Dawn Trudeau Is a Game Changer

With no college degree, Dawn Trudeau became a millionaire and a philanthropist. Now she leads a WNBA team of champions

by Julie Halpert
dawn trudeau game changer image
Photograph: John Clark

By her count, Dawn Trudeau has watched at least 340 pro basketball games in her life, many of them as a season-ticket holder for her hometown women’s team, the Seattle Storm. Of them all, the game she attended in Atlanta on September 16, 2010, stands out: That night the Storm were competing for the Women’s National Basketball Association championship, and Trudeau was cheering not as a fan but as one of the team’s four owners, all of them women. If the Storm won, it would be the first time in basketball history that a women’s team owned by women would take the prize.

Honoring the Storm’s official color by wearing a green blouse and her lucky necklace, a green labradorite gem fastened to a silver chain, Trudeau clapped like crazy in her courtside seat as the players racked up points. But toward the end of the third quarter, the Storm’s opponent, the Atlanta Dream, had taken the lead, 59–53. Feeling the pressure, Trudeau hit the refreshment stand. “I had to get some water to calm down,” she recalls. She returned minutes later to discover that the Storm had surged ahead. As the clock ticked down, the lead narrowed to just three points. With seconds to go, Trudeau held her breath—then exhaled as two shots by the Atlanta team caromed off the rim, sealing the Storm’s victory. The fans erupted, cheering wildly. Moments later, surrounded by her players on the floor of the arena, Trudeau hoisted the championship trophy over her head. Wow! she thought. We did it! We did what we set out to do!

The win was the apogee of an adventure begun two years earlier when Trudeau, formerly a general manager of consumer products for Microsoft, learned that the Storm’s owners wanted to relocate the team. Together, Trudeau and three of her friends—Ginny Gilder, once an Olympic rower, who now runs her own investment business; Lisa Brummel, senior vice president for human resources at Microsoft; and Anne Levinson, a consultant—bought the Storm for $10 million. “None of us had any experience running a sports team,” Trudeau says. But all four loved the game, and they were determined to keep the Storm in Seattle.

Trudeau’s passion for women’s professional sports began during her Iowa childhood, on a day in 1967 when she and the other girls in her fourth-grade class were required to change into their gym uniforms and cheer for the boys as they played. “This was my first awareness of how girls and boys were treated differently for no clear reason,” Trudeau says. She remembers thinking, Why do I have to watch? Why do the boys get to do things? That’s not the life I’m going to have. Trudeau went on to play intramural basketball in junior high, and from then on she was hooked.

Trudeau’s family didn’t understand her feminism. The daughter of a schoolteacher and a truck driver turned real estate agent, Trudeau grew up in an environment where, she says, “the women cooked for the men and ate their leftovers.” At 18, armed with a high school diploma and $200, she headed to Ann Arbor, hoping to get a job and enroll at the University of Michigan.

She ended up with a mind-numbing gig on an assembly line, putting together computer terminals and monitors. Still, she viewed it as an opportunity to educate herself. Promoted to a position in which she tested keyboards to make sure each character functioned, she taught herself to type. “I kept volunteering for jobs and never ended up going to college,” she says. She married at 23; she and her husband moved to Seattle in 1982. The marriage ended in divorce in 1990, and she married a second time, in 1994.

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