The New York Liberty will need every bit of support they can get in order to come back from a 2-0 WNBA Finals deficit against the juggernaut that is the Las Vegas Aces. After back-to-back blowout losses in Vegas, the 2023 Libs feel further away from the franchise’s first title than they have in months.
New York split the four-game season-series with Vegas and won the Commissioner’s Cup matchup with their Western Conference counterpart, providing hope, if not the expectation, that they would overcome their status as a slight underdog in this series to win a title. Defeating the Aces three times in five games is, of course, a tall task, but who thought that after two games in Vegas we’d be getting these quotes from Sandy Brondello?:
- “We’re disappointed, very disappointed we’re a way better team than what we’ve showed.”
- “We didn’t have any toughness.”
- “We haven’t taken steps forward.”
Certainly not Liberty fans, who watched their team roll to a 32-8 record in the regular-season. This team lost a few games, yes, but they never got embarrassed. Thus, Liberty fans will need to give it their all on Sunday afternoon in Game 3, will their team’s season on the brink.
Mike Wilbon isn’t banking on it: “They are barely awake in Brooklyn. It is the worst home-court advantage, home-court situation in terms of spirit in the entire NBA, all 30 teams — maybe Washington — and the entire WNBA, all, whatever it is, 12 teams. It’s the worst.” Source.
Anybody that’s been paying the slightest bit of attention to the Liberty’s historic season sees that this is clearly, uh, bulls**t:
Sabrina with the cherry on top and Barclays goes nuts. Liberty up 1-0: pic.twitter.com/26u7kdYAHl— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) September 16, 2023
Wilbon’s comments read as semi-educated guesses; I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Brooklyn Nets have the worst crowd in the NBA, but it’s certainly not one of the best. From my recap of their Game 4 loss against the Philadelphia 76ers this April:
The home crowd was completely devoid of energy over final 24 minutes, the loudest fans donned Sixer jerseys. Rather than desperation, both the home team and its fans seemed resigned to their fate, bleeding out slowly and painfully.
The same cannot be said of the Liberty’s home crowd, however, despite sharing the Barclays Center roof.
Just take it from the Nets themselves. Mikal Bridges, a frequent attendee, has called the crowd’s energy “crazy,” Nic Claxton said it felt like the “whole city” was behind the sea foam: “The energy in the arena was amazing.”
Ask the Liberty themselves, and you’ll get the same responses:
- Sabrina Ionescu: “We’ve relied on the crowd this entire year...they’ve been able to stick with us since the beginning and grow [over the season].”
- Sandy Brondello: “The crowd was fantastic — I was trying to interview on TV and I could hardly understand what they were talking about.”
- Breanna Stewart, during her on-court interview after New York’s August 6th win over Vegas: “It just means so much, your energy. You guys have now set this as the standard, we expect this every time going forward,”
With the Liberty coming home on Sunday afternoon after having been knocked down in Games 1 and 2 of the Finals, they’ll need 10,000 helping hands to pull them off the mat. And they’ll surely get it.
Which begs the question, why is the Liberty crowd so much more energetic than the Nets’ home crowd? It’s not a question with particularly difficult answers: a wild disparity in ticket prices, an New York City fanbase that has been around longer, the fact that the upper bowl for Liberty games is only opened once the lower bowl has been sold out, etc.
“I feel that the Liberty crowds are more consistent,” says Doug Bearak, an avid Liberty fan and member of the Nets own fan group the Brooklyn Brigade. “You always have the same energy regardless of who is on the court. It doesn’t matter if’s a regular season game or the playoffs, the Liberty Loyals bring the same intensity.”
So, what could the Nets do to close the gap, to catch up to a great WNBA crowd who resides in the same building? There is no perfect solution, and for a host of reasons, Nets ticket prices will never fall into the WNBA-range, but Bearak has an idea or two: “I feel that the organization could close the gap by continuing to nurture the organic fanbase. Continue to find ways to honor and respect the team’s history. I feel that the Liberty do a really great job going a step extra with their entertainment team.”
Bearak also mentions the possibility of officially wedding the two franchises for the fans, in the form of “hybrid ticket plans” between the Nets and the Liberty. Surely, allowing one of the WNBA’s most passionate home crowds to infiltrate one of the NBA’s weakest could only have positive effects.
Nets over-under for this season is 37.5 wins.— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) September 16, 2023
If you gave them the Liberty's crowd, I'd feel significantly more comfortable taking the over.
One Nets player who appreciates the Liberty crowd is their most loyal fan on the team, Mikal Bridges. He was asked on Media Day about the two crowds.
“So I’m not really used to hearing the crowd as much because I’m super locked in,” said Bridges, comparing the experience of being on the court and in the stands.
“So coming to Liberty games opened my eyes like this is what it sounds like, this is what it feels like to have a loud crowd. It’s crazy I was just talking to my friends about it like two days ago. So it’s a good feeling to actually know… I can still kinda hear it but sitting there and actually listening, I know Barclays is loud when we’re playing but sometimes it’s tough when you’re so zoned in. You kind of don’t listen as much.”
Bridges also took offense at Michael Wilbon’s characterization of Liberty fans.
Yeah this man has never been to/watched a game before https://t.co/CNHS5uBsy3— Mikal Bridges (@mikal_bridges) October 15, 2023
Nets fans that tune in to Game 3 of Liberty-Aces (3:00 p.m. ET, ABC) will recognize the home arena, but in name only. The fans themselves are guaranteed to be jumping, and not just cause it’s the Finals — they have been all year.
There is already a lot of crossover between the two Barclays Center franchises, but not yet with the fanbases. Hopefully for the Brooklyn Nets, that changes soon.