The New York Liberty played their first regular-season game in Brooklyn on Sunday. Players, staff, and fans hope there’s more to come.
Like Jay-Z before them, the New York Liberty officially said “Hello Brooklyn” on Sunday afternoon.
The team played their first regular-season game at the borough’s Barclays Center against the Seattle Storm. Though the locals fell in an 84-69 defeat, a genuine sense of positivity and stability reigned.
“Crowd was great, atmosphere’s great, energy’s great,” head coach Katie Smith said. “All the game ops, fans, it has a really fun vibe for basketball. We had a blast today.”
Barclays Center opened in 2012 on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. The arena primarily serves as the home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets. It also shares home games duties for the New York Islanders of the NHL and hosts the Atlantic 10 men’s basketball tournament.
Sunday’s official attendance was revealed to be 7,715. That tally more than doubles a capacity crowd at the Liberty’s more regular settings at Westchester County Center in White Plains. Liberty games were shifted to WCC in 2018, their final year under Madison Square Garden ownership. That eponymous building was the Liberty’s home since their 1997 inception and hosted two final games there last season.
Nets minority owner Joseph Tsai purchased the team in January. While a majority of games remained in White Plains, it was announced that the team’s Unity Day celebration would take place in Brooklyn. Unity Day is an annual Liberty tradition that draws awareness to various social issues. The team hosted a panel on women’s incarceration at Brooklyn’s YWCA.
Team veterans Tina Charles and Tanisha Wright each spoke. The Liberty also unofficially opened their season on Atlantic Avenue with an exhibition against the Chinese national team. Heibei native Han Xu led the Liberty with 19 points in an 89-71 win over her former comrades.
Though the Brooklyn portion of the schedule is over, assimilation has already begun. Members of the team live in Brooklyn and the team holds their practices at St. Joseph’s College in the Clinton Hill area. Discussions are ongoing about the team playing more games in the borough. Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale has also been rumored to be a possibility.
The 7,715 posting would rank fifth in the WNBA compared to 2018 attendance averages. It would also stand fourth in the subcategory of WNBA arenas that are shared with NBA teams.
“It’s really nice to play in an arena like this,” guard Bria Hartley said. “I think at the professional level this is what an arena should look like. The fans are eager to get here, eager to support, so you want to continue that in the future.”
The Brooklyn return was especially impactful for Charles. New York’s leading scorer was born in Queens but spent countless hours in Brooklyn. Her father Rawlston continues to operate a record store, Charlie’s Calypso City on Fulton Street.
Charles wasn’t surprised in the slightest about the loud crowd on hand.
“I’m not surprised at the crowd,” she said. “The New York Liberty has a great following. This is a legendary organization, being one of the very first franchises when it started it 97. It wasn’t a shocker to me at all.”
Charles stated back in May that Barclays Center was the “only” place for Liberty basketball. She doubled down on those claims on Sunday.
“It’s what the organization deserves…it’s a legendary organization, a professional team,” she said. “It’s not a shot at Westchester, but this organization is deserving of playing in an arena in the likes of Madison Square Garden or Barclays. It’s more than just my personal opinion, It’s what needs to happen.”
The Liberty will return to White Plains on Tuesday night, when they’ll take on the Minnesota Lynx (7:00 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Go).
Barclays Center became the sixth arena to host a Liberty home. Under MSG ownership, the team also played at Newark, New Jersey’s Prudential Center during Garden renovations from 2011-13. Select home games in 2004 were moved to Manhattan landmark Radio City Music Hall (another MSG-owned building) while MSG hosted the Republican National Convention.
The Liberty Outdoor Classic in 2008 against the Indiana Fever took place at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing. That final example was the first outdoor regular-season game in professional basketball history.