Championship hype is building up for the New York Liberty’s upcoming season. Thanks to recent signings and trades that added Breanna Stewart, Courtney Vandersloot and Jonquel Jones to the roster, the players and staff feel the New York City WNBA team is poised for glory.
“We want to bring the championship back to New York,” Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello said, referring to the Knicks’ 1973 NBA championship victory, the last time a city team won it all. .
“It’s been a great offseason and we had the ability to bring great players. They complement the players we have and I’m excited to get to work,” Brondello continued.
Liberty CEO Keia Clarke is similarly optimistic about the upcoming campaign. “Something exciting is happening. We have a long legacy of fans and partners and this is the third season in our home of Barclays. We want to restore our place as a New York City team,” Clarke said.
New York is known as a basketball city and the women of New York are part of that legacy. Before the WNBA was founded in 1996, there were star players and leagues that have inspired generations. Both Brondello and Clarke talk about it, citing the women who led them to find a career in basketball.
Brondello grew up on a remote sugarcane farm in Australia and did not have the opportunity to play or watch the team’s basketball. At nine, he was shooting shots on the grass court his father built, and watching his hero on television fueled his passion.
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“When the Olympics were on TV, I saw Jenny Cheesman play. The following year she was one of my coaches and after that, I was able to play alongside her. She was surreal,” Brondello said.
As a multi-sport athlete growing up, Clarke was also encouraged by seeing female role models. “There are so many high-profile players and female athletes in New York who inspired me: Althea Gibson, Sue Bird and Nancy Lieberman,” Ella Clarke said, noting that women have been playing basketball in the city for more than a century.
“The Spartan Girls of Brooklyn played in the city 100 years ago. Men started playing basketball in 1891 and women started playing just a few years later,” she said.
The Spartan Girls of Brooklyn played during the Black Fives era of basketball, a period from 1904 to 1950 when black men and women organized their own teams and leagues. Segregation prohibited black men from playing with whites, but both men’s and women’s basketball thrived during this period, and all-black teams gained popularity.
The formation of the WNBA brought more opportunities and visibility for women’s basketball. In 1996, New York was selected as one of the eight founding members of the WNBA, and Rebecca Lobo and Teresa Weatherspoon joined the team, bringing star power.
The Liberty has grown from there.
“The existence of this team in New York is very important. The original Liberty team and the legacy of the women who have played it is important to the city and to the fans,” Clarke said.