New York had a good stretch of winning basketball there for a bit. Sorry, Knicks fans, obviously not you.
Between 2015 and 2017 under Head Coach Bill Laimbeer, the New York Liberty finished with the best record in the league each season and just faltered heading late into the playoffs. They didn’t win a championship, but New York has a basketball team to be proud of.
With a move to Las Vegas for Laimbeer, injuries to the Liberty roster, ownership issues and some new faces (especially in the coaching staff under Katie Smith) the team lost its way last year, finishing just 7-27, the worst record in franchise history. There was a negative vibe to the situation, but that is no longer the case. This season, they have just 7 wins again, but the Liberty still have 19 games to play.
The year began in a familiar, frustrating fashion – leaning on Tina Charles to score big but with another notch in the loss column – but the team started to turn a corner. The likes of Bria Hartley offered strong offensive support, there was a heroic game from Amanda Zahui B (37 points!) and Kia Nurse stepped up to the level she shows on international duty for Canada. It was four losses, that became three wins in four games, and while some of the team left in drabs to join different nations competing in FIBA EuroBasket, the team pulled together in the face of adversity to win another four straight.
Now, sitting at 7-8, in prime position to make a run back to the playoffs, things are looking good for the Liberty. After winning a silver medal in Serbia, Hartley said: “I was just trying to go out there and make plays for the team to have a fighting chance. The final game didn’t really go the way we wanted it to, but we gave it all until the end.”
“I just try to live for the moment, so I’m going to enjoy this but it will pass, and when I get back to the W, we’ve got a new goal to work on.”
Hartley will be bringing a French teammate back to New York with her. Marine Johannés was drafted by the Liberty this year and her mixtapes have been exciting fans in the Big Apple. Her ball handling will chime with New York’s traditional fan base that appreciates showmanship, and the French confidence that comes with it will be charming. That doesn’t mean it will be an easy ride for Johannés – she struggled during the majority of EuroBasket and only really broke loose in the semifinal game to help put a nail in Britain’s coffin – but the European game offers fewer opportunities to pound the ball and look for openings.
Johannés’ handle is Kyrie Irving-esque but unless she is in a flow, and her first step could rival Yvonne Turner’s, but the end result can lead to questionable shots and frustrating passing decisions. However, the American game will likely suit her talent more and if the team can get in transition, you can expect some of the most beautiful individual basketball in the league.
Another Liberty player returning is Zahui B – though she had a tough time getting back to New York – and she is riding high after leading Sweden in scoring to finish with an invitation to the pre-Olympic qualification tournament, but she admitted to having one eye on the WNBA during her time in Serbia.
After the win against Russia, she said: “I’ve been keeping up, and we’ve been getting Ws. Me and Bria have been texting the group, like ‘yes, we’ve got another one’. They’ve done amazing, and Reshanda Grey, coming from not being able to stay in a team for her whole W career, to now starting and grabbing 15 boards is amazing.
“The beginning of the season was rough, obviously, but we’re number five now, I think, in the best league, so it’s going to be tough but it’s a very mental game – if you get knocked down, you’re going to have to get back up, or else you’re going to have a rough season, and nobody wants to have two seasons where they don’t make the playoffs.”
“Coming back into a winning spirit is so important. Ending over here with a great win, and going back to a team that has a happy spirit and energy is so important.”
Huw grew up in Wales and was too much of a wimp to play rugby. He fell in love with the quiet brilliance of Tim Duncan and ended up a San Antonio Spurs fan. Huw is a Lead Writer for Double Clutch and also contributes to Sky Sports (NBA/WNBA) and Sporting News (FIBA).