LaDonna Smith, owner of Prince George’s Valor, absorbs the hits, but still takes her best shots
The Washington Valor has come and gone.
LaDonna Smith is still standing.
“They are gone and we are here,” she said.
Yes they are. The Prince George’s Valor American Basketball Association franchise started before Ted Leonsis’ Washington Valor Arena Football team and is still doing business here in 2022, three years after the Arena Football team closed.
“They got their name from me,” Smith said. “Their lawyers said why don’t we do it together?”
After all, who would have thought that a single 44-year-old woman from Fairmount Heights, Maryland, with no professional experience in sports management, would outlast Leonsis’ Arena Football business?
Smith did just that. After two years of game cancellations and postponements, grappling with COVID-19, she is about to enter a new season as the owner of the minor league basketball franchise. She’s survived a pandemic, coach and roster turnover and different venues — and survived a roster of those she says tried to bankrupt her.
“People keep trying to take the organization away from me,” she said.
So far they have failed.
“I bought the market in 2015 and we played our first season in 2016,” she said. “Since then, we have played in six different halls. Everyone wants to get over it instead of doing honest business. One day, I hope to have our room. The ABA was supposed to have a program for this, but it didn’t happen. I review potential locations and designs before seeking funding. It will be something for the community.
It’s terribly ambitious. But most people would have counted Smith long before that.
Smith draws up a schedule of ABA teams to face in the fall. The Valor had trials on Saturday with more scheduled for Sept. 10 at Greenbelt. They hope to start the season by the end of October, with home games at Prince George’s Community College.
“We will continue to make changes until we have all the right pieces in place,” Smith said in a statement posted on his website. “A lot of companies have periods of trial and error and we’re no different… Whether it’s with staff, players or coaches, we’re going to keep going until we get it right.
“But in the end we are still here! We are the oldest professional organization based in Maryland. And if we have to remind, we belong to a woman and a minority! »
It’s a remarkable achievement since minor league basketball is such a hit and miss business, often operated in high school gymnasiums with players clinging to their last hope of a professional basketball career.
“Every time I wanted to give up, someone gave me a push, a player, someone,” she said. “I get up and continue. »
The name of the American Basketball Association – from the famous days of the Julius Erving ABA days – was revived by businessman Joe Newman in 1999. There are 160 teams in seven regions of the country. The Valor play in the Mid-Atlantic region.
“We have the money to have a season,” Smith said. “We partnered with another company called ABA Owners Assist, that company works with ABA. I go out and personally solicit sponsors, and they came on board. We allowed fundraisers at our events and we share the income.
They use volunteers for various positions – ushers, ticket takers, game day operations and other jobs.
Smith’s biggest decision this season was hiring former George Washington University basketball star JR Pinnock as Valor’s coach.
Pinnock was the Colonials’ leading scorer in the 2005–06 season and led them to two consecutive NCAA Tournaments. He was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in 2006 and later traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, where he was released after appearing in seven preseason games. He then played in the NBA D-League for the Arkansas Rim Rockers and the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. He will also play in Germany and Puerto Rico.
“He has direct connections overseas,” Smith said. “It will be great to have someone who has played at professional level to coach the team.”
Smith has a full-time job — she’s a circulation assistant at a local library. She is also a published author and musician and notary public. And, she’s still the owner of Prince George’s Valor ABA basketball team — ready to step onto the court for a new season.
• You can hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.