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The Butler Did It: Ashe Stadium has more uses

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History will be made next Saturday night when the New York Liberty take on the Indiana Fever in the first-ever outdoor professional basketball game at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

It should be a festive occasion and will likely be one of the most memorable in the history of the WNBA. Before the game, there will a free fan festival just outside the stadium, featuring former Liberty players Kym Hampton, Teresa Weatherspoon and Sue Wicks and ex-Knicks John Starks and Allan Houston, as well as current players David Lee and Nate Robinson.

There will be a postgame performance by Menudo – yes, that Menudo – and the beneficiary of the game is the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and a portion of the proceeds from the game’s ticket sales will benefit the not-for-profit organization.

The idea, of course, makes perfect sense, much more sense than when the Liberty played a game at Radio City Music Hall. That game just reeked of a publicity stunt.

Basketball is the City Game, and it’s played on the asphalt of playgrounds throughout the five boroughs. It’s only natural that there should be an outdoor game and Arthur Ashe Stadium is a perfect venue for it.

After all, it seats 22,567 comfortably, has 90 luxury suites and is a short walk from the No. 7 train and the Long Island Rail Road.

And yet, the 11-year-old stadium, which cost $254 million to build, is empty for 49 weeks out of the year, save for a few corporate rentals here and there.

While the United States Tennis Association should be lauded for opening their doors, and their minds, to a different event on the grounds of the US Open, this shouldn’t be the end of it.

I’ve been to my fair share of concerts, traveling as far as Poughkeepsie, Providence, Boston and Staten Island to see the Dave Matthews Band, Counting Crows and Oasis, to name a few. But with the exception of one memorable Rolling Stones show at Shea Stadium when I was a freshman in high school, Queens has been relatively devoid of concerts in the last 30 years.

Instead, borough residents have to head into Manhattan, Brooklyn or Long Island to get their musical fix. Why not open the pristine doors of Arthur Ashe Stadium and make it our very own open-air concert venue?

Couldn’t you see it now? Astoria native Tony Bennett crooning on a warm July night? Or why not honor the legend of Satchmo a few yards from Louis Armstrong Stadium with renowned Jazz musicians Herbie Hancock or Sonny Rollins belting out a tune?

But it should go beyond jazz and the standards. I’m not saying Boston-based Irish punk band Dropkick Murphys should take the stage there. No doubt, USTA officials would be shaking in their tennis sneakers, but why not John Mayer or Maroon 5? Maybe the Eagles would provide a memorable evening on center court, much like John McEnroe, Andre Agassi and some tennis greats. Heck, while we’re at it, why not an old-school rap show featuring the borough’s own LL Cool J and Run DMC?

As great as my ideas are, it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon. No doubt those in the USTA are happy with the status quo, making millions to just turn on the lights for three weeks at the end of summer.

For them, thinking outside the doubles lines is probably too much of a pain in the Ashe.

Reach Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at dbutler@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

Posted 6:38 pm, October 10, 2011
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