GOP convention to have the Garden floor

Updated: July 22, 2004, 8:44 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Move over Rockettes. The New York Liberty are taking over Radio City Music Hall.

Over the years, the renowned venue has hosted awards shows, political rallies, presidential birthday celebrations, movie and television screenings, concerts and the famous Christmas show.

Add basketball to the list.

To allow for preparations for next month's Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden, the WNBA's Liberty have moved to Radio City for their next six home games.

The team left the Garden after last Sunday's game against Charlotte, moving their belongings, including some office equipment, out of the arena. They will not be allowed to return until after the convention setup has been dismantled in mid-September.

The Liberty's court was moved, in approximately 225 pieces, and laid out on the stage Monday. The teams' benches and the scorers' tables are situated at the back of the stage, against the wall. There are about six rows of seats on each end of the court, and the media will be seated in the orchestra pit against the front of the stage.

"I think it's pretty cool," Liberty interim coach Pat Coyle said. "It fits great. It's the same measurements we have in the Garden. There's probably more room on the baselines and the sideline [at the front of the stage]. We probably have more room here than we have in the Garden."

When the Republicans announced last year they would hold the convention at the Garden, Liberty senior vice president and general manager Carol Blazejowski knew the team would have to look for an alternate site for some games.

"We made a list of all the venues that could be possible," she said. "We looked at Nassau Coliseum, the Meadowlands ... the colleges in the area. We looked at everything.

"Most of our [fans] are from Manhattan and the New York area, and we're making it as easy for them as possible. They just have to travel 20 blocks farther. We thought this makes sense."

After accepting the reduced capacity at Radio City -- 5,945, compared with 19,763 at the Garden, the biggest challenge for Blazejowski was assigning seats for the team's season ticket-holders.

"We don't have the same venue seating arrangements," she said. "We had to make a determination in our minds what we view is a comparable seat."

The Liberty's games, beginning with Saturday's against the defending champion Detroit Shock, will be the first team sports played at Radio City. The only previous sporting event there was on Jan. 15, 2000, when Roy Jones Jr. beat David Telesco in a 12-round light-heavyweight title fight.

Coyle isn't worried about the distractions for her team.

"Once the ball goes up, you're so focused on the game all the other stuff around you is secondary," she said.

The coach and players expect shooting to improve, since three sides of the stage will provide a dark background.

"I think the orange rims glow against the black background, so maybe you can focus a lot better," Liberty guard Becky Hammon said.

The only problem could be when facing the crowd.

"That's going to be an adjustment because you're looking into a sea of people and lights," Hammon said.

The Rockettes aren't being locked out at their home. They will perform during halftime Saturday.

The Liberty will play only six games at Radio City, since the league will take an Olympic break from Aug. 1 to Sept. 1. The team will return to the Garden for its season finale on Sept. 19.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press