clearn.png
Sunday September 26th, 2021 2:06AM

New York Liberty legacy at 25: Players still in the game

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

NEW YORK (AP) — Teresa Weatherspoon and Vickie Johnson stood next to each other for the photo of the inaugural 1997 New York Liberty team. Both played for storied Louisiana Tech and toiled overseas in dingy gyms before becoming the dynamic backcourt duo for the Liberty.

They captivated crowds at Madison Square Garden and led the defensive-minded New York team, one of the original eight WNBA franchises, to the finals in three of its first four seasons.

While New York didn't win a championship, part of the Liberty's legacy is their lasting impact on the sport.

Flash forward nearly 25 years and several Liberty players from that era are still working in basketball as the WNBA celebrates its silver anniversary season. Weatherspoon and Becky Hammon are assistant coaches for the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs, respectively. Johnson is the head coach for the WNBA’s Dallas Wings.

“Those are my sisters for life,” said Weatherspoon, who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2019. “We put in some work.”

Kym Hampton and Sue Wicks are “Liberty Legends,” who have worked in the New York basketball community for years. Rebecca Lobo is a longtime ESPN basketball analyst and Crystal Robinson has been an assistant coach in college and the WNBA.

Sophia Witherspoon, who rounded out the starting five for the first Liberty team, coaches under-16 girls for USA Basketball and at her alma mater, Fort Pierce Central High School, in Florida.

Here are more things to know about some Liberty players and their accomplishments:

‘VJ’ ON THE WING

Johnson recalls her teammates had a “toughness like no other. Practice was harder than any game we ever played.

“We were proud to start something new in the states, having a professional league. We wanted to make sure it sticks around. So 25 years later, I’m blessed to still be a part of it.”

Now Johnson's Dallas team is trying to reach the WNBA playoffs, which start Sept. 23. She keeps in touch with 83-year-old Richie Adubato, a longtime NBA assistant coach, who took over the Liberty in 1999.

“The way he broke down film, the way he broke down opponents was huge for us," Johnson said. “His playbook was unbelievable. He had over 200 plays. He’s taught me a lot — how to be competitive, how to be prepared. Richie is like a father to me, and I love him dearly.”

HAMPTON ASSIST: THE SHOT

Hampton squared off against Lisa Leslie for the first WNBA tipoff and scored the first Liberty points in 1997. Two years later, she tallied the inbound assist on one of the most iconic shots in WNBA history with the Liberty trailing in the final seconds against the Houston Comets in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals.

“Tina Thompson does some little head fake and she scores," Hampton recalls. "Spoon’s like ‘Come on Kym, get the ball!’ I was going to roll it to Spoon, but Tina ran back to defend her. So I throw it, Spoon takes a couple of dribbles and lets it fly.”

Weatherspoon’s half-court bank shot beat the buzzer for the win.

Hampton retired at 36, and her daughter grew up cheering the Liberty from courtside. Now A’riel Jackson is a highly recruited player out of Bishop Loughlin High School in Brooklyn.

RESILIENT WICKS

Wicks returned to her alma mater Rutgers to assist coach C. Vivian Stringer for two seasons. A 12-year-old Betnijah Laney would visit Rutgers' practices with her mom, Yolanda, who played for Stringer when Cheyney State lost to Louisiana Tech in the 1982 NCAA title game. The younger Laney later joined Stringer's program at Rutgers and now is a member of the current Liberty squad.

“The dynamic takes my breath away because it didn’t exist when I was a kid!” Wicks says. “It's not like my mother or Kym’s mother played basketball and helped navigate that — usually it was a father-daughter type thing.”

Wicks, who is recovering from cancer treatments, runs Violet Cove Oyster Company on Long Island.

She's proud of the current players' activism and openly promoting social justice causes. That included encouraging people to vote and canceling some games in the summer of 2020 to raise awareness of police brutality.

“The generation we have now playing are saying, ‘You know what, I’m going to say something out loud. You can’t fire us all and this is wrong.’ It feels like a revolution. It fills everyone with ‘Yes, I can be part of the change.'"

That includes embracing gender diversity. Former Liberty guard Layshia Clarendon, now with the Minnesota Lynx, is the first openly non-binary player in the WNBA.

LOVIN’ SPOONFUL

Weatherspoon coached at Louisiana Tech for six years after her WNBA career and joined the Liberty as director of player development. She was hired by the Pelicans in 2019, becoming the 11th female assistant coach in the NBA.

She works with guards and post players, including 6-foot-7 star Zion Williamson.

“She’s 5-8, but I think in Spoon’s mind she’s 6-6,” Wicks says. “She loves to get down in the paint, showing you how to be a post player. When Spoon threw you the ball, she could make you look like a genius."

Weatherspoon fondly remembers those days: “We walked into practice to be better and to reach greatness. It was not about calling each other out — it was calling each other up.”

