Guru's WNBA Musings: Spreading the News -- New York, Oh No, New York
Congratulations to the folks at MSG, particularly owner James Dolan.
For the first time since Theresa Weatherspoon hit that famous half-court shot at the end of regulation in Houston to keep New York temporarily alive in the championship round of the playoffs, media worldwide, ok, media USA-wide attention on your WNBA Liberty franchise is coming from beyond the niche crowd that follows women’s basketball at the pro and collegiate level.
Perhaps there was a little ripple among the common person-in-the-street folks when Bill Laimbeer was hired the first time to coach New York several years ago because of his NBA ties back to the days of the “Bad Boys” NBA champion Detroit Pistons.
But the news Tuesday that Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas, a previous MSG executive who was the central figure in the lost sexual harassment suit, has been made president of the New York franchise with a piece of ownership stake is as big as it gets.
The New York squad got more coverage in one day from the local mainstream media then it did the entire summer last year when the Liberty returned to Madison Square Garden before improved crowds from the previous three seasons spent in exile across the Hudson River in New Jersey while the Garden underwent a multi-million dollar renovation.
Public firestorm and media outrage be damned. Full speed ahead.
With the exception of incoming Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and Naismith Hall of Fame inductee Lisa Leslie, who was interviewed on CBS radio by Doug Gottlieb, goggling the internet does not yield one positive reaction to the news.
And Leslie appropriately pulled back into neutral when Gottlieb refined his original question.
By the way, the victim, who some publications oddly didn’t name in Tuesday’s coverage, given the history of the case, was Anucha Browne, a native of Brooklyn who became an all-American at Northwestern and one of the Big Ten’s all-time players.
She went on to become an executive in the Knicks organization.
And since nowhere did the Guru see this indication written in the following manner: Today, as the NCAA’s top executive over all three divisions in the sport, she is technically the most powerful person directly in charge of women’s collegiate basketball.
That said, a note from the Guru to his friends out in Las Vegas wrapping up the current training camp of the USA Basketball women’s senior national pool, asks: Can any of you find out from sports betting parlors, given Tuesday’s announcement, what are the odds we will ever see Browne introduced at halftime by the Liberty in the ongoing inspiring women salutes?
In a statement released after the announcement Tuesday, the organization stood by Thomas as an innocent individual in the whole case.
Of course there is some hypocrisy in terms of who has the license to express outrage over the move.
Certainly, the fan base, who has endured to be made as second fiddle for the most part, no matter what functions the Liberty has attempted in terms of engaging the local masses.
Anyone who is employed by ESPN, given the commitment the sports TV giant gives to the sport at the pro, collegiate, and international level.
Those people in other locations who cover the WNBA as much as they can – and that includes both genres in terms of the so-called new journalists and those from traditional organizations.
But if you put a microscope to the bylines out of New York, execept for the Times columnist, none of them are people who normally cover the team but rather those who had to deal with the NBA side of the organization and the way Thomas operated the ship from the bridge.
Now in the middle of this rant, it must be noted the Liberty hasn’t exactly done much on the court in recent times since Hall of Famer Carol Blazejowski, the Liberty’s longtime top executive from when the franchise was launched, was ousted by then-MSG president Scott O’Neil, who at that time, ironically, was given credit for stabilizing the organization in the wake of the mess created by Thomas.
Then a few years later Dolan and O’Neil had a falling out and O’Neil is now down here in Philadelphia as one of the NBA 76ers’ top executives.
Oddly, Bad Boy Bill is the good guy in this whole furor.
Back in the last decade when the ownership of the former Detroit Shock was ready to cough up the franchise, it was Laimbeer, who approached the brass asking for the job, saying he could turn things around, and lo and behold he pulled off a worst-to-first turnover for the 2003 WNBA title and two more before he departed.
If anything, when Laimbeer was hired by the Liberty, he probably didn’t realize how much had to be done to change the culture that fell apart during the two years after Blazejowski, whose final three years, to be fair, were not as glorious in terms of viable contention as earlier times.
Ironically, when Laimbeer was still with the Shock and there had been an opening for coach of the NBA Knicks and Thomas was running the show, a bunch of the NBA scribes showed up at a Liberty game when the Shock were in town to inquire whether Thomas might ask Laimbeer to fill the vacancy.
Laimbeer waived them off but later went on to move from the Shock to the NBA Minnesota organization as an assistant until a coaching change at the top was made.
Now, it is revealed that Thomas played a role in bringing Laimbeer back to the Liberty after he was surprisingly let go after last season.
Laurel Richie, president of the WNBA, said in a statement when asked for a comment, that the WNBA board of governors still have to approve the ownership move.
Quite an interesting place to stick that group in terms of responsibility because the league has always walked on egg shells concerning New York, which is one of the few remaining operations with an NBA parent out of the original eight, so as not to offend one of the wealthier front offices.
Ironically, when the league started, one of the caveats was New York had to be the mainstay and had to be the perennial contender because it was, well, New York, and the guy off the street who walked into the Garden would judge the entire WNBA by what was observed at the moment.
In actuality, if one wants to start with the exile in New Jersey, since then the WNBA has experienced tremendous growth in many areas despite New York not because of it.
In the end though, the product on the floor this summer in the Garden will determine everything else and if it improves there will be enough eyewitnesses to determine who gets the credit.
Of course the last laugh in all this would again be up in Connecticut if New York makes the playoffs and lasts one round while the Sun end up lottery bound and win the grand prize in UConn star Breanna Stewart.
Stay tune. This summer just got a little more interesting.
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