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New York Liberty, led by Clara Wu Tsai, building community on and off the court

In the three years that the Liberty have been in Brooklyn, their community efforts, led by Clara Wu Tsai, have become nearly as big a deal as their successes on the court.

Clara Wu Tsai and young children pose at park renovation in Brooklyn
October 6, 2023: New York Liberty and Brooklyn Nets owner Clara Wu Tsai poses with children at Fox Playground in Brooklyn.
Brian Fleurantin, Netsdaily

Community is everywhere you go. When you think of others, do right by others, and create welcoming spaces for everyone, you make the day better. That togetherness goes a long way in creating a just world where everyone is welcomed and supported. And when you do that, you help people close to and far from home.

Earlier this month, best-selling author and Mississippi native Angie Thomas put out a call for help in her hometown of Jackson. She mentioned that a youth center was in need of an additional basketball court and reached out to the community for help. The 2023 WNBA Most Valuable Player, Breanna Stewart of the New York Liberty, answered the call...

Being able to be there for others and build that bridge across communities is essential. Having people support you, ensure that you and your loved ones get the help they need, and ensure that there’s a long lasting connection after everything is taken care of means a lot. That level of community was there in Mississippi, and it's here in Brooklyn as well.

On October 6, the Liberty and Brooklyn Nets held a community event at Fox Playground in the Flatlands section of Brooklyn. On my walks home throughout in the summer, I noticed the basketball hoops were down at the park. I wondered if it was a situation where the hoops were being taken away and being replaced with something else, as has happened before in Brooklyn. Turns out, something fun was cooking!

Basketball hoop
October 9, 2023: Photo of new hoop at Fox Playground in Brooklyn, NY.
Brian Fleurantin/Netsdaily
Fox Playground in Brooklyn
October 6, 2023: Fox Playground in Brooklyn
Brian Fleurantin, Netsdaily

The Nets and Liberty announced improvements to Fox playground as well as parks in the East New York and Sunset Park sections of Brooklyn. In her speech to the assembled crowd, Clara Wu Tsai spoke about the importance of this new project in the context of community as well as basketball. It doesn’t hurt that the two can intersect.

“This project is the perfect combination of my love for basketball, my affection for Brooklyn, and my commitment to equitable public safety and wellness as symbols of the borough and sources of Brooklyn pride,” said Wu Tsai, co-governor of the Liberty and Vice Chairman of BSE Global, parent company of the Nets and Barclays Center.

This is a public-private partnership and City Council Member Farah Louis noted that sometimes the city doesn’t have enough funds to support communities like ours (I’m a Flatlands resident), and having this kind of partnership can open up even more opportunities going forward. As Louis explained to me:

“The partnership component is very interesting, knowing that people can come together to support particular initiatives, like youth, like recreation, it creates a pathway and a platform for us to think about what other things do we need to fix in our city.

“So it starts right now with just a basketball court. Soon it could be a community center. It could be anything in the future. So we’re just grateful that there’s space for partnership and consideration. And we look forward to a future partnerships and investment in the community.

Park renovation in Brooklyn
October 6, 2023: NY Liberty and Brooklyn Nets co-owner Clara Wu Tsai joins public officials at Fox Playground renovation in Brooklyn, NY
Brian Fleurantin/Netsdaily

After the festivities concluded, Wu Tsai chatted with NetsDaily and discussed the importance of the work the Social Justice Fund does as well as providing access to capital for entrepreneurs and making sure Brooklyn feels loved and taken care of as a community.

“Now that I’m two or three years into this, I really feel that these are impactful levers, the access to capital for Brooklyn entrepreneurs but also making sure Brooklyn feels like loved.” said Wu Tsai, adding of the playground renovation, “I feel like something like this, taking care of this community, makes kids dream and keep lively.”

It was also Wu Tsai who commissioned the “You Belong Here/We Belong Here” neon sculptures by Tavares Strachan outside Barclays Center. “Even before George Floyd, I thought it was the perfect statement to put there, in the heart of Brooklyn,” said at the time the sculptures were dedicated in May 2022. Two years earlier, Floyd protests filled the same plaza, giving rise to the idea that it is Brooklyn’s town square.

Moreover, that sense of community has been a big point of emphasis for the Liberty since their return to New York City in 2021. This project builds on the work they did in East Harlem this spring as well as their efforts to expand youth basketball clinics in Brooklyn and their partnership with non-profit, health care provider Callen Lorde.

As the organization builds on successes off the court, the team is looking to do something even more special on the court.

The Finals are making their way to Barclays this weekend, and fan interest through the roof. It’s a hot ticket and the ‘clays will be jam packed to cheer on the hometown team as they face the Las Vegas Aces. After the Liberty’s game two at home vs. the Connecticut Sun in the WNBA semifinals, I asked Betnijah Laney about the sold out crowd and what it means that the team is selling out the arena every night:

“It means a lot to be here now and have everybody come out to support us the way that they have. I think it’s changing the game for us, especially women’s basketball, as people want to say, ‘No one pays attention.’ I think that our crowd speaks for itself and it goes against that narrative. And we really appreciate the support and we just want to come out every night and give them a show.”

As the WNBA heads into an exciting future, having an excellent on-court product combined with the level of support and care off of it will continue to grow the game. The Liberty have been at their best in all aspects of their work. They're one of the best teams on the court and help push the league to elevate its standard off the court. The game is in a great place, and the Liberty’s work will help the league and Brooklyn continue to be beautiful places to be.