Liberty prepare to play far from many fans

Lois Elfman | 4/26/2018, 3:10 p.m.
WNBA training camps begin this weekend.

WNBA training camps begin this weekend. The rookies, such as top draft pick A’ja Wilson, are arriving at their respective teams with a sense of eager anticipation.

Veterans will arrive in stages. Those who didn’t play overseas or who played in leagues with shorter schedules will be fresh after some rest and time at home. Others will straggle in as their overseas schedules conclude. On that note, cheers to Maya Moore and Brittney Griner for adding EuroLeague Champion to their already impressive resumes.

The New York Liberty’s training camp roster has depth of talent. The presence of champions from the University of Connecticut will increase with the Liberty’s top pick, Kia Nurse. She joins fellow Huskies alums Tina Charles, Kiah Stokes and Bria Hartley as well as an interesting blend of veteran talent who will be playing under first-time head coach Katie Smith.

Could be a great season, maybe the best ever for the Liberty. The sad part is many Liberty fans won’t be there to see it. Last November, the Madison Square Garden Company announced its intention to sell the Liberty. In February, it announced that the company will continue to operate the Liberty until “the right new owner is found,” but the team will play its 2018 home games at the Westchester County Center in White Plains.

In some ways, this makes sense. The Liberty train and are housed in Westchester County, so they no longer have to trek into Manhattan for game days. But the question is how many fans will make the trip? Probably not enough to fill the 5,000-seat arena.

It’s not that long ago the Liberty relocated to the Prudential Center in Newark for three seasons, 2011–13, while Madison Square Garden was undergoing renovation. It left the players dispirited. Fan presence plummeted and it took some time after the team’s return to the Garden for a sense of energy and purpose to return.

For the WNBA to be all it can be, it seems essential to have a team play in the Big Apple at the Mecca of basketball. For Liberty fans to believe a championship is possible and to keep potential buyers motivated, play should have stayed in New York City. It’s a central point, able to draw spectators from the five boroughs, Long Island, New Jersey and Westchester. Yes, it’s expensive to be at the Garden, but it’s unfortunate no one could make that investment in order to cultivate the best possible future for basketball fans who have never stopped believing in the Liberty.