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Michaela Onyenwere: ‘I ❤ New York' so ‘Don’t count us out’

2021 WNBA Playoffs - New York Liberty v Phoenix Mercury Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Michaela Onyenwere was the WNBA’s unlikely Rookie of the Year. It was particularly rewarding when you consider she was taken sixth in the league Draft after the Liberty gave up the overall No. 1 pick to get Natasha Howard, a three-time WNBA champion and former Defensive Player of the Year.

Double bonus!

In a recent Players Tribune piece, Onyenwere discusses the achievement — “the FIRST in New York Liberty franchise history” — which she says caught her by surprise. Mostly though, the UCLA product is about New York City and Brooklyn ... and her strong belief that the young Liberty will not just be back next year, but will return to greatness.

That belief in the Liberty starts with her love for the city, the borough and the building, Barclays Center. There will be no holding back!

You don’t realize how legendary Barclays Center is until you walk the halls of it. In the heart of downtown, where we get to play, some of the greatest musicians have performed. I’m talking about ...

Beyoncé. JAY Z. Rihanna.

I’m talking about anybody who’s anybody has been in Barclays.

Just walking from the locker room onto the floor and seeing all the legends surrounding the walls of the arena, it gets you ready. It reminds you that you have a level of greatness to achieve.

New York is special. I’m from Colorado so that’s always going to be home, and I obviously got love for L.A. too.... But I can’t lie — Brooklyn is the coolest city. The best fans, not to mention the best arena in the world.

Onyenwere was already a bit of a legend even before she entered the building. On Draft Night, her Nigerian grandmother stole the show in the Zoom event...

“The thing people don’t understand is that my grandma is Nigerian, so this wasn’t something for the cameras. That’s just her 24/7 365,” Onyenwere explained. “What they captured on TV that day is her all the time: The star of the show.”

Onyenwere wrote mostly about the Liberty, and its future. The Liberty is critical to the WNBA. For years until the last decade, it was a cornerstone of the league, maybe the cornerstone. No championships but four trips to the WNBA Finals, a long list of stars that filled the WNBA’s 25 all-time best ... and a legacy of popularity in New York, the biggest basketball market in America. Many years, the Libs accounted for a quarter of the league’s attendance. Tough times followed as James Dolan and MSG shuffled them around arenas in the metro area. Their last playoff appearance came in 2017.

Those tough times — and the team’s late season losing streak — are all in the past, Onyenwere writes. The Liberty are coming for ya. They may be young, with her, Sabrina Ionescu, Betnijah Laney and fellow rookie Didi Richards, but they are hungry.

I love this team because we have this never quit mentality. You give us a chance, O.K., we’ll prove to you why you don’t want to count us out. We’re still growing, but we play our hearts out every game.

Making the playoffs for the first time since 2017 was big. Me and Didi looked at each other in the locker room and asked everyone, “What’s the one thing that was missing since 2017?”

Everyone just looked around the room and we’re like … US! Lol the vets were just like, “shut up” haha but that’s how our team is. So much personality and life.

The Liberty lost in the first round, a single elimination affair, by one point to the Phoenix Mercury who eventually made it to this weekend’s Finals where they lost to the Chicago Sky.

We’re building something special here and we’re only going to keep getting better, so get used to seeing us. The sky isn’t the limit for this team because we know how high we can go and I say with all the confidence in the world that this team will be back next year!

I promise you.

Even my grandma knows how we coming next season.

Tsai and his wife, Clara Wu Tsai, co-governors of the Liberty, have promised to keep providing resources to their WNBA team and has become a leader in the league’s highest councils on things like improving amenities for its players, hopefully figuring out a way to get them off commercial flights and onto charters. The Tsais have won a lot of plaudits from Liberty players including Onyenwere. But her ultimate message was to the fans of her Libs.

You give us a chance, O.K., we’ll prove to you why you don’t want to count us out.