In the Magnificence of Iowa’s Glow, Albany Catches Some Shade

As Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes watched the clock wind down on their Elite Eight victory in Albany, N.Y., on Monday night, a sarcastic aside suddenly brought unwanted attention to the host city.

With Iowa about to advance to the Final Four in the N.C.A.A. women’s basketball tournament, one of the ESPN announcers related an anecdote about how Clark, Iowa’s superstar shooting guard, had told her family to leave her alone leading up to the game and entertain themselves in New York’s capital city. The other commentator, Rebecca Lobo, laughed.

“Good luck finding something to do in Albany,” she said.

In a game that featured 36 fouls, those eight words may have landed the toughest blow. Almost 14,000 fans packed the MVP Arena on Monday, and even more traveled from around the country to crowd Albany’s hotels and restaurants over the weekend to see some of the greatest women’s college basketball teams compete.

Millions more tuned in to the broadcast. In short, all eyes were on Albany.

Lobo, a former W.N.B.A. star who played for the University of Connecticut, later apologized, writing on social media that she was familiar with Albany, having spent a number of weekends there to coach her children’s sports teams.

“No shade intended towards the capital city and the outstanding job they did hosting the regional,” she wrote.

But the damage was done. Defenders of Albany, including its mayor, Kathy Sheehan, flocked to social media to express outrage at the comment.

On Tuesday morning, Ms. Sheehan acknowledged Lobo’s comments in a post on X and invited her to ride along to some of the city’s sights before leaving town.

“There’s plenty to do if you take the time to look,” the mayor wrote.

“Look, I can understand that people coming to Albany, if they’re expecting a New York City or some other multimillion-person city, that this is a little bit different,” Ms. Sheehan said in an interview on Tuesday. “But I think that we bring a local flavor to everything.”

The regional round of the women’s tournament was split between two sites this year — Portland, Ore., and Albany — with eight teams competing in each location for a shot to advance to the Final Four in Cleveland. The cities were chosen in 2021, before the record-setting success of last year’s women’s March Madness.

Earlier in the week, L.S.U. coach Kim Mulkey questioned the quality of Albany’s hotels, wondering aloud whether the eight team hotels were all of the same standard.

“Do you have eight hotels that are all of equal value, that are all the same?” she asked. “Probably not. I don’t know how many cities do.”

Albany is no stranger to criticism. A quarter-century ago, The Times Union, Albany’s local newspaper, chronicled the many slights against the city in popular culture. Three years ago, the paper offered a companion piece: “9 more times celebrities hated on Albany.”

But disdain does carry some risk: Edward I. Koch, the former mayor of New York City, may have doomed his chances in the 1982 primary for governor when he voiced his hesitation over running because the job “requires living in Albany, which is small-town living at its worst.” Mr. Koch lost to Mario M. Cuomo.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Lisa Peterson, the chair of the Division I women’s basketball committee for the N.C.A.A., acknowledged Albany’s limitations in hosting what was now considered a major sporting event. While Albany has played host to both the men’s and women’s tournaments in years past, the city can be difficult to travel to, she said, and has limited entertainment options.

Those limitations were on display on Monday night. Inside the MVP Arena, the Hawkeyes celebrated on the court for close to an hour following the final whistle, reveling in mounds of confetti and dancing to upbeat music. But outside on the streets of Albany, the businesses surrounding the arena were dark storefronts. The buzz from the court did not spill out into the city itself. Once again, Ms. Sheehan pushed back.

“I live downtown, and after the game I could have stopped at no fewer than five places between the arena and my house,” Ms. Sheehan said. “There were lots of people, they were jumping, it was really great to see.”

Despite its apparent shortcomings, Albany did manage to draw some star power from downstate on Monday. The star of “Ted Lasso,” Jason Sudeikis, a noted Brooklynite, stood in the stands wearing a sweatshirt that said, “Everyone watches women’s sports.”

While everyone was watching, the tournament itself went off without a hitch. There were no complaints from players about accommodations, and the games ran smoothly.

With the tournament now in Albany’s rearview mirror, the city can turn its attention to a more pressing matter: a mysterious odor plaguing its north side — described by The New York Post as a “urine-flatulence combination stench.” An investigation is underway.

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