1-On-1: Sr. Xbox Global Sports Lead Chris Munson talks partnership with NY Liberty, custom court at Barclays Center

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

By Lamar Carter and Akiem Bailum

If one may have watched the Aug. 2 and Aug. 3 matchups at Barclays Center between the homestanding New York Liberty and roadtripping Los Angeles Sparks, one may have noticed that the court at The Clays looked a bit different than what one typically witnesses when observing the seafoam, black and copper.

For two days the court at Atlantic and Flatbush was gray and lime green – the signature color of Xbox – to reflect a first for the WNBA. It was the first time that a gaming-inspired court was utilized for a WNBA team.

Secondary courts are common throughout the NBA realm – including notably at Barclays Center for its other high-profile tenant – the Brooklyn Nets. But it is a first for a WNBA team among the incumbent 12 franchises.

Chris Munson, Sr. Global Xbox Sports Partnerships Lead sat down with Beyond The W to talk about how it all came together.

In the ideation phase of all the different things we could think about, we’re really all about immersion and empowerment and bringing things to life like no one else can.

–Chris Munson – Sr. Global Xbox Sports Partnerships Lead

Munson believed it would be a good, yet audacious idea to build a custom court for the Liberty. As a result, Xbox teamed up with Roblox, a popular game on its platform, for the project. One can also see the Roblox logo on both baselines of the custom court.

Munson mentioned another well-known entity within the WNBA community that also collaborated with the Liberty and Roblox for the court design.

We actually worked with Pepper (Persley), the resident wunderkind journalist … and so out of all that collaboration between ourselves, the Liberty, and Roblox and Pepper, we came up with a design like this.

–Chris Munson (Sr. Global Xbox Sports Partnerships Lead)

He mentioned how the collaboration with Persley centered around what one would have like to see in a virtual version of the custom court. Overall, Munson says the project all came together within a 6-9 month timespan.

Obviously you want to make sure the players are going to be safe to play on this surface. And it’s not every day that you’re going to switch out one court for another court.

–Chris Munson (Sr. Global Xbox Sports Partnerships Lead)

The Roblox element of the partnership comes into play with the metaverse version of New York’s court within an Infinite Canvas’ Dunking Simulator on the platform.

Liberty players also received team-branded Xboxes as well as a replica of the team’s game-branded court on the box’s inside.

You can go into Roblox right now, enter a game called Dunking Simulator and this court is now playable. But, of course it’s got all the video game goodness associated with it. So, pyrotechnics, power-ups, consumables. There’s a Liberty jersey you have to kind of work your way towards and a host of other things that they have done a really great job.

–Chris Munson (Sr. Global Xbox Sports Partnerships Lead)

Xbox’s partnership with the Liberty also comes at a period of time when the popular video gaming company is also spearheading another initiative aimed at women’s empowerment.

Earlier this year, Xbox launched the Power Her Dreams initiative aimed at spotlighting women in the realms of sports and gaming. It partnered with Vanessa Bryant and she recorded a voiceover for a video that shines a light on the paths taken by several women that have become household names in both fields. One of them is Liberty star Sabrina Ionescu, who has maintained a close bond with the Bryant family over the years.

Xbox’s Power Her Dreams initiative also includes another WNBA team – the Atlanta Dream as well as the England Senior National Team, France’s Senior Women’s National Team and other entities. Rhyne Howard is another one of the women featured.

Right now, if anybody goes to the (Power Her Dreams) website, you can upload your own dream and for every dream uploaded, Xbox will donate $10 either to the Mamba & Mambacita Foundation or the Girls Who Code Foundation.

–Chris Munson (Sr. Global Xbox Partnerships Lead)

It is the same English team that is coming off its triumph in the women’s Euro 2022 tournament after defeating Germany by a final of 2-1. The Lionesses were rewarded with a victory celebration at London’s famed Trafalgar Square.

Munson says that developing partnerships such as the ones established through the Power Her Dreams initiative are a reflection of a broader mission Xbox has embarked on of women’s empowerment that also includes its parent company Microsoft.

Xbox for us is not totally just about going to the teams that existed previously, but the teams that desire to uplift – that everybody wants. I mean, this is world-class basketball being played here on a regular basis with the Liberty and in the WNBA. Same on the side with women’s soccer. And we pick teams where we could have the ability to pick both men’s and women’s teams it’s everything for us. Because it is an empowering element of what we do, it represents our base who play video games. It’s not just one group, it’s multiple groups.

–Chris Munson (Sr. Global Xbox Partnerships Lead)

Among those groups, Munson says, is not only women by category of if they are in the sports or gaming fields, but women regardless of which age bracket they may be in.

It’s a great place for us to kind of tell a greater story.

–Chris Munson (Sr. Global Xbox Partnerships Lead)

The first day of when lime green met seafoam green led to positive fortunes for a Liberty team in the thick of a playoff chase. New York thrashed Los Angeles by a final of 102-73.

Four Libs finished in double-digits including Sabrina Ionescu who fittingly put up video game type stats. Ionescu finished with 31 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals. Natasha Howard chimed in with a double-double of 24 points and 11 rebounds.

The Liberty have been at their best when they have received production from their bench. Marine Johannes and Han Xu got the memo. It was a 13-point, eight-assist, seven-rebound evening for Han and a 12-point, four-steal effort for Johannes.

For the Sparks, Brittney Sykes led the way with 19 points, six rebounds and three assists. Nneka Ogwumike tallied 15 points and Olivia Nelson-Ododa added 12 points, four rebounds and three assists off the bench.

Kathy Hochul, governor of New York State, was on hand at Barclays for the festivities.

The second day of the Xbox court also brought positive fortunes for the Liberty as they came back from a 20-point deficit to defeat the Sparks by a final of 64-61.

Ionescu scored 20 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Howard added 12 points and seven rebounds plus three assists in a winning Liberty effort.

Ogwumike finished with 19 points and seven rebounds. Sykes tallied 12 points and five rebounds. Jordin Canada contributed 10 points plus eight assists. Olivia Nelson-Ododa hauled in 10 rebounds.