The WNBA Finals are underway, culminating a postseason that has seen record viewership for the league. But one of the stranger subplots of the championship series between the New York Liberty and the Las Vegas Aces has been the ongoing feud between ESPN’s Michael Wilbon and Liberty owner Joe Tsai. For the uninitiated, speaking ahead Read more…
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The WNBA Finals are underway, culminating a postseason that has seen record viewership for the league. But one of the stranger subplots of the championship series between the New York Liberty and the Las Vegas Aces has been the ongoing feud between ESPN’s Michael Wilbon and Liberty owner Joe Tsai. For the uninitiated, speaking ahead of Sunday’s Game 3 matchup on Friday’s episode of Pardon The Interruption, Wilbon spoke of his belief that the Liberty would suffer from the lack of a homecourt advantage at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn.
“I’ve got the Aces,” Wilbon told co-host Frank Isola. “You need a rabid, Phillies-like crowd in Brooklyn. Oh, wait. They’re barely awake in Brooklyn. It is the worst homecourt advantage, homecourt situation in terms of spirit in the entire NBA — all 30 teams (maybe Washington) — and the entire WNBA — all whatever it is, 12 teams? It’s the worst. There’s nothing to rally the Liberty. I want to see a series, Frank. It’s not happening. It’s not.”
Wilbon later added: “Brooklyn’s home court situation: It stinks. It’s dark and quiet. It’s like a library… you hipsters better get a real arena because you stink right now.”
But after the Liberty beat the Aces 87-73 to cut Las Vegas’ series lead to 2-1 in front of a WNBA record crowd of 17,143 fans, Tsai — who also owns the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets — took to X (formerly Twitter) to call out Wilbon.
“We’d like to invite @RealMikeWilbon to his first WNBA game on Wednesday at Barclays Center,” Tsai posted while quoting a post sharing a rabid atmosphere at Barclay’s.
We’d like to invite @RealMikeWilbon to his first WNBA game on Wednesday at Barclays Center. https://t.co/ORGtwWW5yU
— Joe Tsai (@joetsai1999) October 15, 2023
During Monday’s episode of PTI, Wilbon responded. And rather than “taking the L,” as the kids say, the former Washington Post columnist doubled down.
“Let me just say this to Joe Tsai, who tweeted at me yesterday. Let’s be clear about something: I didn’t criticize your league or your fanbase or even your team,” Wilbon said. “I criticized your building, which is awful. Dark, quiet, and awful. So let’s get something straight about that you and your minions don’t confuse it. The Liberty bounced back well yesterday. This is now a series. And don’t think, ‘Oh, let’s invite Wilbon to his first WNBA game.’ I was a season ticket holder before you knew where the league was. Let’s get all that straight.”
After Tony Kornheiser followed up by asking if Wilbon was calling Barclay’s Center “a dump, “Wilbon clarified: “No, it’s dark and it’s quiet and it’s not Vegas. It’s not one of the top places you go to get fired up and amped up for your team. It’s not.”
Yesterday, Michael Wilbon addressed Joe Tsai, saying he didn’t criticize “your fanbase or even your team. I criticized your building, which is awful. Dark, quiet, and awful, so let’s be straight about that, so you and your minions don’t confuse it.” pic.twitter.com/EEWhs0c23K
— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) October 17, 2023
To be honest, this is a tough look for both Tsai and Wilbon — especially the latter.
While Tsai shouldn’t have assumed that Wilbon hasn’t attended a WNBA game before — and using that to clap back at Wilbon came off as pandering — the reality is that whatever criticism Wilbon had of the Barclays Center experience was rendered irrelevant on Sunday. In fact, Liberty star Jonquel Jones even credited the Brooklyn crowd for its role in the team’s Game 3 win.
“We knew that our fans were going to be behind us and New York was going to be watching and supporting, and that’s what we wanted to do, go out there and play with a lot of pride and a lot of heart,” Jones said, via ESPN.
While Wilbon was certainly justified in defending his WNBA credentials, his comments about the Liberty’s lack of a homecourt advantage did come off like a shot at the fanbase, whether he intended it or not. To their credit, New York fans responded with a record crowd — and a Liberty win — which is something it would have been nice for Wilbon to at least acknowledge.