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This is not what the new owners were expecting

They have the charm to handle the boo-birds.

They have the grace to handle the vultures.

But the new Sparks owners were covering their heads Thursday when the WNBA’s most dangerous bird swooped down upon their introductory news conference.

The stork.

Moments after Carla Christofferson and Kathy Goodman made their first cheery announcements, franchise player Lisa Leslie made another announcement.

She’s two months pregnant, and will miss their first season, with no guarantees she will ever play here again.

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Oh, baby.

“We’re like, oh, OK, here’s the next little twist,” Christofferson said.

A twist? Bless her Miss North Dakota optimism, but, a twist?

A twist is little something that happens to an ankle or an O. Henry story.

This is a twist and shout.

The new owners just paid $10 million for a luxury car without an engine.

They just bought a $10-million house with no electricity.

They are embarking on the most difficult sports sales mission in this city and, oh, by the way, they just lost their only recognizable asset.

God bless you, Lisa Leslie.

Heaven help you, Christofferson and Goodman.

“But, you know, everything has been a shock,” said Christofferson. “I mean, we just bought a basketball team.”

Yeah, many have shared that same italicized feeling.

They just bought a basketball team?

A schoolteacher and former beauty queen?

Two longtime Sparks season-ticket holders?

The Sparks actually have longtime season-ticket holders?

“Every conversation between Carla and I started, ‘You know, if we owned this team ... ' " Goodman said. “Finally, Carla said ... ‘Why don’t we own this team?’ ”

There were lots of reasons to not own this team, mostly centering on the fact that this is a club losing $3 million a year in a town where it has zero buzz.

But in becoming perhaps the first two women to own a pro team that wasn’t afforded them by their husbands -- neither are married -- they heard no boos, only a decade worth of cheers.

“I was there when Penny Toler scored the first basket in WNBA history,” said Goodman, later adding, “We decided, maybe we should own this team.”

Goodman, 43, is the teacher. She is a Harvard-educated lawyer who quit her job as the president of an independent motion picture company to teach English and social studies to 11th and 12th graders at HighTechHigh-LA in Lake Balboa.

You knew she was the teacher because her students, backpacks and all, showed up on the Staples Center terrace Thursday to cheer like the howlers at a Jerry Springer show.

Christofferson, 39, is the former beauty queen, Miss North Dakota 1989. She graduated from Yale Law School and is a litigation partner in O’Melveny & Myers.

Her previous experience in basketball occurred in Tolna, N.D., where she was both all-state player and a cheerleader.

“It was a small town,” she said, “a real small town.”

She says her beauty queen background can help her sell the Sparks, although she made no mention of a possible Tiara Night.

“It did teach me the value of connecting to a community,” Christofferson said. “I had to connect to an entire state.”

Great training, considering that state is a place that feels as barren as Staples Center during a Sparks game.

“We’re hoping you’re all part of a new reality,” Christofferson said, and Thursday was actually a good start.

Despite the media skepticism and the motherhood announcement, the Sparks’ new owners came across refreshingly engaging and passionate and smart.

They know the players, they love the sport and they have the sort of ideas that were missing in the team’s first 10 years here.

“We need every night to be a special night,” Christofferson said. “Daddy Date Night, Girls Night Out, that sort of thing. Every night will be unique.”

And that would be unique in itself.

For all their generosity, the Buss family still treated the team like a strange cousin. They didn’t market it well, didn’t sell it hard, didn’t really do much but open the doors and lean on Leslie.

“Part of our goal is to welcome all of L.A. downtown,” Goodman said. “We want everyone to be part of a new community we are building.”

This community, they clearly hope, will contain some of the many young fans who have drifted away from the franchise since filling the seats in its first several seasons.

“We want kids playing on the court before games, we want kids on the court at halftime, we want to do all sorts of in-game things to appeal to kids,” Christofferson said.

They know the future of the franchise rests in rebuilding with children, whose parents have increasingly been avoiding Sparks games for reasons that are disconcerting but must be faced.

As unsettling as it may seem, there are apparently still plenty of people in this town who are uncomfortable around those they perceive to be homosexuals.

Every season, this newspaper receives complaints from fans who refuse to attend Sparks games because the stands are filled with women whom they perceive to be lesbians.

The new Sparks owners see no reason why everyone can’t get along. They know their investment depends on it.

“That’s not a negative, it’s a great thing about community, this diversity,” said Christofferson. “We don’t care whether you are old or young, we don’t care about your sexual orientation, we just want basketball fans.”

And, oh yeah, they also wouldn’t mind a new starting center and league MVP.

The new owners knew about the pregnancy Wednesday but allowed Leslie to promote the team during the public portion of their news conference without mentioning it. Only afterward, in a small group of reporters, did Leslie finally make the revelation.

“It was family news, it was her decision how she handled it,” said Goodman about an hour after the news conference. “As women, we’re very happy for her.”

But as owners?

“We had no guarantee that she wouldn’t retire, we knew this could happen,” Goodman said. “We think this is a great opportunity to showcase new players.”

And an even better opportunity to showcase new owners, who beat Leslie by seven months Thursday, giving birth to a bouncing new era in Los Angeles women’s basketball, full of wrinkles and wide eyes and hope.

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes/plaschke.


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