Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Ask any New Yorker about the New York Liberty and you’ll probably get one of two answers. They’ll either never have heard of them or give a simple answer like, “Oh, yeah. The WNBA, right?”

It’s understandable why Liberty diehards may be hard to find, even next to the only-recently better Knicks. The WNBA season is only 40 games compared to the NBA’s 82. It’s also a smaller league —  12 teams with a lengthy relocation and turnover history — that’s only just hitting its stride in terms of marketing itself. Even so, plenty of women’s basketball stars from Lisa Leslie to Diana Taurasi have left their mark on the league, but I digress.

The point is the Liberty turned in a great year, going 32-8 for the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. Their WNBA best-of-five semifinals series against the No. 3 Connecticut Sun kicks off Sunday. For those interested, New York swept the season series, 4-0.

Not to mention, the Liberty have a low-key star caliber squad. Breanna Stewart and Sabrina Ionescu are both former No. 1 picks who averaged 23 and 17 points per game. Ionescu also helped with adding 5.4 assists and Stewart with 9.3 rebounds.

Now, add veteran point guard Courney Vandersloot and former MVP Jonquel Jones. And then Stewart’s two MVP trophies and championships each with the Seattle Storm. And now Vandersloot’s 2021 chip with the Chicago Sky.

Not exactly a lightweight team. So, why is this exciting and why should New Yorkers be paying attention?

Well, besides having the incredible talent that deserves it, the New York Liberty are one of the WNBA’s most historic franchises. They were the premier team when the league launched in 1997 and featured some premier names. Rebecca Lobo. Teresa Weatherspoon. Add current Las Vegas Aces coach Becky Hammon, and New York made the WNBA Finals four times in six years.

The downside? They lost all four times and are essentially the WNBA’s Minnesota Vikings. The team is usually in playoff contention to some degree, but rarely as a full-blown favorite. In fact, only recently from 2018-20 did the Liberty have three consecutive losing seasons.

This year seems different. The New York Liberty are hungry and not hanging their hat entirely on Ionescu. Her entire supporting cast can carry the load accordingly. Coach Sandy Brondello, who won a ring coaching the Phoenix Mercury in 2014, has done a fine job taking this team to the next level.

Nothing is guaranteed in any team’s playoffs, but we’ll say it again. This New York Liberty team feels different, even if we’ve only been half-paying attention to the WNBA. Well, maybe this is the sign to change things.

That said, Game 1 against the Sun is Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.