could ‘see it to be it.’”

Resch has done a lot of research on the business viability of Canada as a market for women’s pro sports, within her work at MLSE but also as an advisory member for Canadian Women & Sport, which produced two white papers on the topic. She also had a close-up look at Toronto holding the first WNBA exhibition game at the sold-out 19,800-seat Scotiabank Arena a year ago.

“I felt very confident, like I know the W, and how much they wanted to be in the Toronto,” Resch said. “I knew Larry and the respect he has from so many as an owner of professional sports. I just felt good that [the WNBA] would not pass on the opportunity of him as an owner, and Toronto as a marketplace.

“We plan to win here, we plan to compete at the highest level,” Resch added. “We plan to resource this team in a way so they can compete at a championship level.”

Tanenbaum led most of the negotiations with WNBA commissioner Cathy Englebert. Resch handled several of the details, including leading the WNBA’s operations team around some venues.

Toronto’s new team will play at 8,700-seat Coca-Cola Coliseum at Exhibition Place, starting in 2026, with the ability to move up to the Scotiabank Arena on occasion if the demand is there. Kilmer Group has committed to building the team a new practice facility, but until that is ready, they will train at University of Toronto’s Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport.

The team will play some of its regular-season games in other Canadian cities, too.

“I think that will truly make this Canada’s team,” Resch said. “It’s something that no other professional sports team has really been able to do.”

Resch said they plan to renovate the back-of-house areas, including locker rooms, inside Coca-Cola Coliseum, a building that opened in 1922. They will “get creative” with temporary premium spaces for fans in the end-of-court areas that open up when the venue transitions from hockey ice to basketball hardwood.

“It’s a historic building – over 100 years old – and some may see that as old and outdated, but it also has a lot of character,” Resch said. “We think we can really embrace that and make it our home and something that the team and WNBA are really proud of.”

As for what she envisions for this new team playing inside Coca-Cola Coliseum?

“We just think we’re going to pack it,” Resch said. “There’s nothing better as a professional athlete than playing in front of a packed house. Coca-Cola Coliseum is an unbelievable fan experience in the bowl.”

“I can’t wait until Caitlin Clark plays a game in Toronto,” Tanenbaum said.

Continue Reading