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Radio City's New Showtime . . . for Hoops

By Eli Saslow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 5, 2004; Page D09

New York Liberty President of Basketball Operations Carol Blazejowski wanted Radio City Music Hall to become a basketball arena. John Urban, the building's manager, wanted it to stay a theatre. For six months, they debated the details.

Would concession stands sell soda or cocktails? Would the background look like a stage, with silhouetted lighting and a few set pieces? Or like a court, with a basketball logo and a scoreboard?

Rockettes were at recent Liberty game at Radio City Music Hall, host to women's Olympic team tonight. (Tina Fineberg -- AP)

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"We had to make so many little decisions," Urban said. "And in the end, we kind of ended up blending two different worlds."

The result, on display tonight at 7 on ESPN when the U.S. Olympic team plays a group of WNBA all-stars, has drawn rave reviews.

The 72-year-old Radio City Music Hall had never hosted a basketball game until late last month, when preparations for the Republican National Convention forced the Liberty out of its Madison Square Garden home. But according to all involved, the experiment has been a clear-cut success.

"It's really breathtaking," Blazejowski said. "I was wowed by how it looks. It's bold, colorful, classy and fun. It's definitely unique."

The Liberty spent several months planning its move into Radio City, which will host seven basketball games in all, including tonight's. Amy Scheer, the Liberty vice president of marketing, held weekly meetings to discuss the move and, often, that didn't seem like nearly enough.

"We had a to-do list that just kept growing," Scheer said. "It seemed like we had a million things we needed to get done."

Among them: Move the Madison Square Garden court and the baskets to Radio City by truck; build a media center to accommodate the press; construct extra seating on the stage, allowing the building to accommodate 5,945; hang a scoreboard; transport concession stands; turn the dressing rooms into locker rooms; revamp the sound system; assign season ticket holders comparable seats in Radio City.

"It seemed pretty overwhelming," Urban said. "But the end result is even better than we expected. It's just a really historic thing. We've seen a lot of milestone events in this old building, but here's something totally new."

The actual basketball games are just as original, a unique blend of basketball and show business.

The basketball: Radio City features a full-sized scoreboard. Typical, WNBA-style rap music plays in the background.

The show business: Players run onto the court through a subway car prop. At halftime of the July 24 Radio City opener, the Rockettes performed.

"The whole thing is pretty wild," Scheer said. "It turned out about a million times better than I could ever have envisioned. It was gradual, and it was a lot of work. But I'd definitely say it was worth it."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company