Sports

All the Pieces Seemed to Align for the Liberty Except One: Winning.

The Liberty had seemingly completed the whole lot proper.

They moved into a brand new dwelling final yr at Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn. The star energy of a prime draft decide and a roster with depth to match promised a robust season this yr. There was a brand new coach. Even a new-look mascot.

But whilst all the items fell into place for the Liberty, one among the WNBA’s unique eight groups in 1997, there was one obvious exception: profitable.

“Lately I’ve been feeling like possibly that is the place we’re supposed to be proper now,” stated Francois Monroc, 41, a fan who watched the Liberty beat the Chicago Sky, 83-80, on Saturday in a uncommon robust displaying . “There is numerous ambition for gamers in New York, and folks residing in New York need their groups to succeed. It’s onerous to settle for failure. New Yorkers are very impatient, ready and ready is hard.”

The Liberty are 10-17 this yr. The workforce began the season 1-7 earlier than turning it round in June, solely to lose momentum this month after the All-Star break.

The win on Saturday evening in opposition to the Sky (21-7), the defending champions and the prime workforce in the league, broke a five-game shedding streak and served as a balm on a rocky season.

A spate of accidents has left the Liberty with a poor document, simply when a profitable season might have helped the franchise get a greater foothold in the hypercompetitive New York market.

New Yorkers might use a winner. The final workforce in the 4 main sports activities to win a championship was the Giants, who received the Super Bowl after the 2011 season. The Liberty have not received a championship, and the Nets, their arena-mates at Barclays Center, have not received one since their days in the American Basketball Association.

“We are attempting to get a hoop,” stated Janice Battle, 74, who has caught by the workforce regardless of its ups and downs. “That’s been a bit of disappointing. But it is thrilling to belong to a workforce, an expert ladies’s workforce, proper right here in Brooklyn.”

Battle has been following the workforce since that first season and has traveled with the workforce because it performed in 5 places over the years, from Madison Square Garden to White Plains, NY, and now to Barclays Center, which the workforce has referred to as dwelling since 2021 .

“Every yr it is onerous, however you understand, you are a fan,” Battle stated with a slight shrug. “There’s the Yankee followers. There’s the Met followers. There’s the Giants followers. So I’m a Liberty fan. I really like them.”

Still, enthusiastic supporters or not, with simply 9 video games left in the common season, their possibilities of a postseason are waning.

Much of that strain rests on the shoulders of Sabrina Ionescu, the No. 1 general decide in the 2020 draft. Ionescu performed solely three video games in the 2020 season at a so-called bubble in Florida earlier than struggling a season-ending ankle damage.

As Ionescu started to get well, extra accidents plagued the workforce. Jocelyn Willoughby tore an Achilles’ tendon earlier than the 2021 season and Natasha Howard missed 15 video games due to a knee damage; all three got here again this season, solely for the workforce to lose Betnijah Laney, who was named to her first All-Star workforce final season, to a knee damage this season.

The Liberty have had some flashes of success. Ionescu set a franchise document for factors in a recreation in opposition to the Las Vegas Aces earlier this month, ending with 31 factors, 13 rebounds and 10 assists for her third triple-double of her profession. On Saturday, Howard secured her sixth double-double for the season with 16 factors and 10 rebounds.

Fans had hoped {that a} new coach might extra constantly make one thing of the workforce’s core group of Ionescu; Howard; DiDi Richards, a second-year guard; Stefanie Dolson, a veteran heart; Michaela Onyenwere, the 2021 WNBA rookie of the yr; and the reserve heart Han Xu. Marine Johannes, a guard added midseason, has additionally grow to be a rotation participant.

The Liberty employed Sandy Brondello, the former head coach of the Phoenix Mercury, to strive to jump-start the 2022 season. That hasn’t all the time been the case.

“I feel that the gamers’ capacity is one factor, however the coach’s capacity to get the finest out of their gamers in a constant method might be extra necessary,” stated Dara Ottley-Brown, 59. “That’s the problem right here.”

The workforce nonetheless has attendance issues. Attendance averages round 5,100 followers per recreation this season, leaving the Liberty ranked eighth out of the 12 groups. Saturday evening’s recreation had 6,926 readily available; a July 14 recreation in opposition to the Las Vegas Aces, one among the finest groups in the league, drew 9,896, a document for the season to date. Barclays Center has a 17,732-seat capability, however the higher tier seats are sometimes roped off for Liberty video games.

“It’s a mixture of being on a curler coaster with the workforce, but in addition simply watching and determining how ladies’s basketball can have extra traction,” stated Martha Stark, 62, who went to highschool at Brooklyn Tech just some blocks from the area and has been a season-ticket holder since 1997.

Elaine Kim, 47, has been coming to Liberty video games along with her 12-year-old twins since they had been little, and stated it has been enjoyable to watch the workforce — and the mascots — evolve. Ellie the Elephant was launched as the workforce’s new one in 2021.

But Kim stated she believed the league and its groups nonetheless wanted extra funding to make a much bigger splash. Low wage caps, irregular entry to video games on tv and few advertising and marketing {dollars} in contrast to their male counterparts have lengthy dogged the WNBA, regardless of a rising fan base.

“The WNBA wants the type of funding that the males’s sports activities get,” she stated. “We’re proving that there is numerous curiosity, that it is economically viable.”

No doubt, there may be some pleasure round the workforce regardless of its document however finally New York calls for winners, irrespective of the sport.

“I do know the document is not essentially precisely what we might need it to be,” stated Alex Don, 26. “But from final yr to this yr, you’ll be able to positively begin to see the enchancment and see the place we might possibly be two or three years down the line.”

Don and his group of buddies, together with Paul Garlick, discover satisfaction in watching the workforce evolve “as opposed to hopping on the bandwagon after they’re good,” Garlick stated.

On Saturday, the Liberty and the Sky went level for level till the bitter finish, with a key 2-point jumper from Ionescu in the last seconds and a block by Onyenwere on Candace Parker sealing the recreation and snapping the Sky’s six-game profitable streak .

Howard stated the win was a possibility to appropriate the workforce’s course.

“We discovered ourselves on this recreation proper right here,” she stated. “That’s one factor we have positively talked about — we want to learn the way to win video games. That’s a begin proper there.”

They face Chicago once more on Friday.

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