Atlanta Dream co-owner Renee Montgomery has adopted a vision for the revamped Dream that transcends the WNBA and even the gym.

While mingling with hundreds of Atlanta-based youth athletes for a day of drills, games and giveaways at Gateway Arena on Saturday, Montgomery had a moment of clarity for her long-term approach to the Dream’s rebuild inside and outside of competition.

“We don’t want to just only excel on the court — we want to excel in the community, we want to excel as an organization,” Montgomery told Just Women’s Sports during The DICK’S Sporting Goods Foundation’s Sports Matter Giving Truck #SportsMatterDay. “I love what DICK’s is doing getting in at the ground level, ages six through 18 are here, so that’s a large range of teenagers, kids, people that are trying to stay in sports, people that are trying to figure out if they want to be in sports.”

That ground-up approach has become familiar within the Dream organization.

A year after real estate developer Larry Gottesdiener bought the Dream from former owners Kelly Loeffler and Mary Brock, forming an ownership group with Montgomery and Suzanne Abair, the team overhauled its front office and roster this offseason.

“Everything’s new, literally everything is new, but that’s how you start over and that’s how you build,” said Montgomery, the first former WNBA player to become part owner of a franchise. “We wanted to build from the ground up and build a foundation, and so that was our whole intention this offseason.”

Atlanta finished second-to-last in the WNBA last season with an 8-24 record and missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season. It didn’t take long for Montgomery and the ownership group to start making their mark on the team’s direction.

In September, the Dream hired former NFL executive Morgan Shaw Parker as their President and COO. The next month, they named former WNBA player and Las Vegas Aces assistant coach Tanisha Wright as head coach. A couple of weeks later, they made arguably the biggest coup of all, hiring two-time WNBA Executive of the Year Dan Padover away from the Las Vegas Aces to serve as the team’s general manager.

“When we got the team last year, it was about 45 days before the season started, and we couldn’t really put our imprint on the team how we wanted to,” Montgomery said. “But now, a year later, we are really starting to see the Atlanta Dream we wanted to be.”

A critical element in the Dream’s rebuild this season is rookie Rhyne Howard, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2022 draft. Long considered to be one of the most pro-ready players in this year’s draft class, Howard led Kentucky to new heights and is already showing what she can bring to Atlanta, scoring 15 points on 50 percent shooting in her preseason debut.

The Dream also nabbed Michigan star forward Naz Hillmon with the 15th pick on draft night after she unexpectedly fell to the second round.

“We started out with the No. 1 pick with Rhyne Howard, and then we got the steal of the draft with Naz Hillmon, who has a motor, is a workhorse,” Montgomery said. “We were ecstatic. As it was getting closer and closer to our pick, we were holding our breath, and so really excited to get who we wanted to get.”

Montgomery believes Howard and Hillmon will be good fits on the court and in the locker room, where the Dream also have some rebuilding to do after a tumultuous 2021.

Last July, the Dream indefinitely suspended former No. 4 draft pick Chennedy Carter after an incident during a game against the Aces, which was later reported to be a verbal argument between Carter and Courtney Williams. As the episode hung over the team, Williams was at the center of a video that surfaced in October showing her and teammate Crystal Bradford throwing punches outside of an Atlanta club. The WNBA later suspended Williams and Bradford for their role in the fight, and all three players have since left the Dream.

With many new faces and more time to build, Montgomery is eager for Wright to make her mark on the team’s culture.

“Our goal was just to build a culture here with the Atlanta Dream, so we want great players, but we want great players that are also going to be aligning with our same views and values,” she said.

Atlanta hopes a fresh philosophy will lead to a better finish this season. Montgomery, however, isn’t letting the immediate results cause her to lose sight of the long-term mission.

“Of course we want to win, but for me, it’s how we are playing, how we are building this thing. Is there growth every week? Are we staying in the same spot? Those are the kind of things that I am looking to see from our team,” she said. “The wins and losses are going to take care of themselves at a certain point, but right now, we have to build this thing the right way.”

The Dream will play their final preseason game on Sunday against the Connecticut Sun before kicking off their regular season against the Wings in Dallas on May 7.

“I want people to understand that this is going to be a completely different experience than people have experienced before with the Atlanta Dream,” Montgomery said. “We really just expect people to visibly see the difference in what we are trying to build here with the Atlanta Dream.”

Clare Brennan is an Associate Editor at Just Women’s Sports.

Atlanta Dream co-owner Renee Montgomery said the team didn’t know the extent of the May altercation involving multiple Dream players, while speaking during the halftime show of ESPN’s broadcast of the Sun-Sky semifinal game.

