Sabrina Ionescu, Breanna Stewart and Betnijah Laney of the New York...

Sabrina Ionescu, Breanna Stewart and Betnijah Laney of the New York Liberty before a game against the Las Vegas Aces at Michelob ULTRA Arena on August 17, 2023 in Las Vegas. Credit: Getty Images/Ethan Miller

Someday, it won’t be a big deal to state the obvious.

Someday, a sportswriter will be able to post on social media that the Liberty are the best professional team in New York without getting dragged into a misogyny-laden Twitter/X-fest where people question whether women’s basketball is a real sport or demand that the Liberty beat the Knicks before they can be declared any good.

Someday, we will all be able to celebrate the greatness of a women’s team rather than be threatened by their success.

It’s too bad that day isn’t today, because there is potential greatness in our midst. The Liberty team that opens the playoffs against the Washington Mystics on Friday needs just eight wins to become the first New York professional basketball team to win a title since the Nets won the ABA in 1976. (The Knicks won their last NBA title 50 years ago).

“We know we have the opportunity to do something amazing,” said Breanna Stewart, who was voted the Associated Press’ MVP for the third time in her career earlier this week.

At the same time, our baseball teams have greatly underachieved and our football teams have been a combination of miserable and cursed, the Liberty have won 16 of their last 18 games with one of the greatest assemblages of talent the league has ever seen.

On Thursday, Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb was named the WNBA Executive of the Year, after a historic offseason in which he acquired 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones in a three-team trade, and signed Stewart and seven-time WNBA assist leader Courtney Vandersloot as free agents. The three joined forces with 2020 No. 1 draft pick Sabrina Ionescu and 2021 All-Star Betnijah Laney.

You may recall that Barclays Center has not had the best luck with superteams. Yet, this superteam is different. The Liberty are equipped to fulfill the promise that Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden couldn’t, because they lack the selfishness and weird agendas that caused the downfall of the Nets' Big 3.

Both Stewart and Vandersloot were willing to take less money to come here, and a big reason why is they knew it would not only be good for them, it would be good for their sport. The only agenda here is to get past the Las Vegas Aces, the league’s defending champion, and bring a title to New York.

“Every basketball player's goal in life is to win a championship. It doesn’t come by often,” Ionescu said after practice this week. “But this is a lot bigger than us. There’s so many young boys and girls that come to games and dream of being a Liberty basketball player. Years ago, you couldn’t have said that.”

Viewership of women’s sports is clearly on the ascension.

Nearly 3.4 million people watched Coco Gauff’s championship match at the U.S. Open, compared with the 2.3 million who tuned in for Novak Djokovic. Before their early exit, the U.S. women’s soccer team was drawing a record number of viewers during the World Cup, including 6.2 million for their first-round win over Vietnam.

This week, it was announced that the WNBA had its most watched season in 21 years. Combined viewership for the WNBA across ESPN Networks (ABC, ESPN, ESPN2) and the CBS Television Network was up 21% over the 2022 regular season. Viewership across ABC, ESPN and CBS was up 8% over last season and averaged 505,000 viewers.

There’s nothing the WNBA would like more than to have a clash of its two superteams, the Liberty and the Aces, in the finals. The Aces finished the year with two more wins more than the Liberty. While the teams split their four regular-season meetings, the Liberty won a fifth game — the final of the new Commissioner's Cup — and has been the hotter team down the stretch.

And while the Liberty know they have to take care of business to get there, their eyes are clearly on playing — and winning — a championship. They want to win. Both for themselves, and for a future where it won’t be such a big deal to state the obvious.

“I think winning here would be huge for women’s basketball,” Stewart said. “It’s the biggest sports media market in New York. We all know this is a lot bigger than us.”


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