The New York Liberty is a professional basketball team based in New York City, playing in the Eastern Conference in the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA). The team was one of the eight original franchises of the league. The team is owned by Madison Square Garden, who also owns the Liberty's NBA counterpart, the New York Knicks.
The Liberty has qualified for the WNBA Playoffs in ten of its fourteen years in New York. The franchise has been home to many well-known players such as guard Teresa Weatherspoon, Becky Hammon, University of Utah player Leilani Mitchell, and Rutgers player Cappie Pondexter. In 1997, 1999, 2000, and 2002, the Liberty went to the WNBA Finals but fell short the first three attempts to Houston and in 2002 to Los Angeles. They have the most appearances in the WNBA Finals without a championship.
Early success (1997–2002)
Prior to the team's first season, to avoid potential trademark infringement, the team purchased the trademarks of the defunct Liberty Basketball Association.
The adage "always the bridesmaid, never the bride," could be used to describe the Liberty. When the WNBA opened in 1997, the Liberty was one of the first teams to choose a player, and they signed college superstar Rebecca Lobo (Connecticut) to a contract. Lobo was a starter for two seasons but was injured in 1999, and her injuries eventually led to her retirement several seasons later. Point guard Teresa Weatherspoon emerged as a star and the Liberty made it to the 1997 championship game, where the team lost to the Houston Comets. In 1999, they returned to the WNBA Finals, where they again faced Comets. In Game 2, Teresa Weatherspoon's halfcourt shot at the buzzer gave the Liberty a one point road win that tied the series. However, the Liberty lost the third game of the series and the Comets became champions for a third straight time.
The Liberty subsequently returned to the finals in 2000 and 2002, but lost once again to the Comets and to the Los Angeles Sparks, respectively. In 2001, Weatherspoon became the WNBA's all-time assist leader, and Sue Wicks, once a back-up to Lobo at forward, also proved to be a valuable player, making the All-Star game. 1998, 2003, 2006, and recently 2009 were the only years the Liberty failed to make the playoffs.
2003 marked a transition for the Liberty, with team leader Teresa Weatherspoon's WNBA career winding down, fan favorite Becky Hammon emerged as a star player. The 2004 season saw Hammon replacing Weatherspoon at the team's starting point guard spot.
Six games during the 2004 season were moved to Radio City Music Hall as Madison Square Garden was hosting the 2004 Republican National Convention. These games marked the first time Radio City had hosted a professional sporting event since the Roy Jones Jr. boxing match held in 1999.
With team leader Tari Phillips being signed to the Houston Comets, Ann Wauters emerged as a force at the team's starting center position in 2005. However, she was injured midway through the season. The loss of Wauters was felt as the team was swept two games to none by the Indiana Fever in the first round of the playoffs.
Transition seasons (2006–2007)
The Liberty saw a poor 2006 season, winning only 11 games, the fewest in franchise history.
At the beginning of the 2007 WNBA season, the team traded Becky Hammon to the San Antonio Silver Stars for Jessica Davenport, a first round pick in the 2007 WNBA Draft. They also acquired center Janel McCarville through the dispersal draft associated with the dissolution of the Charlotte Sting. The 2007 Liberty started out 5–0, then lost 7 straight games, then rallied at the end of the season to get the last playoff spot by winning 3 out of their last 4 games, beating the Washington Mystics on the tiebreaker of head-to-head record. In the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Liberty, as huge underdogs, faced the defending champion Detroit Shock in a best-of-three series. The Liberty defeated the Shock by winning Game 1 in New York. In Games 2 and 3 the Liberty lost both games to the Shock in Detroit, 76–73 and 71–70 (OT) respectively.
In 2008, the Liberty drafted former Rutgers shooting guard Essence Carson and former North Carolina forward Erlana Larkins, and signed former Utah point guard Leilani Mitchell during the preseason. Although they had the youngest average age of any WNBA team, the Liberty managed to win 19 regular season games in 2008, to defeat the Connecticut Sun in the first round of playoff action, and to come within two points of defeating the Detroit Shock in the third and last game of the Eastern Conference Finals. Again, the Detroit series entailed a Liberty victory at home in Game 1, followed by narrow defeats away in Games 2 and 3. The 2008 season also featured the "Liberty Outdoor Classic", the first ever professional regular season basketball game to be played outdoors, on July 19 at Arthur Ashe Stadium of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The Indiana Fever defeated the Liberty in the Outdoor Classic.
The Liberty were originally scheduled to be displaced from their usual home court due to renovations at Madison Square Garden beginning in 2009. The renovation plans were delayed and the Liberty played at the Garden in 2009 and 2010. The renovation has been rescheduled, so the Liberty will play in the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey in 2011, 2012, and 2013.
In the 2009 season, however, they never proved to be a contender. During 2009 , the team fired head coach Pat Coyle, which led to the hiring of then-Liberty assistant coach Anne Donovan to take the interim tag. Even with her coaching New York, the franchise continued to struggle, finishing 13–21, their second worst record in franchise history.
The Cappie Pondexter era (2010–present)
The New York Liberty fared better in 2010, during Donovan's first and only full season as head coach. Led by newly signed high scorer Cappie Pondexter (formerly of the Phoenix Mercury) and the 2010 Most Improved Player Award winner Leilani Mitchell, the team made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they lost to the Atlanta Dream.
The team had high hopes for 2011, after the hiring of former WNBA champion head coach John Whisenant. Janel McCarville did not report to training camp, seeking time with her family. As such, she was suspended for the duration of the 2011 season. This caused division and discord within the New York Liberty fanbase. Kia Vaughn was unexpectedly trusty into the role of starting Center.
The team had difficulty getting used to the Prudential Center (Newark, New Jersey) The arena will be their home floor until 2013, when renovations at Madison Square Garden will be completed. Pondexter and Plenette Pierson, along with improved play from Vaughn, allowed New York to be competitive early in the season. The team went into the All-Star break in third place in the Eastern Conference. In August, [[Sidney Spencer was traded to the Phoenix Mercury in exchange for Kara Braxton. By maintaining a fairly even standard of play, The Liberty made their way into the WNBA Playoffs. However, the Liberty fell to the Indiana Fever in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
- 1997–2002: white with a black line above the shoulders at home, black with a green line on the road.
- 2003–2010: white with teal, blue and orange trim and "Liberty" on the chest in light blue letters at home. Primary color is blue on the road with "New York" on the chest in white letters. The Liberty logo is on the left leg of the shorts.
- 2010: On June 2, 2010, the New York Liberty and Foxwoods Resort Casino announced a premier partnership that includes a branded jersey sponsorship. As part of the partnership, the Foxwoods name will appear in front of the Liberty jerseys.
- 2011–present: As part of the transition to Adidas' Revolution 30 technology, the Liberty unveiled new jerseys. Home jerseys are white with seafoam green numbers and blue trim. Road uniforms are blue with seafoam green numbers and white trim. The Foxwoods logo and name will remain on the jerseys.
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