NEW YORK (AP) — WNBA President Laurel J. Richie is stepping down after more than four years on the job.
The WNBA said in a release Wednesday that Richie is leaving to pursue other opportunities that include being an advocate for girls and young women.
NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum will oversee the WNBA until a new president is hired. A search for the new league president will begin immediately.
“We thank Laurel for her five seasons of service and commitment to the WNBA and wish her success in her future endeavors,” Tatum said in a statement.
“The league’s quality of play and depth of talent have never been better,” he said. “We remain steadfast in our commitment to achieving growth in fan interest and future business performance reflective of the extraordinary state of the on-court product.”
Richie assumed her role with the league in May 2011, becoming the first African-American to lead a major sports league.
“I am proud of what the WNBA has been able to accomplish during my tenure and am grateful for the opportunity to play my part in setting the stage for the 20th season and beyond,” Richie said.
“I was fortunate to work with some very special people, from owners, to league and team staff, to the passionate fans of the WNBA, to the incredibly talented WNBA athletes,” she said. “I will forever be a fan of the WNBA and a champion for all it stands for.”
In her five seasons at the helm, Richie led initiatives to improve the visibility of the league’s players.
She helped ensure a measure of financial stability for the teams by completing an eight-year collective bargaining agreement with the players and extended a contract with ESPN through 2025.
Richie’s departure comes about six weeks after NBA commissioner Adam Silver made public comments about the state of the WNBA, indicating he thought the league “would have broken through by now” and that it is “not where we hoped it would be.”
The league closed out its 19th season with a stellar five-game WNBA Finals which Minnesota beat Indiana won that had strong ratings.
“While I’m still in shock, I am thankful for what Laurel has done in her time with the WNBA,” said Fever star Tamika Catchings. “Wish her nothing but luck in her future endeavors.”
Despite its great playoffs, the WNBA had its lowest average attendance in league history during the regular season. Some of that was due to San Antonio moving arenas while its normal home court was being renovated and Tulsa announcing it was moving to Dallas in 2016.
Richie had to deal with a lot this past year including star Brittney Griner being arrested for domestic violence and her brief marriage and divorce to All-Star Glory Johnson.
Diana Taurasi sat out the year after being paid by her Russian team to skip the WNBA season. Candace Parker missed the first half of the season to rest.
Richie also oversaw the purchase of the Los Angeles Sparks by Guggenheim Partners and Magic Johnson Enterprises in 2014.
“There have been a lot of things that happened on her watch and she did a great job guiding the league through them,” Connecticut Sun President and CEO Mitchell Etess said. “Based on the position of the league now, it’s a much more desirable job than it has been previously. The league’s in a great place, better off than it was five years ago.”