Now she wants to be among the first women to lead an NBA team.

“I know what I’m capable of," Weatherspoon says. “I’m going to set the bar high, not just for me but for everyone else.”

___

More AP women's basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Sports, AP Online Basketball, AP Sports - NBA, AP Sports - WNBA
© Copyright 2021 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
New York Liberty legacy at 25: Players still in the game
Teresa Weatherspoon and Vickie Johnson were the dynamic backcourt duo for the original New York Liberty team in 1997
10:28AM ( 5 minutes ago )
Big 12 invites BYU, UCF, Cincinnati and Houston to join
The Big 12 has extended membership invitations to BYU, UCF, Cincinnati and Houston to join the Power Five league
10:23AM ( 10 minutes ago )
Federal mandate takes vaccine decision off employers' hands
Larger U.S. businesses won’t have to decide whether to require their employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 — it's now federal policy, although some important details remain to be worked out
10:13AM ( 20 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Brady throws for 379 yards, 4 TDs, Bucs beat Cowboys 31-29
Tom Brady threw for 379 yards and four touchdowns, helping the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers kick off the NFL season with a mistake-filled 31-29 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night
2:31AM ( 8 hours ago )
Teen dream: Raducanu, 18, Fernandez, 19, into US Open final
British teenager Emma Raducanu has become the first qualifier to reach a Grand Slam final in the professional era by beating 17th-seeded Maria Sakkari 6-1, 6-4 at the U.S. Open
2:30AM ( 8 hours ago )
LEADING OFF: Angels' dual threat Ohtani starts at Astros
Big league home run leader Shohei Ohtani is unbeaten in his last 13 starts going into this outing for the Los Angeles Angels against the AL West-leading Astros in Houston
1:49AM ( 8 hours ago )
AP Sports
The Latest: Women's pioneers Original 9 honored at US Open
Billie Jean King and the pioneering Original 9 were honored at the U.S. Open for their induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame
10:20PM ( 12 hours ago )
Sports betting starts in Arizona in time for NFL season
Arizona’s first sports betting operations are now open in time for the start of the NFL season with live wagers allowed on college and professional sports
10:18PM ( 12 hours ago )
NFL opens to full stadiums as COVID-19 surges
Tom Brady calmly ran out from a smoke-filled tunnel, leading the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers onto the field Thursday night against the Dallas Cowboys in front of a full stadium for the first time since COVID-19 upended the world and changed the way sports were viewed
8:37PM ( 13 hours ago )
AP Online Basketball
Hardaway: NIL rules help him recruit top class at Memphis
Penny Hardaway says the new name, image and likeness rules have helped him land another top recruiting class at Memphis
6:57PM ( 1 week ago )
Taking their shot: NBA referees to be vaccinated this season
NBA referees will all be vaccinated against the coronavirus this season
1:40PM ( 1 week ago )
Video shows police use stun gun on NBA's Jaxson Hayes
Body camera video shows a Los Angeles police officer briefly pressing a knee to the neck of New Orleans Pelicans center Jaxson Hayes as he struggled with them last month
1:38AM ( 1 week ago )
AP Sports - NBA
WNBA playoff seeds up for grabs as teams enter home stretch
The WNBA playoff chase may come down to the final day of the regular season on Sept. 19
2:45PM ( 2 days ago )
WNBA honors its top 25 players all-time
The WNBA honored its past and present when it announced the league’s top 25 players
4:13PM ( 4 days ago )
Teams battling for WNBA playoff berths, byes heating up
As the WNBA enters its final few weeks of the regular season, the race between teams battling for playoff berths, byes and position is heating up
3:06PM ( 1 week ago )
AP Sports - WNBA
Big 12 invites BYU, UCF, Cincinnati and Houston to join
The Big 12 has extended membership invitations to BYU, UCF, Cincinnati and Houston to join the Power Five league
10:23AM ( 10 minutes ago )
Federal mandate takes vaccine decision off employers' hands
Larger U.S. businesses won’t have to decide whether to require their employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 — it's now federal policy, although some important details remain to be worked out
10:13AM ( 20 minutes ago )
Karen Tei Yamashita to receive honorary National Book Award
The National Book Foundation announced Friday that Karen Tei Yamashita has been awarded its medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, a $10,000 honor previously given to Toni Morrison, Robert Caro and Isabel Allende among others
10:01AM ( 33 minutes ago )
Lebanon's new PM pledges to stabilize economic meltdown
The Lebanese presidency says a new government has been formed, breaking a 13-month deadlock that saw the country slide deeper into financial chaos and poverty
9:53AM ( 40 minutes ago )
US stocks open higher, clawing back some the week's losses
Stocks are opening higher on Wall Street Friday, clawing back some of the ground the market lost in this holiday-shortened week
9:48AM ( 45 minutes ago )