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Volume 23 No. 18
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Forty Under 40: Bethany Donaphin

Photo: nba photos
Photo: nba photos
Photo: nba photos

The WNBA would be hard-pressed to come up with a more apt background for a league executive than that of Bethany Donaphin.

Donaphin, a New York City native, was a college star at Stanford University. She played for her hometown WNBA team, the New York Liberty, and in Europe, where she was Turkish league MVP in 2004 for Fenerbahçe en route winning the league championship. As a member of Famila Schio, she won three Italian league championships in 2005, 2006 and 2008.

Head of League Operations, Women’s National Basketball Assocation


Born: New York City

Education: Stanford University, B.A. in public policy; University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School, MBA

Family: Daughter, Amaya (3)

I get fired up … : Seeing companies value and celebrate women’s sports by investing their sponsorship dollars.  

Guilty pleasure: Garrett Popcorn. It’s a must when I fly through Chicago.

Could not go a day without: Family, and friends who feel like family.

Causes supported: Black Girls Code, A Better Chance, CASA.

Person in the industry I’d most like to meet: Serena Williams. No explanation needed.

Sports industry needs to do a better job of … : Cultivating a pipeline of diverse talent and building more structured early career development.

Sports business leaders should be more mindful of … : How important female athletes are in the sports ecosystem.

Most adventurous thing I’ve done: Summit Mount Kilimanjaro.

After her playing career, she earned her MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and spent four years working at Deloitte, where she gained key business experience. Donaphin then joined the NBA as associate vice president of operations and moved over to the WNBA as head of league operations in 2018.

“The Liberty is an original WNBA franchise and I was a big ’90s Knicks fan,” Donaphin said. “I could roll my sleeves up for a league that I played in, and it was something that I couldn’t pass up.”

Donaphin picked an opportune time to join the WNBA. She helped plot long-term strategy during the league’s leadership transition to current WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert. Donaphin also played an integral role in some of the most important business aspects in history, including last year’s rebranding and the recent collective-bargaining agreement negotiations that brought a significant change to the league.

“We worked in such collaboration with the players to reach a pivotal moment in women’s sports,” she said. “To be able to have a hand in crafting the agreement and how it is used to govern our league is a privilege.”