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NY Liberty Moves To New Home: The Rock

Just when hoops fans think it’s safe to switch gears to another long-winded baseball season or debate the arguments of the NFL lockout, the New York Liberty have one thing to say: “We gotnext!”

Team training camps in the WNBA officially open in less than two weeks – Liberty players hit the floor May 15 – jumpstarting the league’s 15th season. For the hometown Liberty, the preseason includes a small slate of exhibition games later this month, including their debut on their temporary home court in Newark, before the regular season begins June 5 at Atlanta.

The Liberty will play their home games for the next three seasons in the Brick City’s Prudential Center, as an $800-million renovation project pushes all spring and summer events out of at Madison Square Garden. Did anyone else wail cries of disrespect when news broke last September that the Liberty were essentially kicked out of the Garden for the next three years? The Knicks and Rangers (even some college basketball and concerts) will return during the fall and winter, why are Liberty games relegated across the river?

For starters, the Garden is in desperate need of upgrades, as evidenced by Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau’s remarks last month that declared MSG’s “reputation” is better than the actual facility. Boudreau said the locker rooms “are horrible” and “there’s no room for anything.” Unfortunately for the Liberty, the schedule at the multi-purpose World’s Most Famous Arena is lightest during the summer months, making it an ideal time to shut it down.

But the Liberty will soon learn that The Rock, too, can be as endearing and energetic as MSG. The Prudential Center is just over three years old and boasts bright halls and spacious concourses, unlike the dark and cavernous Garden.

We saw the City of Newark, led by Mayor Cory Booker, come alive in March when the NCAA Tournament stopped by for the regional finals. The town, and the state for that matter, loves its basketball. And with the downtown district and neighborhoods like The Ironbound booming with life and business, Newark is ready to embrace this team.

“From the WNBA to the NBA to the New Jersey Devils and the NFL Alumni Association, Newark is emerging as one of our country’s biggest sports towns,” Booker said last fall, adding that the addition of the Liberty is a “slam dunk” for the city.

The team’s move to New Jersey also serves as a homecoming for star players Cappie Pondexter, Essence Carson and Kia Vaughn – a talented trio that played college ball at Rutgers.

Carson has even deeper roots in the Garden State, as she is regarded as one of New Jersey’s best female high school basketball players ever. She posted stellar numbers while at Eastside High in Paterson.

The Liberty also bring their large and growing fanbase to Newark. The new home, easily accessible by public transportation and via major highways, will undoubtedly create a new following among basketball fans planted west of the Hudson River. There’s no questioning the heart of the diehards, many of whom declared on social media outlets like Twitter that they would renew season ticket packages in spite of the shift to Newark.

“Perennial high school powerhouses like Shabazz, Bloomfield Tech and University already make Essex County a mecca for women’s basketball, and having the Liberty play in our backyard will provide our young female athletes with positive role models and our families with another recreation opportunity. The presence of another professional team in our state’s largest city will boost our passion for sports, raise our spirits and strengthen our local economy,” said Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. said in a statement last September.

So, will the temporary move benefit the Liberty? It’s a clear and simple yes, and with it will come record attendance numbers and a boost in the popularity of the women’s game. With girls’ basketball already on the rise in New Jersey, it will only grow bigger with the presence of the Liberty and the absence of the bridge and tunnel tolls.

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