Las Vegas Aces upping the professional sports ante
Las Vegas has arguably held the title of “Basketball Capital of America” for years, as the city is home to the NBA Summer League, Team USA headquarters and the busiest weekend of AAU hoops on the calendar. But until now, it has never had a professional basketball team to call its own. That changed in October, when MGM Resorts bought the WNBA’s San Antonio Stars and petitioned the league to move the franchise to Vegas. The relocation was quickly approved, and the Las Vegas Aces were born. The Aces’ inaugural season is underway, and while the team may not be ready to compete for a championship in the 12-team league right away, it’s a squad that should be able to entertain the fans while it develops into a title contender.
A look at the city’s first professional basketball team:
A’ja Wilson The future of the franchise is Wilson, a 6-foot-4 post scorer who was the No. 1 pick in April’s WNBA Draft. Wilson carried South Carolina to an NCAA championship in 2017, and she’s definitely talented enough to lead the Aces to a title one day. In her third pro game, Wilson scored a game-high 27 points while matched up against Seattle center Breanna Stewart, one of the league’s established superstars. It won’t be the last time Wilson plays like the best player in the WNBA.
Kayla McBride A WNBA All-Star in 2015, McBride brings leadership and the ability to score from beyond the 3-point line. McBride will not only space the floor for Wilson, but serve as a positive mentor for the young star.
Kelsey Plum The second-year guard has a shoot-from-the-hip style that made her the top scorer in NCAA history and the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s WNBA draft. If she reaches her potential, the Aces will have a powerful perimeter attack to complement Wilson’s interior game.
Bill Laimbeer There couldn’t be a better coaching fit for a new franchise in Las Vegas. Laimbeer is a star in his own right, not only because he helped the Detroit Pistons win two NBA championships as a charter member of the Bad Boys, but because he has proven he can coach the women’s game. In addition to leading the Detroit Shock to a pair of WNBA titles in his first stint, he led the New York Liberty to the best record in the Eastern Conference in each of the past three years. He knows his stuff.
The Mandalay Bay Events Center wasn’t originally constructed to house a basketball team full-time, so renovations were in order when MGM purchased the team. After more than $10 million in updates, the Aces have one of the nicest home venues in the league. The home opener on May 27 drew 4,467 fans.
Wilson isn’t used to losing. After a close home loss to Seattle dropped the Aces to 0-3 on the season, Wilson said it was the first time in her life she had been on a team that lost three games in a row. She is determined, however, to lift the Aces to the upper echelon of the WNBA.
“I think the sky’s the limit for this team,” Wilson said. “I think when you look at the league across the board, not everyone just came out and was on top. It takes a building year, and this is our building year. We have a new coach, a new location, new everything. We’re writing our own book, so to have this opportunity in a great place like Las Vegas and show our energy and the atmosphere, I think it’s something special. I think the sky is the limit and the future is very bright for this team, and I’m just happy to be a part of it.”
Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas Aces vs. New York Liberty, 7 p.m. June 22; Las Vegas Aces vs. Minnesota Lynx, 3 p.m. June 24, starting at $17 plus tax and fee. 800.745.3000 Ticketmaster