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James Dolan looking to sell New York Liberty after 21 years

By DOUG FEINBERG

AP Basketball Writer

NEW YORK (AP) The New York Liberty are for sale.

One of the WNBA's original franchises, the Liberty have been owned by James Dolan and Madison Square Garden since the league was founded in 1996 and started play the next year.

"We have been a strong and vocal advocate for the Liberty and the WNBA since the beginning," Dolan, executive chairman and CEO of the Garden, said in a statement Tuesday. "As the last original owner, I am proud of how far the league has come, and the role we have played in its growth.

This is the second WNBA franchise to put up for sale in the past few months. San Antonio was bought by MGM Resorts International and the team was moved to Las Vegas.

That franchise will begin play next season and is coached by Bill Laimbeer, who left the Liberty last month. New York promoted assistant coach Katie Smith to the head job.

While all of the eight original WNBA franchises were owned and affiliated with NBA teams, only three of the 12 teams now have NBA partners - Indiana, Phoenix and Minnesota.

"The Liberty is a WNBA original with a history of great players and fans," WNBA President Lisa Borders said. "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."

New York has reached the playoffs in 15 of its 21 seasons but has never won the title. It has had the best record in the Eastern Conference the past three seasons. Led by Tina Charles, the Liberty were 22-12 this past year and were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs.

The team was fourth in attendance this season, averaging 9,889 fans, with attendance growing 8 percent over the last three seasons under team president Isiah Thomas.

"This was a difficult decision for us, which we made after carefully assessing the needs of our business," Dolan said. "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."

Dolan lauded Thomas for expanding sponsorships, increasing the fan base and developing a team for the long term.

"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," Dolan said.

Dolan's group also owns the New York Knicks and New York Rangers. Thomas is a former Knicks president and coach and his move to the WNBA came against a contentious backdrop of his time with the NBA club.

Ten years ago, while the Knicks coach, a jury ruled Thomas sexually harassed a former team executive, and the Garden improperly fired her. A court ordered the Knicks and Dolan to pay $11.6 million, with the settlement at $11.5 million. In 2015, the WNBA and Liberty suspended Thomas' bid for partial ownership of the Liberty.

Updated November 14, 2017

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