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Liberty attract 7,715 fans to Barclays Center but lose to Storm

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Seattle Storm v New York Liberty Photo by Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images

In the Liberty’s only regular season game at Barclays Center this year, the home team lost to the WNBA defending champion Seattle Storm. The bigger news, though, was that the game attracted 7,715 paying fans to a WNBA game on a Sunday afternoon, filling most of Barclays lower bowl.

Final score: Seattle 84, New York 69. The Liberty (8-15) have now lost five straight and eight of nine.

“It wasn’t a shocker to me the turnout,” said Liberty forward Tina Charles, who had 20 of her 22 points in the first half. “The organization has a great following. This is an ideal location for our fans to get to. It wasn’t a shocker to me.”

James Dolan, who sold the Liberty to Nets minority owner Joe Tsai in May 2018, moved the team from Madison Square Garden to Westchester County Center two years ago in a cost-cutting move. The 89-year-old building has a capacity of 5,000 and rarely attracts half that for the Liberty whose fan base has traditionally been in the city, a 45-minute train ride away from White Plains.

Now, Tsai has a chance to re-establish the Liberty in New York. There’s been nothing official, but Tsai has said his main job as an owner is to puts fans in the stands and has expressed hope that he can “participate” in the Brooklyn arena’s ownership. Barclays is owned by Mikhail Prokhorov.

Whatever happens to the Liberty, Sunday afternoon was proof that the Liberty can attract big numbers to a big arena ... as they had in their best years at the Garden. Early on, the Liberty would attract an average of 10,000 or more fans.

“I really enjoyed it. If I had been at the game as a fan I would have enjoyed it,” Storm coach Dan Hughes told Doug Feinberg of AP. “That’s what excites me about the WNBA in New York City when you do that. When you’re here on a Sunday afternoon at 3 o’clock with that kind of audience that’s the way it should be.

“It was a great atmosphere for our players, their players, the league, everything. I felt it. It was definitely an away environment for us. That’s what it should be like. That’s where the game is beautiful.”

The loss of the Garden as a home base didn’t just inconvenience Liberty fans. It hurt the WNBA’s overall attendance since the Liberty had represented a big chunk of the league’s attendance —and revenue— before the move to Westchester.

The Liberty had played an exhibition game vs. the China Women’s National Team in preseason, a game that attracted 4,155 fans to Barclays Center. Now, the question is whether Tsai and his ownership group can make Barclays the Liberty’s permanent home.

In an interview with NetsDaily in early May, Tsai spoke about his hopes for the Liberty as tenant in Brooklyn.

“I cannot guarantee playing in Barclays Center because I don’t own the building but we’re looking at all sorts of options to see if we can improve the current situation. I think building that fan base --you’ve got to get people to come to the games.”

Tsai added that the NBA would prefer the Nets —or any NBA team— own their home venue.

“I think the NBA definitely encourages the team ownership and building ownership to be combined under one roof. And I’ve talked to other owners and they tell me that being a renter is definitely not fun. When you own the building, you own your own destiny...

“If the opportunity arises for me to participate in the building in any way, I would love to do that.”

Tsai has an option to buy full control of the Nets in 2021. Once Tsai takes over, he will be one of four NBA owners to control a franchise in the NBA, G League, WNBA and NBA2K.

The game was close early but once again the Liberty’s lack of offense did it in.

New York held a 45-43 halftime lead. Then Seattle took over in the third quarter. The Storm (14-11) built a 58-49 advantage midway through the period. New York cut its deficit to five before Seattle scored 10 straight, including five in a row by Clark.

New York couldn’t get within eight the rest of the way. Turnovers again proved the Liberty’s undoing. They chalked up 19, including nine in the third. New York leads the league in points given up off turnovers. Alysha Clark scored 21 points to lead Seattle. Bria Hartley added 17 for the home team.

Sue Bird, the Storm star who’s recovering from knee surgery, was at the game, sitting on the bench, one of the rare times she’s traveled with the Storm this season. Bird is from New York and had a few friends and family at the game.

The Liberty: hosts Minnesota in Westchester on Tuesday.