NEW YORK — Renee Brown has been at the WNBA since its inception. Twenty years after joining the league, the WNBA’s chief of basketball operations and player relations is stepping down this month.

“It’s probably one of the most difficult decisions I made in my life,” Brown told The Associated Press in a phone interview Monday. “I love the WNBA, and was fortunate 20 years ago that Val (Ackerman), David (Stern), Russ (Granik) and Adam (Silver) allowed me to come in at the start of this league. Walking away, it’s sad but yet joyful at the same time.”

Brown is one of a handful of people still involved in the league since its beginning in 1997.

“Twenty years in, people didn’t think we’d be here,” Brown said. “I knew we would be. It’s been fun watching the talent grow. I think the WNBA has been in great shape from the minute we came here. A lot to do with what the NBA gives the WNBA. From the beginning, I was very confident once the NBA allowed us to put the W in front of its name, we’d be well taken care of.”

In her current role and through her work with the WNBA’s competition committee, Brown has directly influenced how the game is played. This past season, teams set records for points per game, field goals made and attempted, field goal percentage, free throws made, free throw percentage and assists.

Brown has also been involved with USA Basketball since 1996. She has served on its board of directors and chaired the selection committee of the senior national team.

“Renee has selflessly served USA Basketball as a coach, committee member and passionate supporter,” said Carol Callan, director of women’s basketball for USA Basketball. “She first served as an assistant coach during the historic 1995-96 USA national team yearlong preparation for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.”

The U.S. hasn’t lost in the Olympics since Brown got involved, winning six consecutive gold medals.

“Any time I put on a USA T-shirt or a sweatshirt, I put it on with so much pride recognizing we’re all representing our country,” she said.

Brown said she let WNBA President Lisa Borders know of her decision at the start of this season.

“Renee’s contributions to the WNBA’s growth have been immeasurable,” Borders said. “It has been a pleasure working alongside her during this landmark season and I will continue to rely on her expertise. She will always be part of the WNBA family.”

Brown said she will continue to be involved in basketball, joining the Jr. NBA Leadership Council. The Nevada native plans to stay in New York for now.

“My goal is to stay in New York and look for other opportunities involved in the game, sports or women empowerment,” Brown said. “Take the skills I’ve learned here and use them somewhere else. It’s an exciting time for me. I thought I’d be here three to four years. Twenty years later, I’m here and it’s been great. I’m looking forward to my next journey.”