MSG Reno to Exile Liberty... to Newark?

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Proving the old line that the best way to find real news in the Times is to read the stories end-to-beginning, the Paper of Record offers up a classic buried lede in its article today about the upcoming renovations to Madison Square Garden. Round about the sixth paragraph, sportswriter Richard Sandomir reveals:

One of [Madison Square Garden's] properties, the Liberty of the W.N.B.A., will have to play home games elsewhere beginning in 2011. A possibility is the Prudential Center in Newark, where the Nets will play for two seasons before moving to their new home in Brooklyn.

That's home games for three years, as that's how long the $775 million-or-so plan to gut the World's Most Famous Arena and build a new one inside its shell is scheduled to take, in order to limit construction to summers and thus avoid inconveniencing the boy teams that play there in the wintertime.

This won't be the first time that the Liberty will be forced to relocate: The orange-teal-and-black were displaced to Radio City Music Hall for part of their 2004 season so that George W. Bush could be re-coronated on their home court. But there's a big difference between shifting a few home games 20 blocks north and completely pulling up shop for three seasons.

The irony is that, after several seasons of lagging sales (the Liberty ticket office has been sending out weekly e-mails all winter offering ticket buyers the chance to have former star center Kym Hampton walk to them to their seats, bring them free swag, and possibly wash their car for them), the Liberty might actually be on the verge of the WNBA title that's eluded them for their 13-year history. During the just-concluded offseason, the team took advantange of the folding of the Sacramento Monarchs and the homesickness of a former Rutgers star to acquire All-Stars Nicole Powell and Cappie Pondexter; add in veteran free-agent pickup Taj McWilliams-Franklin and the core of the team that fell just short of making the WNBA Finals two seasons ago, and there's reason for hope on 33rd Street this summer.

As for future summers, it's as yet unclear where Maddie will be parking her doghouse. Newark's Prudential Center, as the Times suggested, is the most accessible big arena to city Liberty fans, and would if nothing else lead to a rise in the average Kinsey number among PATH ridership. (It could also make for a nice low-cost option for hoops fans in one of the tristate area's most impoverished cities; Liberty games at the Garden are already distinct from Knicks games for drawing a large number of African-American teens of all genders.) And with MSG renovations slated to last through 2013, there's even the possibility of a one-season stay in Brooklyn, given that Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards is still — officially, at least supposed to be complete by late 2012. Liberty officials didn't immediately return calls seeking more info on the team's plans.

And for those wondering, the Garden renovations — now officially pegged at a mind-numbing $775 million to $850 million — will be footed entirely by MSG, which is currently in the process of being spun off by Cablevision as its own corporate entity. Yes, MSG will still be getting its $11million-a-year property-tax break — at least until the city council decides that it's time to finally do away with the yearly subsidy that Ed Koch established in the 1980s and neglected to ever set an end date for. But at least the renovations won't be backed by new public dollars — unlike some other arenas we could mention, not to mention the now-dead plan for moving MSG across the street. Maybe if we're extra lucky, they'll even make the blue seats blue again.


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