- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Billionaire businesswoman Sheila Johnson has become a partner in Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis’ Lincoln Holdings LLC, a group that has purchased the Washington Mystics, Abe Pollin announced yesterday at MCI Center.

“I hope that this is a signal that it’s about time that a woman — and an African-American woman — is part of this whole scene of sports,” Ms. Johnson said. “I am particularly excited about working with our Mystics and doing all that I can personally to build a winning team and to bring even greater vitality to the WNBA.”

Ms. Johnson co-founded Black Entertainment Television (BET) in 1980 with then-husband Robert L. Johnson, who owns the National Basketball Association’s Charlotte Bobcats. The first black female owner in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) will serve as president and managing partner of the Mystics and will own between 5 percent and 10 percent of Lincoln Holdings.

“We think it’s time for an African-American woman to own a WNBA team,” said Mr. Pollin, owner of the Washington Wizards and MCI Center. “We sought her out. We think she’s perfect to run a team.”

Mr. Pollin’s share of the Mystics was about $5.5million. The franchise’s value is about $10million.

The announcement, attended by NBA Commissioner David Stern and WNBA President Donna Orender, is the latest shift of Mr. Pollin’s assets in Washington Sports & Entertainment to Mr. Leonsis’ company. Mr. Leonsis bought the Capitals in 1999 and has a 44 percent stake in the Wizards and MCI Center.

Ms. Johnson left BET shortly after the company was sold to Viacom for $3billion in 2000. She lives in Middleburg, Va., and is the director of the Washington International Horse Show, held annually at MCI Center.

“I am particularly excited about working with our Mystics and doing all that I can personally to build a winning team and to bring even greater vitality to the WNBA,” she said.

In addition to owning the Capitals hockey team and the Mystics, Mr. Leonsis has first and last rights of refusal once Mr. Pollin decides to sell the Wizards and MCI Center. The NHL owners locked out the players last season in a labor dispute that ultimately forced the cancellation of the 2004-05 season, so Mr. Leonsis is happy to have at least one team performing in MCI Center.

“At least, they’re playing and have a shot at making money,” said Mr. Leonsis, an AOL executive.

The Mystics have been consistent losers on the court with a 86-150 (.364) record in their first seven seasons. They made the playoffs twice but have led the league in attendance five times, even though some have questioned their accounting methods.

Washington finished fourth in the six-team Eastern Conference last season before losing in the first round of the playoffs to Connecticut. The team is 1-1 entering tomorrow’s home game with Los Angeles.

The franchise’s trademark has been continuous turmoil. Michael Adams resigned as coach shortly before the season to become an assistant coach for the men’s basketball team at the University of Maryland, leaving Richie Adubato to become the team’s eighth coach in as many years. Troubled star Chamique Holdsclaw forced a trade to Los Angeles in the offseason, in part because of the team’s struggles.

“We are big believers and supporters of women’s basketball and believe Sheila will help lead the team to success on and off the court.” Mr. Leonsis said. “Sheila really has a unique perspective on business and management and how to drive our sports teams forward.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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