Liberty Make Historic, Open-Air Sports Statement
• Liberty Drop Classic to Fever
• More Liberty Outdoor Classic Coverage
July 19, 2008
Beneath crystal clear blue skies, in both the sweltering summer heat and under bright shining stars, the New York Liberty made sports history on Saturday night, playing the first regular-season outdoor game in North American professional basketball history.
Although the Liberty came up on the short end of a 71-55 decision, the night was a clear victory for the 19,393 in attendance, the city of New York and its rabid basketball fan base.
Held at Arthur Ashe Stadium, the Liberty Outdoor Classic had been eagerly anticipated for months, and the overall production managed to surpass its incredibly high expectations.
"I think it's been an unbelievable experience for a lot of reasons," said Liberty head coach Pat Coyle. "Just being the first in doing something, and making history. I think that part of it was terrific."
Fans agreed that it was a night to remember.
"My two girls have been bugging me all year to go to a Liberty game because they have just started playing basketball themselves the last year or so," said New Jersey native Lance Basis. "When I found out about the outdoor game, I couldn't think of a more perfect experience for them. My girls have been at sleep-away camp, but we brought them home this weekend to come out today. … They are having the time of their lives."
The Liberty players certainly appreciated the mass turnout of New Yorkers.
"It was amazing. Who could ask for more? It was just --- wow," said the Liberty's Tiffany Jackson. "Seeing the fans was the one thing I will take out of this. They made a special occasion even more special."
The day started with a FanFest carnival outside the stadium hours before tip-off, as thousands of fans got a chance to play some hoops, eat ice cream and win free giveaways and prizes. They also got a chance to mingle with Liberty legends Kym Hampton and Sue Wicks, as well as New York Knicks forward David Lee and Knicks alumni Cal Ramsey Jr. and Charles Smith.
"This has been such a wonderful thing," said a smiling Hampton. "To be the first to play outside is just a great thing. I'm a little jealous, to tell the truth. I'd rather be in the locker room getting prepared to go out and be a part of it."
Her longtime teammate and friend Wicks agreed with her.
"Anytime there is an event like this, you'd be crazy to not want to be a part of it," said Wicks. "Kym and I were saying how we didn't get to play at Radio City, and now we're missing this, but it's something that is great for the fans and I'm glad to even be a small part of it. It's been fantastic. Seeing a mix of new fans and the old fans, it's been fantastic."
Fans were also treated to performances from a duo of popular youth bands. Up-and-coming boy band V Factory performed at halftime, decked out in New York Liberty jerseys. After the game, fans stayed in the stadium a free concert from Epic Records' youngest singing group, Menudo.
Portions from the night's proceeds will benefit Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF), an independent 501(c) (3) not-for-profit organization whose mission is to achieve prevention and a cure for breast cancer.
To that end, the Liberty hugged breast cancer survivors as they lined up across a specially designed Liberty Outdoor Classic logo at center court, giving them pink basketballs. The players -- as well as the three dance teams -- also launched commemorative pink shirts into the stands to mark the occasion.
To help aid the cause, Lee purchased $15,000 in tickets for 1,000 children and donated them to the Garden of Dreams Foundation and other local charities.
"The scene here is unbelievable," said Lee. "From the fans outside the stadium at the carnival to the way the court is set up, it's incredible. I bought 1,000 tickets for kids to come tonight, and I also made a donation to the Garden of Dreams Breast Cancer foundation. It's a wonderful opportunity to help out the community and help some people enjoy the game like I am."
Altogether, the Liberty raised $20,700 for the BCRF.
Still, all attention was on the historic game at hand.
"Tonight, Arthur Ashe Stadium belongs to the New York Liberty," said the PA Announcer, moments before fireworks lit up the sky over the stadium. The Liberty starters then ran through a series of fireworks on the court as each player was announced, much to the delight of the crowd.
"Coming out with those fireworks was pretty awesome," said Janel McCarville. "... It was fun. Anytime you do something for the first time it's special. Unfortunately, we (lost the game), but I think in the end the fans got what they wanted. It's something I would like to do again, that's for sure."
When the smoke cleared and the teams tipped off, it was all basketball, but all fans in attendance could sense that they were watching something truly special.
"This [experience] is a lot different," said Shemeka Christon. "The only thing that's the same is the support from our fans."
Following the game, as the two teams met at center court applauding the crowd, fireworks lit up the night sky, a fitting tribute to the historic night of basketball in a place where the game had never before been played.