Las Vegas is the center of the basketball world ahead of the WNBA All-Star Game

Detroit News
By Mark Anderson |  Associated Press

Las Vegas — The timing and location of the WNBA All-Star Game couldn’t be much better.

Just in the past week, 19-year-old phenom Victor Wembanyama made his NBA debut in the Summer League to sold-out crowds at the nearby Thomas & Mack Center, league commissioner Adam Silver spoke openly about Las Vegas as a potential expansion candidate, and the Aces continued to roll through opponents to move to 19-2 as they seek a second straight WNBA title.

That’s a lot of basketball momentum ahead of the All-Star Game at Michelob Ultra Arena. The 3-point shooting contest and skills competitions take place Friday, and the game Saturday has been declared a sellout.

Team Wilson is captained by Aces star and two-time MVP A’ja Wilson, and she will be joined by three of her Las Vegas teammates when 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 1990 national championship and appeared in three other Final Fours, making Runnin’ Rebels games must-see events even in this entertainment-driven city.

“We just have the privilege and honor to be its first professional basketball team,” Hammon said. “But you go back to those early UNLV games, I think this town has always loved basketball. I played in conference tournaments here. But to have a product like this, a women’s team like this, I think people are excited to come visit. I think we’ve played our way into the conversation of being one of the best shows here.”

Hammon spoke after Tuesday night’s 98-72 victory over the Phoenix Mercury, which was played before a franchise-record crowd of 10,281 and was the team’s third sellout this season. Paul George, Donovan Mitchell and Bam Adebayo were among the NBA players watching, joined by former Duke and USA Basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski and Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas.

“The birth of Vegas sports outside of boxing has been amazing,” Thomas said. “It truly is becoming a hub of sports and entertainment, and the WNBA and the Vegas Aces are driving that.”

The NBA could be next. Silver has often referred to Las Vegas as the “31st franchise” because of the presence of all 30 teams at the Summer League each year.

And that relationship is growing with the NBA playing the final four games of its first in-season tournament in Las Vegas on Dec. 7 and 9.

“I like to believe the tournament games being held here next year has something to do with the NBA flirting with the idea of having a team,” George said. “Hopefully, that goes well. A heck of an NBA fan base here.”

Silver, when addressing the Associated Press Sports Editors convention in Las Vegas on Monday, didn’t tamp down speculation of the city as a potential expansion candidate. Once the NBA secures its multimedia contracts within the next couple of years, Silver said the league would consider adding teams.

“We will look at this market,” Silver said. “There’s no doubt there is (also) enormous interest in Seattle. It’s not a secret.”

For now, at least, the world’s best women’s players will call Las Vegas home for a couple of days, going through All-Star Game festivities and trying to put on a show for the fans.

“I think it’s great having it in Vegas,” said Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier, who will play in her third All-Star Game. “They’ve always done a really great job in the past, and having Summer League, there are extra people there who are interested in basketball. So I think it’s a great opportunity to convert even more women’s basketball fans.”

AP freelance writer W.G. Ramirez contributed to this report.

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