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Liberty switch mascots as marketing of Brooklyn move accelerates

Since 1997, the Liberty mascot was a dog named “Maddie” after Madison Square Garden, both the team’s home and corporate owner. Every season, one Liberty game was dedicated to this loveable dog … “Maddie Day!”

Well, the Liberty hasn’t played at the Garden in three years, having been exiled to Westchester County Center by James Dolan in 2018 and 2019, then forced by the pandemic to play in the WNBA “wubble” last season. Now, the team is getting ready to debut in Brooklyn at Barclays Center.

And, of course, the Garden no longer owns the Liberty. Joe Tsai bought it in early 2019 and it’s now part of Tsai’s BS&E, also the parent of the Nets, Barclays Center and the G League and NBA2k teams.

Enter “Ellie, the Elephant!” On Thursday, the team released a highly produced video on the transition from canine to pachyderm, with “Maddie” traveling by subway from 33rd and 7th to Flatbush and Atlantic ... only to find “Ellie” on the arena plaza.

“Maddie,” the Liberty says, isn’t fully retired. She will make special appearances throughout the season, according to the press release announcing Ellie.

Okay, so why an elephant? For starters, say the Liberty, “Elephants represent strength, power, wisdom, and determination. They are also praised for their longevity, stamina, cooperative spirit, and loyalty – all attributes that are synonymous with the New York Liberty’s journey to Brooklyn, the players and loyal fans.”

But here’s the fun part. Back in 1883 when the Brooklyn Bridge linked the borough to the larger world, there were fears that the bridge, then the longest suspension bridge in the world, might not be strong enough to carry heavy loads. So showman P.T. Barnum marched 21 elephants across the bridge which alleviated the anxiety. Now, an elephant is leading the Liberty from Manhattan to Brooklyn in another big move.

It’s all part of the Liberty’s marketing for the move — and the franchise’s 25th anniversary. Tsai’s people are pumping out a lot of news, particularly now with the team in training camp at Barclays. Over the past few days, there’ve been items on the Liberty’s national and TV schedules and Monday is virtual Media Day as well as “Ellie.”

On Friday, the YES Network announced that it will televise a record 19 New York Liberty games this season, beginning with their debut at Barclays on May 14 vs. the Indiana Fever. Chris Shearn and Michael Grady, familiar to Nets fans, will handle play-by-play while Julianne Viani-Braen will handle analysis. In fact, the game will be broadcast on both YES and ESPN, one of two games on the network this season.

Moreover, Barclays Center will be all dressed up in seafoam and black whenever the Liberty plays, the small practice court off the entrance plaza is where the Liberty will practice and a new locker room has been carved out of the arena spaces.

The WNBA, of course, is on the rise and the Liberty’s move to Brooklyn will be watched closely (once fans can populate the arena in large numbers.) As Brian Lewis reported in August 2019, the Liberty finished in the top four in WNBA attendance in all 18 seasons they played at the Garden, averaging 9,888 in 2017, the season before Dolan moved the team. Capacity and ticketing have yet to be announced.