By MARK ANDERSON
LAS VEGAS – The timing and location of the WNBA All-Star Game couldn’t be much better.
Just last week, 19-year-old star Victor Wembanyama made his NBA Summer League debut to a sold-out crowd at the nearby Thomas & Mack Center. League Commissioner Adam Silver spoke frankly about Las Vegas as a potential expansion candidate. and the Aces continued to outperform their opponents, finishing 19-2 while seeking their second straight WNBA title.
That’s plenty of basketball momentum ahead of the All-Star Game at Michelob Ultra Arena. The 3-point shooting competition and skill competitions were held on Friday and Saturday’s game was declared a sell-out.
Team Wilson is led by Aces star and two-time MVP A’ja Wilson, and she’ll be joined by three of her Las Vegas teammates as they take on Team Stewart, led by 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart of the New York Liberty.
Aces coach Becky Hammon, who will lead Team Wilson, noted that Las Vegas has a history as a basketball city. UNLV won the national championship in 1990 and participated in three other Final Fours, making Runnin’ Rebels games a must-watch even in this entertainment-packed city.
“We just have the privilege and honor of being his first professional basketball team,” Hammon said. “But looking back at the early UNLV games, I think this city has always loved basketball. I think we played our way into the discussion of being one of the best shows here.”
Hammon was speaking after Tuesday night’s 98-72 win over Phoenix Mercury, played in front of a record crowd of 10,281 and marking the team’s third sellout this season. Paul George, Donovan Mitchell and Bam Adebayo were among the NBA players watching, along with former Duke and USA basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski and Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas.
“The birth of the sport of Vegas outside of boxing has been amazing,” said Thomas. “It’s really emerging as a hub for sports and entertainment, and the WNBA and the Vegas Aces are driving that.”
The NBA could be next. Silver often referred to Las Vegas as “31. Franchise” because all 30 teams participate in the Summer League each year.
And that relationship grows as the NBA plays the final four games of its first tournament of the season on December 7th and 9th in Las Vegas.
“I like to think that the tournament games that are being played here next year have something to do with the NBA flirting with the idea of starting a team,” George said. “I hope it goes well. There is a huge NBA fan base here.”
Speaking at the Associated Press sports editors convention in Las Vegas on Monday, Silver didn’t stem speculation about the city as a potential expansion candidate. As the NBA finalizes its multimedia deals within the next few years, Silver said the league will consider adding teams.
“We’re going to look at that market,” Silver said. “There is no doubt that there is (also) a lot of interest in Seattle. That’s no secret.”
For now, at least, the world’s top players will be making their homes in Las Vegas for a few days, attending All-Star Game celebrations and trying to put on a show for the fans.
“I think it’s great to be in Las Vegas,” said Napheesa Collier, forward for the Minnesota Lynx, who will be playing her third All-Star Game. “They’ve always done a really great job in the past and with the Summer League there’s more people interested in basketball there. I think it’s a great opportunity to attract even more women’s basketball fans.”