The WNBA schedule hasn’t been announced yet, but on Thursday, the Liberty and the rest of the league unveiled new uniforms. For the New York team, it was another step on their road to Brooklyn. It’s part of a slow but growing marketing buzz for the Joe Tsai-owned club as it moves closer to Opening Night at (Tsai’s) Barclays Center.
The move from White Plains to Brooklyn was supposed to happen last season, but the pandemic intervened and the Liberty wound up in the “wubble” in Bradenton, Florida. Now, though, there seems to be nothing that will interfere with Tsai’s plan. Tsai and his wife, Clara Wu Tsai, bought the team from James Dolan and MSG in January 2019, a few months after he agreed to buy minority stake in the Nets and a few months before he closed the deal with Mikhail Prokhorov and added Barclays Center to his holdings. He said then that as owner that his first job was to get the Liberty an audience.
The growing buzz about the move is also tied into another Liberty milestone. The franchise will be celebrating its 25th anniversary this spring. The Liberty are one of three original WNBA teams still playing in their original hometowns. After three seasons at the Prudential Center in Newark during Madison Square Garden’s renovations, then another two in at the Westchester County Center in White Plains, they’re returning to their roots ... and making a big deal of it.
“First and foremost, it’s an honor to be in the WNBA in general, but to be playing in New York — and New York, you know, is like the Mecca of basketball,” Jazmine Jones, a Liberty rookie last year, told Sarah Valenzuela of the Daily News recently. “But at the end of the day it’s bigger than basketball… It’s an honor to be a part of something special. I’m just blessed and humbled to be here.”
Jones was part of a promotional video released at the end of last month to promote the 25th anniversary, move and logo.
It was narrated by Teresa Weatherspoon, the Liberty icon and Hall of Famer. It’s part of the team’s overarching #OwnTheCrown campaign, the crown a way for the Liberty to command a role as Queens of New York. (Remember the Nets portrayed themselves as the Kings of New York in their 2019 season ticket marketing campaign.)
The video — and campaign — is as much a tribute to New York’s enduring strength during the pandemic as well as a celebration of the city’s women as it is about basketball. It’s not accidental. The Liberty are embracing not just the WNBA or women’s basketball in their promotions but also women which are of course the core of their fan base.
“We felt that this was a really great opportunity to celebrate women who have just been unstoppable,” Shana Stephenson, the Liberty’s VP of Marketing, told the News, “and we know that for ourselves, but we’re often not seen, and recognized on a big broad platform. We thought that this was the perfect opportunity to include them in the celebration of the New York Liberty because we recognize ourselves as being a part of this city.”
It’s only one part of the campaign. The Liberty have also upped their social media game of late, posting videos and honoring women inside and outside sports on a nearly daily basis.
On the basketball front, the Liberty are reminding people that Sabrina Ionescu will be leading the team this season. Seen as a generational talent when she was drafted last spring, Ionescu sprained her ankle in the third game of the “wubble,” ending her rookie season. Now healthy, point guard is featured on the cover of this month’s SLAM, described as “the future of New York basketball,” not women’s basketball.
In the SLAM interview, Ionescu offers praise for the Liberty as an organization and looks forward to building a fan base in the city.
“I definitely see the future in the organization that we’re building. Super excited for what’s to come,” she told Camille Buxeda. “It definitely takes a village, it’s not gonna happen overnight, it’s not something that comes easy. The vision of seeing the organization get there and then all of the hard work that it’s gonna take to get there is really what’s exciting. That grind is why a lot of people play; it’s why I play. That’s really the fun part.”
The Liberty promoted the article by posting shots from the SLAM photo shoot.
On the court, Tsai’s team is trying to make a big leap from last season’s league-worst 2-20 record to something close to respectability. In early February, GM Jonathan Kolb made a series of trades that brought two WNBA stars with multiple championships — defensive ace Natasha Howard and shooter Sami Whitcomb — to Brooklyn. Not quite as transformative as the Nets trade for James Harden, the deal was similar in that the Liberty gave up picks — including the overall No. 1 this year — and young players for marquee players.
That new gear that was unveiled Thursday is getting rave reviews so far, with the traditional seafoam green joined by the black that’s shared with the Nets. And indeed, the threads are quite something from an aesthetic and a social justice perspective. They will feature “Equality” as well as “Liberty” on the jersey front.
What’s next? In six days, the WNBA Draft will take place and even after their trade for Howard and Whitcomb, they still have the Nos. 6, 17, 25, 27 and 29 picks. And the marketing campaign will extend to the Draft as well, with the team planning a virtual pre-draft party.
Also, expect an unveiling of the Liberty’s new locker room at Barclays Center. It’s been under construction for a while.
Of course, nothing brings in fans like winning.