The New York Liberty (8-17) are on the road today to play the Mercury in Phoenix (12-13) with three overlapping goals in mind: 1) snap their seven-game losing skid; 2) record their first win in August; and 3) keep their quickly-dimming playoff hopes alive.
The Liberty sit in 11th place, four games behind the eight-seed-clinging Mercury. To catch the Mercury, the Liberty also would have to get past the Indiana Fever (9-16) and the Dallas Wings (9-17), who are ninth and 10th, respectively. To get it done, everything would have to go right for New York — they’d need to win the final nine games in their season (or close) and the teams in their way would have to suffer catastrophic collapses.
In other words, the Liberty’s chances are slim.
Future Hall of Famer Tina Charles has given Liberty fans something to cheer about, though — she became the franchise’s leading scorer and moved into fifth all-time in WNBA rebounding and 11th all-time in WNBA scoring. But Charles’ individual achievements have not garnered the attention they deserve in large part due to the team’s malaise.
Will all of that change in 2020?
Billionaire Joseph Tsai spurred excitement when he emerged in late 2018 as the possible buyer of the Liberty. Under the NBA’s New York Knicks owner James Dolan, the Liberty languished before being kicked out of Madison Square Garden and placed in an auditorium in Westchester County. Late last week, The Associated Press reported that Tsai, who built his fortune through e-commerce company Alibaba, had agreed to terms to buy the remaining 51 percent stake of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets from Mikhail Prokhorov, making him the sole owner.
The deal, still pending approval from the NBA, is estimated to be worth $3.4 billion and includes ownership of Barclays Center where the Nets play.
Tsai’s full ownership of the Nets comes at a time of transition.
Kevin Durant, who won two NBA championships and two Finals MVP awards with the Golden State Warriors, signed with the Nets during free agency. Joining him in Brooklyn (via the Boston Celtics) is Kyrie Irving, who won the 2016 NBA title with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Durant will miss the 2019-20 NBA season after rupturing his Achilles in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals. But the Nets had enough faith in his eventual comeback to offer him a max four-year contract.
So, if the Liberty not only fail to make the playoffs in 2019, but finish well out of postseason reach for the second straight season, it should come as a surprise to no one if the front office parts ways with coach Katie Smith and embarks on a top-down overhaul of the organization. But a change of scenery via a move to Brooklyn — with or without a coaching change — would do wonders for a Liberty makeover.
Why the Liberty would thrive in Brooklyn
No matter how committed to her team a player may be, going from calling the historic Madison Square Garden home to an auditorium outside of New York City’s five boroughs has to be a blow to the psyche.
In terms of marketing the team to the right audience, Brooklyn — an artists’ hub rich with racial, ethnic and cultural diversity — seems more befitting of the modern, strong women of the WNBA. Just a bridge or tunnel away from Manhattan, the Liberty would be in close proximity to media opportunities both inside and outside of sports, with those opportunities also existing in Brooklyn.
Barclays Center is directly across the street from the Atlantic Avenue subway station, a hub through which four subway lines pass daily, carrying passengers to and from Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn. In terms of a central location to make it easy for die-hard fans as well as the curious to take in a Liberty game, it doesn’t get much better than the Atlantic Avenue stop, which is also surrounded by stores, restaurants, parks and museums.
To give the Liberty a chance not only to survive, but to thrive, it seems that making the team more geographically accessible to fans throughout the NYC area is an imperative. With the NBA’s Brooklyn franchise now under Tsai’s full control and the Nets roster flush with superstar talent, the Liberty finally have real momentum and opportunity on their side.
And nothing short of a Brooklyn move may be required to reignite Lady Liberty’s flame.