Playoff Push: It Takes a Village

By Ros Gold-Onwude

“You have no idea of the impact you have on us. The more people you bring, the better we play. The energy helps us.” –Cappie Pondexter

The Liberty are gearing up for their 12th post-season appearance in 16 seasons and the fifth in the last six seasons. After an up-and-down regular season with big wins, tough losses, and untimely injuries, the Liberty find triumph in their ability to bounce back from adversity and finish the season strong. That perseverance couldn’t have been possible without the support from the cities of New York, Newark, and fans varying from the casual to the ever-dedicated Season Ticket Holders. On the heels of Fan Appreciation Day and only a few days before the start of playoffs- it seems appropriate to highlight the impact of the New York Liberty fan base, also known as #TeamLiberty.

Earlier this season I had the chance to sit down with a few Liberty Season Ticket Holders and ask, why are you here? Why are you a Liberty fan? The answers came in a hurry and before I knew it a full on panel of Liberty expertise had started. “I like the women’s basketball game” said Kevin. “I grew up playing softball and basketball, and I still play in a few women’s leagues in Brooklyn. Watching the Liberty is fun and inspirational”, added Marie. “I have a sister who lives in Connecticut who cheers for the Sun, so I root for my New York Liberty. My sister and I have fun texting and trash talking when they play”, laughed Jenn. “I tweet a lot about the Liberty- I show my support on Twitter” added Lynn, (@bballfan96). “Cappie Pondexter always has me on the edge of my seat- she is GREAT!” exclaims Rick.

The Liberty head into playoffs this week with the fourth and final Eastern Conference slot and will take on the top team in the conference, the Connecticut Sun. The Liberty are 1-4 on the season with the Sun and while they have been competitive, they come into the matchup as the underdog. Liberty players, staff, and fans are convinced that fan turnout can impact the game. #PackTheRock tweets have already begun on Twitter encouraging fans to bring their families, friends, neighbors, social groups, etc to the Round 1, Game 2 playoff contest on the Liberty’s home court at the Prudential Center on Saturday, September 29th at 7pm.

Essence Carson, one of New York’s starting guards, considers the effect of the Liberty faithful, “Our fans are like a “Sixth Woman” or “Sixth Man”. When we’re tired and the fatigue is setting in, we need their push. Our fans are characterized by their positive energy- whether we’re up or down they are still behind us”, she boasted.

Within a fan base, every professional sports team has their own crew of extremely invested and passionate fans. For the Liberty, meet Tricia Trozzi. Tricia recounts her first realization that being a Liberty fan meant something to the MSG Company and organization. She says, “I wrote to the Liberty with a few thoughts about one of their special Season Ticket Holder appreciation events and both the President of MSG Sports and Kristin Bernert, VP Vice President of Marketing and Operations, wrote back to me. That inspired me. In most professional leagues you don’t have that kind of attention to fans and their concerns or feedback”. Tricia began to consider that it was not only the players on the court that had impact, but also the fans, too. “I started to write to local newspapers, other media outlets… just doing my part to spread the word. Both the teams and the league work so hard. The league is still growing, the team base, compared to other professional leagues is still small, but that’s what makes it feel like family”.

Many fans express a feeling of family when describing the appeal of being a Liberty fan. Terry Norton’s support of the Liberty players started long before they ended up on a New York roster. She followed many of the Liberty players in college. Terry followed the Rutgers Women’s basketball team and remained a loyal fan even after the players graduated. She’s been able to watch Cappie Pondexter, Essence Carson and Kia Vaughn grow as players and people over the course of many years. “I always get a kick out of Kia Vaughn- she has the biggest smile and is so sweet off of the court, but on the court she’s fearless. I ask myself, who is this tough person? I love it!” said Terry.

Even the people who are part of the game-day entertainment and experience are also committed fans of the team. Louis Jimenez is a member of the famed “Timeless Torches” dance group that performs throughout Liberty games. When he is not shaking and grooving at half-court during games, he works as an MTA bus driver. “By the time I come home from work I have a lot of energy. I come to the games and bring all of that energy to cheering, dancing, and having fun”. The entire dance group shares his sentiment, “we feel like part of the game, we have to do our part to help the girls.” Both fans and the players often recognize Louis. When the players see Louis they give him a high-five or a hug. “I love my Liberty players like they are my kids. I’m very protective of them,” he says with a warm smile.

Speaking of Louis’ kids, one of his actual biological children, 19-year old Jeziel, is also a Liberty fan and often will come to the games with his friends. “I like the men’s game but I think the women’s game is cool, too. They don’t dunk a lot but they are finesse oriented. I bet you E can dunk though…” he trails off as he considers Essence Carson’s athleticism. I also like Leilani Mitchell, she’s a cool PG and doesn’t panic on the court”, he adds. Jeziel’s generation is one that has benefitted from the increased attention and exposure of women’s college basketball on national television. He explained that he and his friends know most of the WNBA players from when they played ball in college. He also admits to having a few crushes. “I’ve liked Candace Parker since she was at Tennessee and Cappie Pondexter can beat you in ball and look good doing it," he laughed.

From one end of the spectrum of Liberty fans we move to another: from 19-year-old Jeziel to 82-year-old Alice Oksay. Alice has been a staple at New York Liberty games, events, and gatherings. She’s made fans out of her two daughters, Alice Jr. and Chrissy, and remembers her joy when the Liberty and the WNBA first started in 1997. Many fans enjoy the cheering and camaraderie around scores, stat lines, and win/loss columns. Alice supports the Liberty for other reasons. She admits with a laugh, “I’m here for the social aspect. Winning is not everything. I believe there has to be a winner and a loser. As long as you did the best you could, I’m happy.”

At the heart of everything the fans value about the WNBA and the New York Liberty are the players: a group of women who are aware and appreciative of the loyalty and investment of their #TeamLiberty fan base.

Point guard Leilani Mitchell explains, “The fans give me confidence and make me feel like a good player. The fans keep this league going. Without the fans, we wouldn’t be here.”

Kelley Cain, a mere rookie, allows herself a moment to consider everything she has observed from her first year in the league, “I don’t think I expected this kind of fan support. I didn’t know what to expect. It is encouraging, uplifting, and humbling.”

Be a part of the team behind the team at Prudential Center on Saturday, September 29th at 7:00pm.