Questions abound as Blaze leaves Liberty

September, 21, 2010

This truth is self-evident: We ought to be just as surprised when not-very-well-explained things happen with the New York Liberty as we are when cats express an interest in chasing mice.

And so it is after 14 years of Carol Blazejowski being the Liberty's general manager, she is out of that job following … a very good season. Of course.

To paraphrase what a friend who is a Liberty season ticket-holder once told me about the relationship between the team's front office and its fandom, "The way they always seem to miss opportunities to connect with us, but never miss a chance to make us wonder what in the hell is going on … I'm telling you, that's a skill."

Blaze has long had her detractors, in part because hard-core New York fans don't miss anything, nor do they forget. They can recite chapter and verse since 1997 how this move led to … that move which … should have been a different move because … ultimately, we were left totally … hosed. (Although that might not be the word they'd use.)

A scoring legend from when the ground floor was being laid for modern-day women's collegiate hoops in the 1970s, Blazejowski was also in at the beginning of the WNBA in 1997. She has presided over the best and worst moments for the Liberty. She has celebrated successes and lamented disappointments. She has been praised, and she has caught plenty of hell (including some from me).

Blaze's love for the sport couldn't be questioned, even if some of her trades could be. Moves like the one that sent Becky Hammon to San Antonio for nothing that ended up helping New York, or the one that cost the Liberty a chance at drafting UConn star Tina Charles … those ate away at the fan base.

A good trade, though, brought Cappie Pondexter to New York; she requested the deal from Phoenix.

And after watching Pondexter and the Liberty end their season in the Eastern Conference finals, Blaze from all accounts was looking forward to 2011's challenges and possibilities.

Then -- bam -- a brief announcement came Monday afternoon from MSG Sports president Scott O'Neil: Liberty president/GM Blazejowski was leaving the team. O'Neil called Blaze a "class act" and wished her the best in "future endeavors." No quote from Blaze, but there was a sentence that said the search for new leadership for the Liberty would "begin immediately."

So let's recap, quickly, the last couple of weeks for the New York franchise. The Liberty beat Indiana in the first round of the playoffs, but Janel McCarville got hurt. They lost to Atlanta in East finals, which ended coach Anne Donovan's brief stay, as she went to take over at Seton Hall. The team's home for the next three seasons was finally announced: Hello, Newark! Pondexter ended up not being on the FIBA World Championship team for the United States, and she said that was her decision for personal reasons. Then it was announced Blaze was departing.

Thus, the Liberty went from a splendid second half of the WNBA season to a late September filled with question marks. MSG Sports, which owns the team, must have at least some idea already what those answers are. If not, the Liberty really are in trouble.

There are decisions to be made about a number of things that will affect the team's future. And if there were ever a time fan relations needed to be paramount, it's now.

Because of renovations to Madison Square Garden that will be done over the next three summers, the Liberty will play at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. Fans need to believe they are listened to and valued as many have to change their routines to travel to Jersey to see the team.

Whatever fans thought of Blaze, at least they had a pretty clear idea that was where the buck stopped in terms of Liberty decisions. Now, they'll have to wait to see who's going to be calling the shots.

Mechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women's college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women's basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.


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