Sparks purchased from Buss for $10 million

Updated: December 7, 2006, 7:42 PM ET
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Sparks were sold for $10 million Thursday to an investment group led by two of the team's longtime season-ticket holders.

Kathy Goodman, a high school English and social studies teacher, and Carla Christofferson, an attorney and former Miss North Dakota, are the new majority owners in Gemini Basketball Holdings.

"I'm probably the most excited of anybody," center Lisa Leslie said. "When I found out it was two women, it was really empowering to me."

The Sparks are the fourth WBNA team to have independent ownership, along with the Connecticut Sun, Washington Mystics and Chicago Sky. The sale was unanimously approved by the league's Board of Governors, WNBA president Donna Orender said.

One of the WNBA's eight original teams, the Sparks were sold by Jerry Buss, the Los Angeles Lakers' owner whose son, Johnny, was Sparks president.

"This is about as exciting as I thought it might be," Goodman joked at an outdoor news conference with the Los Angeles skyline as backdrop.

She thanked her students from HighTechHigh-LA, a charter school in Van Nuys, who joined her for the announcement.

"They wanted to stay back and discuss 'The Scarlet Letter,'" she said.

The team will continue to play at Staples Center, where attendance has dropped in recent years.

"It's important for the game to be an event they want to come to, so they don't miss a game," Christofferson said. "It's not NBA-lite. People are coming for great basketball and role models."

The women, though, offered no concrete examples of how they'll attract more fans to the team's summer schedule.

"It's about creating excitement," Goodman said. "If you're excited about doing something, you come out and do it. There's really no reason people won't come out and watch the Sparks."

At least for next season, Goodman and Christofferson won't have the services of three-time league MVP Leslie. She is pregnant with her first child, due in June, according to husband Michael Lockwood.

"I will be cheering my teammates on," said Leslie, who plans to return for the 2008 season and try for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

The 43-year-old Goodman attended the first Sparks game on June 21, 1997, at the Forum in Inglewood. Christofferson, 39, has been a season-ticket holder since 1999.

"I've missed fewer Sparks' games than family birthdays," said Goodman, a former lawyer and Harvard undergraduate who closed the deal through phone calls made during her free period at school.

The women met when Goodman's former company that produced and financed movies was being sued and Christofferson represented her. They became friends and discovered that each had Sparks season tickets. They had their seats relocated to be near each other.

"We had an opinion about everything and we knew everything," Goodman said. "Every conversation between Carla and I started, 'If we owned this team.'"

They approached the Buss family about selling the team, which won WNBA championships in 2001 and 2002.

"We went through the family list of who wanted to take over the Sparks, and no one did," Johnny Buss said. "They stepped up as I was stepping down. There's no doubt they'll continue the legacy."

Buss, who said he'll still attend games, is getting into television production. "I'm trying to stay out of sports," he said.

Before becoming a teacher, Goodman spent five years as president of Intermedia Films, an independent production company she co-founded that produced such films as "The Wedding Planner" and "Sliding Doors."

Christofferson is a partner in the Los Angeles firm of O'Melveny & Myers, specializing in entertainment and commercial litigation. A Yale Law School graduate, she was Miss North Dakota in 1989. She played high school basketball in her hometown of Tolna, N.D., population 240.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press