The NBA commissioner and WNBA president took the New York Liberty game on Wednesday and expressed optimism for the team’s local future.
With a sellout crowd on hand for the New York Liberty’s penultimate home game of the season at Westchester County Center, two attendees, in particular, stood out.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver was in attendance for the showdown against the Los Angeles Sparks, as was WNBA president Lisa Borders. Seated courtside, the basketball leaders played witness to a thrilling game between two of the league’s original franchises, with the Liberty falling just short in an 82-81 decision filled with dramatics.
The loss dropped the Liberty to 7-22 on the season, another tough defeat in a brutal season. The Liberty, along with the Sparks and Phoenix Mercury, are one of three teams remaining in the league that have played all 22 seasons of WNBA basketball and have remained in their original market and identity. Lately, however, the Liberty’s future has been filled with questions.
After an offseason rife with rumors of a potential sale, the Liberty underwent a slight transplant, as a majority of their home games were controversially shifted from Madison Square Garden, commonly referred to as “The World’s Most Famous Arena”, to Westchester County Center, a cozy 5,000 seat venue located in White Plains, New York.
Borders and Silver, however, brushed off concerns about the smaller arena. Both Duke graduates, each compared the facility to their alma mater’s famed basketball cathedral, Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“The fans are Liberty fans regardless of where they play,” said Borders, remarking about the loud, packed house. “I graduated from Duke University and we play at this little place called Cameron Indoor Stadium.“ She later added, “As long as the fans are happy and seeing a terrific product on the floor, that works for me.”
“I think there’s a great future for the Liberty and the WNBA,” Silver concurred. “I went to Duke University, and this reminds of a game at Cameron. You never really hear people say at Duke that the arena’s not big enough.”
Silver declared that the courtside view in White Plains was closer than any NBA arena.
“There’s not a bad ticket in the arena,” he remarked. Silver also revealed that the arena, which also plays host to the Westchester Knicks of the NBA G League, was investing in a new sound system.
Borders, who assumed WNBA presidency in February 2016, praised the Liberty’s longevity. Though a WNBA title has eluded them, the Liberty remain one of the league’s most accomplished franchises. She praised the efforts of James Dolan, the current CEO of the Madison Square Garden Company, owners of the Liberty.
“(The longevity) says that Mr. Dolan is an awesome owner,” Borders said. “He committed early and that commitment has endured for 22 years. The Liberty as a team have endured. We have different players during those 22 years but the athleticism, the women’s empowerment endures throughout the entire time.”
The WNBA’s president foresees a prosperous basketball future in White Plains, especially under the guidance of veteran Tina Charles and 2018’s first-round pick Kia Nurse.
“The talent is beyond remarkable,” Borders said of the modern Liberty. “Tina Charles is an Olympian for goodness sake She’s a philanthropist, she’s an amazing leader. She’s got a cast of wonderful women around her, not only from (the University of Connecticut) but from many other schools as well.”
As for Silver, while he’s pleased with the growth and development of the WNBA as a whole, he believes that the best place for the Liberty right now is in Westchester, though he did leave open the possibility of a return to MSG. The Liberty played two games in Manhattan this season, including a showdown on Monday against the Seattle Storm.
“I think there’s a great future for the team here,” he said. “Maybe someday as the league continues to grow, it’ll be appropriate to be in a 19,000 seat building, but right now, it’s a fantastic and affordable experience”
The Liberty will play their final home game of the regular season on Sunday afternoon, welcoming in the Atlanta Dream.