The Dream and the WNBA are both looking into the situation after a video surfaced Sunday showing Courtney Williams and Crystal Bradford getting into a fight outside of an Atlanta club.

“We saw a clip in May that was 10 to 15 seconds long, with no context,” said Montgomery, who is working as a studio analyst for ESPN during the WNBA playoffs. “And Coach [Mike] Petersen, he talked to the players involved, and they told us that, they assured us that it was in self-defense. So we wanted to believe our players. And so we chose to believe our players, and ultimately didn’t have any disciplinary actions.”

Neither Williams nor Bradford was disciplined at the time. The players’ agent, Marcus Crenshaw, told Girls Talk Sports TV earlier this week that the Dream have informed him they do not intend to re-sign either player.

“We only understood the magnitude of the situation when we saw that the fuller clip was posted [over the weekend],” Montgomery continued. “And again, this doesn’t feel good for anyone. No one wants to feel this way. But we always want to lean in to believe in our players and believe in women, to even take it a step further.”

Williams appeared to make light of the incident in a YouTube video recorded with her girlfriend on Sunday night. The guard has since deleted the video and apologized on Twitter.

“This is a tough situation for everyone involved. No one feels good or happy about what transpired,” said Montgomery. “And I know a lot of people want information, but right now, the league is involved. We’re dealing with a process that’s going to involve the league and the WNBPA. So we have to respect that.”

The Dream have been embroiled in controversy over the past couple of days. In addition to the fight video, second-year guard Chennedy Carter has been posting cryptic tweets since the end of the season, alluding to her frustration with the team. Carter was suspended in July following a reported altercation in the locker room during a game.

The team has also dealt with significant turnover in the past year. Atlanta fired president and general manager Chris Sienko in April. Just before the season started, head coach Nicki Collen announced she was leaving to take over the Baylor women’s basketball program. And in July, interim coach Mike Petersen stepped down for health reasons. Darius Taylor served as interim coach for the remainder of the season.

Montgomery — in her first year as part of the ownership group — says the Dream still have work to do, but the front office will continue to back its players.

“We want to build a foundation of accountability, we want to build a foundation of integrity,” she said. “But we also still want to continue to believe our players. So I don’t want this one instance to be, ‘Oh, we’re not going to believe anymore.’ We have to believe players. We have to believe women. And we’re going to continue to do that.”

Atlanta Dream co-owner Renee Montgomery has noticed the concern surrounding the Atlanta Dream after a video surfaced on Monday showcasing several Dream players fighting in front of a food truck.

“As a franchise we have to take the good with the bad, it’s part of the game,” Montgomery wrote on Twitter.

“I look forward to getting this much National and Local coverage when good things happen.”

Dream player Courtney Williams later apologized for her part in the video. Reportedly, the skirmish happened earlier in the season and was handled internally.

In the video, which lasts almost two minutes, Williams can be seen throwing punches alongside teammates Crystal Bradford and Kalani Brown.

In addition to the video, second-year guard Chennedy Carter continued to allude to her frustration with the team on Sunday. After being suspended indefinitely in July, Carter has broken her silence twice: once at the end of the season and once on Sunday.

The Dream have yet to give any indication of their plans with Carter, but have reportedly been in contact throughout her suspension. Carter was the No. 4 pick in the 2020 draft.

Renee Montgomery is getting in on the NFT game.

The co-owner and vice president of the Atlanta Dream and two-time WNBA champion is dropping her “Starting 5” non-fungible token collection on May 21.

Designed by HEARTLENT Group, the collection reflects Montgomery’s “Moments Equal Momentum” philosophy. Each card showcases a different moment in her basketball career, including the WNBA-record seven 3-pointers she made in one game, her celebrated opt-out tweet and her six championship rings spanning college and the pros.

Montgomery is not the first women’s athlete to get involved with NFTs, which essentially are digital trading cards that enable the owner to unlock additional perks.

Back in April, USWNT stars Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press and Tobin Heath launched their own NFT cards. Sue Bird, Charli Collier and Aari McDonald became some of the first WNBA players to join in the venture.

Renee Montgomery is a point guard for the Atlanta Dream of the WNBA. Following the police killing of George Floyd, Montgomery announced she was opting out of the upcoming WNBA season in order to focus on social reform. She spoke with Just Women’s Sports about what went into that decision, and how she plans to use her platform to drive real change. 

You announced that you are opting out of the 2020 WNBA season in order to focus on social reform off the court. What was the motivation behind your decision? 

