THE WASHINGTON TIMES Susan O'Malley, who became the first female president of an NBA franchise when she was named to head the Washington Bullets in 1991, will step down from her post as president of Washington Sports and Entertainment when her contract expires June 30.
"I have spent several weeks tossing the idea around, so I've been thinking about it," Ms. O'Malley, 45, said yesterday. "I wanted to leave at the right time and I think this is it. I owe an enormous debt to [Wizards owner Abe] Pollin. My goal was to put enough talented people around me in place so when I left they would forget about me within a week."
Ms. O'Malley will work with Mr. Pollin on selecting her successor, and will stay on to advise Mr. Pollin through a transition period culminating with the Verizon Center's 10th anniversary celebration in December. However, beyond that she will not serve as consultant or in any other capacity with the organization.
She also shot down speculation that her departure from the organization signaled Mr. Pollin — at age 83 the oldest and longest-tenured owner in the NBA (42 seasons) — was preparing to sell the Washington Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Wizards and Verizon Center.
"I think if he was going to sell I would stay and help him sell," Ms. O'Malley said. "He is not selling. He is as committed as ever to winning another championship."
Ms. O'Malley said she will be replaced but by a group of people rather than one candidate, and that Mr. Pollin is committed to finding her replacement within the organization. She said an announcement regarding — but not necessarily identifying — her replacement could be made within a week.
"Susan has been my right hand through the past 20 years and has helped guide the fortunes of our company," Mr. Pollin said. "She has simply been fantastic in every way, from the moment she came here to the present, and I will always be thankful for her guidance and leadership. I wish her nothing but the best in her future endeavors."
However, replacing the iconic Ms. O'Malley will not be an easy assignment.
Not only has she been primarily responsible for marketing and ticket sales for the Wizards and the Washington Capitals, she also has headed the Washington Mystics of the WNBA and Ticketmaster of Washington-Baltimore.
Under Ms. O'Malley, the Mystics led the WNBA in attendance from 1998 through 2000 and from 2002 through 2004.
The Capitals and Mystics were sold to Lincoln Holdings in 1999 and 2005 respectively.
Once an afterthought in Washington, under Ms. O'Malley's guidance the Wizards have built a season-ticket base of just over 11,000. Last season, the Wizards sold out 23 of their 41 homes games for an average of 18,373.
The extremely confident but diminutive Ms. O'Malley admitted yesterday that when she was named president she was initially overwhelmed by her position.
"It was enormous pressure for me — I thought if I screwed up no woman would ever get another shot," said Ms. O'Malley, who just graduated from Georgetown Law School. "As it evolved I started to get used to it. Then, while in law school it was interesting to me how many students walked up to me and told me that they saw me as a mentor and a hero, so you end up with a mantle that you don't really deserve.
"But, to break down the barrier means something to women," she added. "It sends a message that you can be anything you want to be."
This is not the first time Ms. O'Malley considered leaving the Wizards. She admitted she thought about it right before Mr. Pollin decided to part ways with NBA legend Michael Jordan as the team's president of basketball operations after the 2002-03 season.
Following the contentious parting, Ernie Grunfeld replaced Jordan and coach Eddie Jordan replaced Doug Collins; the Wizards, who missed the postseason for seven consecutive seasons after a first-round exit in 1997, have made the playoffs the last three seasons.
"The Jordan period was stressful because Michael Jordan is an icon and one of the greatest players of all time," said Ms. O'Malley, who said she feared a public backlash that never came as a result of the changes. "For it to end the way it did, there was a lot of emotion from the community. We didn't want to make a misstep, and Ernie and Eddie have turned out great."