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MSG puts WNBA’s Liberty up for sale

Shavonte Zellous #1 of the Liberty handles the

Shavonte Zellous #1 of the Liberty handles the ball against the Dallas Wings during a WNBA game at Madison Square Garden on Friday, June 2, 2017.  Credit: Steven Ryan

The Madison Square Garden Company is seeking a buyer for the Liberty of the WNBA, the company announced on Tuesday morning.

In a statement, MSG said it is actively seeking a buyer to take over the team’s operations immediately.

“We have been a strong and vocal advocate for the Liberty and the WNBA since the beginning. As the last original owner, I am proud of how far the league has come, and the role we have played in its growth,” MSG executive chairman and chief executive officer James Dolan said in a statement. “This was a difficult decision for us, which we made after carefully assessing the needs of our business. We are confident that new ownership can build on the foundation we established over these last 21 years, and steward this incredible franchise into an even more successful future.”

The Liberty, one of eight original WNBA franchises, has played at Madison Square Garden since 1997. The team is one of just three franchises from the inaugural season still operating in its original city, along with the Phoenix Mercury and Los Angeles Sparks. The Liberty played the Sparks in the WNBA’s first game on June 21, 1997 in Los Angeles.

In 21 seasons, the Liberty has qualified for the playoffs 15 times and won four conference championships, but has yet to win a WNBA title.

“The Liberty is a WNBA original with a history of great players and fans,” WNBA president Lisa Borders said in a statement. “We thank MSG for its 21 seasons supporting the growth of women’s basketball and appreciate its dedication to find a new ownership group to build on the team’s successes for many seasons to come.”

It is unclear whether the Liberty would continue to play at MSG — or even remain in New York — under new ownership. A spokeswoman for Barclays Center and Nassau Coliseum declined to comment regarding their potential interest in relocating the Liberty.

The San Antonio Stars were sold to MGM Resorts International and relocated to Las Vegas last month.

The Liberty has been among the WNBA’s best teams the past three seasons, winning 20 or more games each time. The roster features All-Stars Tina Charles and Sugar Rodgers, and the backcourt of Epiphanny Prince and North Babylon’s Bria Hartley.

The Liberty promoted former WNBA player Katie Smith to coach last month, replacing Bill Laimbeer. Smith had been the associate coach on Laimbeer’s staff. Laimbeer is now the president and coach of the Las Vegas franchise. Isiah Thomas was named president of the Liberty in 2015.

“I would like to thank Isiah, and the Liberty players and coaching staff, who have made great progress in strengthening and growing the franchise,” Dolan said. “Under Isiah’s leadership, the team has broadened its roster of top sponsors, increased its passionate fanbase, and developed a solid team built for long-term competitiveness. The Liberty now presents a tremendous opportunity for a new owner to bring new resources, creativity and focus to ensure the team becomes an enduring success.”

With Jim Baumbach

New York Sports