As you know, there was a string of murders — Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and then George Floyd. Once George Floyd was murdered, you could see that America reacted. The world reacted. I reacted, too. I think we are all just tired. We are tired of seeing this. We are tired of the same story. We know how it ends. The movement happened because, like me, everyone is tired.

What prompted you to focus specifically on social reform during this time?

I started to think about all of the problems within the system. It’s not just police brutality. We have problems in the prison system, too. And, then, I thought about the educational aspect of it. A lot of people are latching onto my story — they understand my decision because they know my story. That’s why I want to go into education reform because I believe that if people know more, they will understand more, and they will be more sympathetic.

Were your coaches supportive of your decision to opt out? 

Absolutely. They were surprisingly supportive in that basketball is a business and I was talking to them about something that could upset their jobs. But they took it in stride. And they actually ended up making Juneteenth a paid holiday. They didn’t only say that they were going to support me, but they actually acted on it.

A couple of other players have chosen to not play in the 2020 season for a mix of reasons, such as COVID and fighting for social reform. What do you think about other players choosing to opt out?

I love that athletes now have a choice on what they want to do. Whether they opt out for COVID reasons, or because they just don’t want to leave family members, or because they have any other reason, it’s the athlete’s choice, and I’m happy to see that athletes now have that option. If you want to opt in and you want to play, that’s your choice as well and, by all means, do that.

What more do you think the WNBA can do to support their Black athletes and important movements like Black Lives Matters?

I think it’s important that they listen. Listen to what the players want to do. Listen to the ideas that the players have. A lot of the players in the WNBA are not new to taking a stand. We’re not new to making a statement. So now the league needs to listen and follow the players’ lead.

Historically, the WNBA is a pretty progressive league. A lot of players fight on the forefront of different social issues and, this time around, players are sacrificing their craft for change. Why do you think that is?

I think Candace Parker is the one who told me that we’re the majority of the minority in the WNBA. The league is 80% minority and, when it comes to sexual orientation, we have a lot of players in the LGBTQ community. So, we are the majority of the minority. I think understanding that and living that in our everyday lives makes us, as players, more vocal — it inspires us to take a bigger stand.

When you were making the decision to opt out, did you have any concerns that you would lose some of your platform by not playing?

Absolutely. Every time I went on an interview that was the first question they would ask me. I understand what Caron Butler meant when he said that there is a difference between ‘former athlete’ and ‘current athlete.’ When you walk into a room, people look at you and talk to you differently if you are a current athlete than if you are a former athlete. I understand that and I’m fine with it because if I lose my basketball platform, it doesn’t mean that I’ve lost my voice.

Why do you think it’s important for athletes in particular, whether former or current, to speak out about social injustices? 

I think that now everything should be generational in the sense that you don’t want the next generation to have as many hashtags as our generation has. You don’t want the next generation to have to deal with the politics that we have to deal with. You don’t want the next generation to go to school and not learn a part of their history. Everything we do now should focus on that. Athletes aren’t just tasked with being role models, we are tasked with helping the next generation. People inside the bubble are going to use their platform just as people outside the bubble are going to. It’s important that we continue thinking of the next generation.

You started the Renee Montgomery Foundation and recently held a celebration of Juneteenth. Can you tell us more about your foundation and your fundraising efforts? 

The mission statement of my foundation is to spread positivity and to teach people using skills I learned in sports — i.e. confidence, teamwork, discipline. My foundation is an extension of me. I took my foundation’s mission of spreading positivity and I went out and showed how I can be a good teammate. By deciding to opt out of the WNBA season because I felt that it was the best decision for me, I showed how to be confident.

For Juneteenth, I wanted to throw a feel-good event because there has been a lot of sadness recently. We just watched these murders on TV. I was thinking about what holidays were coming up and Juneteenth seemed perfect. I realized, though, that a lot of people don’t even know what Juneteenth is. I named my event, “What is Juneteenth?” Not only was it a pop-up block party celebration, but it was also an educational process. Everyone knows about the Emancipation Proclamation. A lot of people don’t know that all of the slaves weren’t freed until two years later. So, not only was the event a party and we had fun, but a lot of people left understanding more.

There is a lot going on right now, but what is next for you in terms of basketball and your foundation?

I’m not going to play in the WNBA because the season is so time consuming, but I will still be working and doing different things. That doesn’t mean that I’m only going to be working on social reform. You might see me on TV calling a game or you might see me on TV talking about social reform. I’m still going to be involved in basketball while also helping push the movement forward.