Sold to Brooklyn Nets minority owner Joseph Tsai, the New York Liberty have gained long-eluded franchise stability.
In song, New York City has been described as the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of” by Alicia Keys, and a “kaleidoscope of loud heartbeats under coats” by Taylor Swift. These and many other Big Apple illusions were almost denied to the New York Liberty. But, after this week, it appears they’ll be back in the New York groove Ace Frehley described.
On Wednesday, the team officially confirmed their sale to Joseph Tsai, the minority owner of the Brooklyn Nets. The team remains stationed in the cozy confines of Westchester County Center, but they will play at least one game at Barclays Center, the Nets’ dwelling in the Borough of Churches.
“We are fortunate to welcome Joe Tsai to the WNBA family at a pivotal time for our league,” interim WNBA president Mark Tatum said in a press release. “As active participants in the New York community, Joe and his team are very well-positioned to take the Liberty to exciting new heights.”
Thus ends 22 years of Liberty rule under James Dolan. While the curse of a Dolan association didn’t strike the Liberty as badly as their male counterparts, the team still couldn’t escape silliness so prevalent in his ownership of the Knicks. For example, the hiring of Isiah Thomas to Liberty president in 2015 raised eyebrows considering his involvement in the Anucha Browne Sanders almost a decade earlier. Last season, Dolan angered the Liberty’s loyal and enthusiastic fanbase by evicting them from their Madison Square Garden home, prompting an exile to WCC, located over an hour away from the city in White Plains. This followed up a November 2017 announcement that Dolan and the Madison Square Garden Company would put the team up for sale.
At MSG, the team would consistently rank in the upper echelon of the WNBA attendance rankings. Numbers plummeted in Westchester, however, ranking dead-last, as fans that consistently made the trip to Manhattan were unable or unwilling to make the long commute. WCC’s lists a capacity of 5,000, but Liberty game days contracted the seating further, nearly by half. Two games were retained at MSG, a pair of 11:00 a.m. start times dominated by young fans from camps and schools. They were by far the Liberty’s most two populous games of the season.
On the court, the Liberty’s play suffered, enduring a franchise-worst 7-27 record, ending things on a 13-game losing streak. This followed up three consecutive seasons with the Eastern Conference’s best tally, creating a bit of a scary situation in the coming offseason.
The Liberty have eight players up for free agency, including franchise face Tina Charles. A Queens native, Jamaica, to be precise, Charles came to New York to win a title. She’s accomplished plenty on the professional basketball level…an MVP, a scoring title, six All-Star Game appearances, five All-WNBA First Team nominations, championships in both Turkey and Poland…but a WNBA Finals honor has eluded her resume.
To win one in New York, the place where her life began, both on the court and off, would be the best form of basketball poetic justice. But to have it carry on miles from Manhattan was not an intriguing possibility. The area means everything to Charles, whose life has been defined by basketball.
“I definitely wanted to come to New York because I always wanted to come to the New York Liberty,” Charles said to Newsday’s Brian Heyman in July. “It was a dream come true. I grew up always coming to the games. My mom was a season-ticket holder. Just watching Teresa Weatherspoon and the likes of Becky Hammon, I just always aspired to be like them.”
Rumors have since circulated that Charles has been given the franchise tag by the Liberty, but this welcome development could increase the likelihood of a long-term deal in the future.
Much as Charles has cherished what New York has meant to her, the city has embraced basketball like no other. This is the city that gave rise to an elite list of names, one that proudly boasts Charles alongside legends like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob Cousy. Even if the professional action from the Knicks has left much to be desired, basketball remains a religion on the amateur courts throughout the city, such as The Cage on West 4th Street, Rucker Park, or St. Vartan’s.
This city deserves hoops vindication on the professional level. That wasn’t happening on Dolan’s watch. The sale to Tsai is a great first step.
For one thing, the Liberty have franchise stability for the first time in quite awhile. Somewhat masked in the seven-win ordeal was the fact that hope reigns in the form of second-year shooter Kia Nurse as well as the second overall pick in this spring’s draft. Combine that with the knowledge and expertise of recent Springfield inductee Katie Smith at the head coaching helm, and the future becomes far more clear.
In contrast to the seemingly endless list of controversies attached to Dolan’s Wikipedia page, Tsai has built a strong reputation on both a sports and business level. After meeting Chinese business magnate Jack Ma, Tsai became one of the key names in the formation of Alibaba Group. From humble beginnings on a $600 yearly salary, Tsai helped turn the company into a global conglomerate, one whose subsidiaries include the Steven Spielberg-funded Amblin Partners and the South China Morning Post, named Hong Kong’s most trusted newspaper in a 2016 public study.
Tsai knows the impact the Liberty can have on the city. In his first statements as the Liberty owner, he expounded on their impact they’ve had on the area.
“It is an honor and a privilege to join the Liberty and WNBA families,” said Tsai in the aforementioned release. “As one of New York’s proudest franchises, the Liberty has played a vital role in New York City over the past 22 years. The Liberty and WNBA exemplify what it means to compete at the highest level, serve as role models in the local community, and bring greater opportunities to female athletes. Our goal is to continue this important work and help bring the WNBA into its next phase of growth.”
These statements heavily imply a return to an increased prescience in New York City. Again, the timing couldn’t be better.
In contrast to the claims of sophomoric detractors on social media, the WNBA is growing. June ratings were up 58 percent from 2017, where an anticipated tilt between Seattle and Los Angeles provided the highest rated ESPN2 game in seven years. The country’s biggest media market deserves to be part of the steady rise. The area has enjoyed the exploits of several notable female athletes, including the Liberty’s own legends like Charles, Teresa Weatherspoon, Rebecca Lobo, and Becky Hammon.
Other female athletic trailblazers include New Jersey’s Carli Lloyd, an American soccer legend, and tennis Grand Slam champion Jennifer Capriati. With the Liberty likely staying in the area under Tsai’s watch, young women have a local source of athletic inspiration in the tri-state area.
The Liberty’s official social media prompt is “Show Up”. Under Tsai, it appears they’ll continue to do so in the New York area, at least after one more season of Westchester purgatory. It’s a win for this area, a win for basketball. Now comes the hard part: rediscovering those wins on the court.