Categories
NBA

The Las Vegas Aces celebrated their first WNBA title with a parade and concert at the Bellagio on Tuesday.

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Kelsey Plum, the 2022 All-Star Game MVP, was barking at Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak while dancing to DMX. Chelsea Gray, the 2022 Finals MVP, was attempting to persuade Aces and Raiders owner Mark Davis to move on the beat to some E-40. And there was A’ja Wilson, the two-time MVP and 2022 Defensive Player of the Year, strutting to Travis Porter while clutching the 2022 WNBA Finals trophy. They were gathered on a 4-foot platform across from the Bellagio Fountain with red-and-black “2022 World Champions” banners and a projector screen with the same image on either side and a “History Made” banner draped over the top, transforming it into a concert stage. The players were introduced to hand-picked songs and let loose in front of a crowd of a few thousand people, while the higher-ups were relatively quiet.
The greatest player alive pic.twitter.com/owawrfR12k
September 21, 2022 — Tashan Reed (@tashanreed)
Before the season, Aces president Nikki Fargas stated unequivocally, “I’m trying to shut down The Strip.” And, after the Aces won the series 3-1 over the Sun on Sunday, Fargas got her wish Tuesday with a championship parade that stretched from Caesars Palace to the fountain. “I can’t thank you all enough for rallying behind myself and my teammates,” Wilson said. “We made this for you.” Residents of Las Vegas came out in force to celebrate the city’s first major professional sports championship. Gov. Sisolak was present and declared it Las Vegas Aces Day. The Aces, along with the Raiders and Golden Knights, have helped transform the city into a thriving sports market. In terms of competitive results and community support, they’re demonstrating that Vegas can be a viable home for franchises.
The champions have arrived! #WNBAChampions @TashanReed pic.twitter.com/gmBx2uKZr2
September 21, 2022 — The Athletic WBB (@TheAthleticWBB)
“We are world champions to the greatest fans in professional sports: Las Vegas,” Davis told the crowd. “It wasn’t an overnight trip.” The WNBA and this franchise have been in existence for 26 years. But, over the years, we’ve had alumni, fans, staff, and coaches who have contributed to the success of this organization, and I want to thank each and every one of them because you’re a part of it.” The Aces were barely a month removed from a humiliating loss to the Storm in the 2020 WNBA Finals twenty-two months ago. Davis and Wilson met that November at SoFi Stadium. They had come to watch Davis’ Raiders take on the Chargers, but their conversation was about women’s basketball. “He was picking my brain on the sport,” Wilson explained earlier this month. Davis was preparing to buy the Aces, which he did in January 2021, but she had no idea. Once it was official, Wilson pushed him to stay true to his desire to help the Aces — and the WNBA as a whole — grow. Davis announced plans to build the Aces a 50,000-square-foot facility in Henderson, Nev., one month later, with a completion date of 2023. That summer, he hired Fargas as his first employee. After Bill Laimbeer retired from coaching after the 2021 season, he hired Becky Hammon as head coach in December and Natalie Williams as general manager in April. Davis committed to providing the Aces with everything they needed to win the championship that had previously eluded them in their 26-year history. “I can’t even tell you how special this is,” said Williams, who played for the Aces from 1999 to 2002 as the Utah Starzz. “This is what it all boils down to. This is how it should be.” Of course, the Aces were contenders prior to the front office shuffle that began in 2021. Nonetheless, the hierarchical dedication helped propel them to the top. “When you have an owner like Mark Davis who believes in women and their advancement in sports, this is what happens: World champions!” Fargas stated on Tuesday. “Make no mistake: This does not happen by accident.” This was planned. And what did you expect when we were able to hire Becky Hammon?” When Hammon came to the podium, she revealed that her hire almost didn’t happen. She was also weighing an offer to coach the Liberty last December — she played for them from 1999 to 2006 — and had gone dark on Davis and the Aces for two weeks when she got a call from her agent. “My agent asked me, ‘What are you thinking? What are you thinking?’” Hammon said Tuesday. “I said, ‘My gut says Vegas.’”
Becky Hammon takes the stage pic.
twitter.com/cNlX0KNsT7
— Tashan Reed (@tashanreed) September 21, 2022 Hammon accepted Davis’ offer, which made her the first coach in WNBA history to make a salary of $1 million, and she went on to become the first coach in WNBA history to win a championship in her first year. She recognized the potential impact of those accomplishments beyond herself. “There’s a lot of people that say the right thing but don’t do the right thing; this guy puts his money where his mouth is,” Hammon said. “I’m super blessed to be here. I thank y’all for showing up. Because, at the end of the day, representation and showing up counts. It matters.” The moment from Hammon was probably the most serious of the afternoon. There were plenty of laughs, jokes and fun on the stage. But the Aces weren’t kidding about one thing: They’re not done yet. “I wanna let you guys know that this is just the beginning,” said Plum, making sure to enunciate every word. “We just getting started. … We got a lot of bad b—— on this stage. I just wanna let you know: Every time I step on the court, I’m gonna be a dog for every single one of y’all. And we gonna do this every f—— year.”
Kelsey Plum’s a lil lit pic.
twitter.com/h5eHak4ZeN
— Tashan Reed (@tashanreed) September 21, 2022 The Aces indeed are primed to run it back. Wilson and Game 4 hero Riquna Williams are signed through next season. Plum, Gray and 2022 Most Improved Player Award winner Jackie Young are under contract through 2024. Dearica Hamby, a former Sixth Woman of the Year winner, is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, but Vegas has the space to re-sign her. The organization is ready to do what it takes. “And you know what the saying is in Vegas: What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” Williams said. “We want to keep this championship here in Vegas!” Beyond having their core under contract, the Aces also have youth on their side. Wilson will be 26 at the start of next season, Young will be 25, Plum will be 28 and Hamby will be 28. Gray will be 30 and Williams will be 32, but both players showed they can still contribute at a high level through the playoffs. Every champion wants to repeat, but the Aces actually have the makeup to pull it off. Hammon refined her coaching prowess under Gregg Popovich as a longtime NBA assistant with the San Antonio Spurs and has learned what it takes to push a group that’s already won it all to do it again. And her team is ready for the challenge. “We not done up in this thang, ya feel me? We still going,” Gray said. “That’s one. I’ll see y’all next parade.” (Photo of A’ja Wilson: Ethan Miller / Getty Images)