Game Preview: Liberty Head To the City of Angels To Take On the Sparks in Historic Matchup To Close Out Their 4-Game, West Coast Road Trip

By Justin “Say Say” Rivers

Following a tough two-game stop in Las Vegas, Betnijah Laney and the New York Liberty (6-6, insert conference standing) head to the coast to battle the Los Angeles Sparks (5-5, insert conference standing) in the City of Angels in a historically significant matchup.

 Last game, Sabrina Ionescu returned to the hardwood after a two-game absence. Betnijah Laney had yet another 20-point night on an efficient 7-14 from the field. Rebecca Allen dropped 14 points and shot an impressive 50% from three-point range. Reshanda Gray continued her good play by adding 17 points off the bench. Sami Whitcomb had a solid all-around performance, too, during which she had six boards and five dimes while also scoring seven points

24 YEARS, ALMOST TO THE DAY

As the WNBA continues its ongoing, season-long commemoration of the league’s 25th anniversary season, two of the three remaining original WNBA franchises will tip-off this weekend in a supremely historic game for not only the league, but also women’s professional basketball. Sunday’s matchup between the New York and the Los Angeles will mark 25 years – almost to the day – since these exact same franchises competed in the first-ever WNBA game and kicked-off the league’s inaugural season.

On June 21, 1997, the Teresa Weatherspoon and Rebecca Lobo-led New York Liberty took on Lisa Leslie and the Los Angeles Sparks at The Forum in Inglewood, California. The WNBA’s inception came on the heels of a much-publicized gold medal run by the 1996 USA Basketball Women’s National Team at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. In the first-ever game, former Sparks executive Penny Toler scored the first basket in league history for Los Angeles and finished with 15 points. Additionally, Leslie finished with a double-double and tied with Lobo with each finishing with a game-high 16 points. The Liberty’s Vickie Johnson and Kym Hampton also both chipped in 13 points for New York. In the end, the Liberty came away with the victory as the Sparks fell 67-57 in the contest.

Prior to the summer of ’97, when little girls across America dreamed of playing professional basketball in the United States, it was just that. A dream. The WNBA sits atop a hill as an original trailblazer in the landscape of women’s professional sports in America. Now in its 25th season, the WNBA is the longest-running women’s professional sports league in the United States, and, about a quarter century later, there is an entire generation of women who grew up in a country where staying home and playing professional basketball was always a possibility.

In its inaugural season, the league celebrated this historic accomplishment with its “We Got Next” campaign that capitalized on America’s love of basketball in the ’90s, which was fueled by the dynastic run of Michael Jordan and the Bulls. A quarter century later, the WNBA is commemorating all of its growth and accomplishments with their “Count It” campaign. So – yes, count every season, every feat, and every success that the league and its players have garnered in 25 seasons of existence.

In New York, the Liberty’s 25th season campaign is #OwnTheCrown. See the following press release on the team’s site for a short blurb outlining their official marking campaign for this monumental season: New York Liberty Launch #OwnTheCrown Campaign Ahead of 25th Anniversary Season.

CALIFORNIA LOVE

This weekend’s game will be a homecoming for the Liberty’s Reshanda Gray. The 6-foot-2 forward is not only from Los Angeles, but she also played for the Sparks last season. With the Sparks, she averaged 1.4 points and 2.8 rebounds per game in 6.3 minutes a night in 2020. Notably, she pulled down a season-high seven boards against – well – the Liberty last season. With New York, Gray has appeared in five games and is averaging 7.4 points and 3.4 rebounds this season. Seeing the Los Angeles-native and former Sparks player go toe-to-toe on the inside with former Liberty center Amanda Zahui B will make for an entertaining matchup on Sunday.

SOMEBODY THAT I USED TO KNOW

After a five-year stint in the Big Apple, Amanda Zahui B is in her first season in Los Angeles. Last season, the 6-foot-5 center from Sweden appeared in 21 of the Liberty’s 22-game slate and started in 20 of those contests. She also averaged career-highs across the board with averages of nine points, 8.5 rebounds, and 1.9 assists in 25.3 minutes per game. She led the league in made three-pointers by a center. With her dominant 21-rebound performance on August 29 against Las Vegas, she set both the Liberty single-game rebounding record and the all-time WNBA single-game defensive rebound record.

BOTTOM LINE

When Betnijah Laney and Sabrina Ionescu lead the Liberty into the Los Angeles Convention Center for Sunday’s contest against the Sparks, let’s hope New York brings the 1997 energy and head back East with another notch in the win column.