At the end of last semester, the status of New York sports was relatively uncertain. The Yankees and Mets were not off to the best starts in their respective seasons, the Knicks and Nets were out of the playoffs with their near future looking very bleak and both the Giants and Jets missed the playoffs in the winter. Aside from the Rangers and Islanders making the playoffs in the NHL, there was not much to be happy about as a sports fan in the Big Apple.
Now, however, things are looking up. Both the Mets and the Yankees are in the playoffs, the Giants have a promising offense, the Jets have a lockdown defense and the Rangers and Islanders are both looking to advance towards the Stanley Cup.
So, who will be the next team to win a championship in New York? The Yankees? The Mets? Actually, it’s neither of them, or any of the other above teams mentioned. Look no further than the New York Liberty.
The team has clinched the Eastern Conference, has the best record in the WNBA, and is primed to win its first championship in the history of the franchise. Bill Laimbeer took over the team after a 15-19 season in 2012, and in the previous two years did not have a winning record. The team regressed to an 11-23 record in 2013 in his first season, then back to a 15-19 record last year, finishing fifth in the East both times.
Despite two losing records, the team re-signed Laimbeer on Jan. 8, and also has made a few off-season moves that have paid huge dividends for them this season. The team added Tanisha Wright and Carolyn Swords to the roster, acquired Epiphany Prince from the Chicago Fire in exchange for Cappie Pondexter and re-signed Swin Cash. Prince ended up being the most important addition, posting the second highest points per game total behind center Tina Charles. Wright has also been the main reason for the team’s success, chipping in 7.4 points a game, while Swords has contributed 5.1 points per game. Cash has played in all of the Liberty’s contests this season, averaging 4.5 points per game. The offensive numbers for these women may not be flashy, but they still average the eighth most points in the league at 74.4. However, it’s on the defensive side of the ball where the Liberty really shine. They are first in rebounds per game (36.7) and points allowed in the league (71.1), while also posting an impressive 12-5 record at home and 11-6 record on the road.
Down the stretch, the team hasn’t let up. It defeated the Minnesota Lynx, who finished first in the Western Conference, and topped the Connecticut Sun 74-64 to clinch the conference and best overall record with two games to play. An 82-55 loss on Sept. 11 to the Washington Mystics would be a bit concerning, if the Liberty didn’t rest most of their starters in the second half. They also dropped their final game of the season 81-76 on the road to Indiana, once again resting their stars.
The Liberty will be heading into the playoffs with a rested team and home-court advantage. This is unfamiliar territory to most of the women, since their last postseason appearance was a Conference Semifinals sweep to the Sun in 2012. In fact, since its existence in 1997, the Liberty is 0-3 in WNBA Finals, its last appearance occuring in 2002 against the Los Angeles Sparks. However, many believe that this could be the Liberty’s year. With Tina Charles leading the way, along with two other Connecticut women’s basketball alumni in Cash and Kiah Stokes, the Liberty will be led by a group of women who knows what it takes to win big games. If they maintain their defensive style throughout the playoffs and get the necessary scoring from Charles, Prince, Essence Carson and others, there very well could be a new banner hanging in the rafters at Madison Square Garden by October.
Disappointments from sports teams around the city have cast a dark cloud over the city’s respective teams’ impatient fan bases. Fans who demand success it right away will not wait a few years for their teams to rebuild; they want results and they want them fast. While the Mets and the Yankees do bring some rays of hope, the Liberty could be the first team to return New York to its championship ways.