For the third time in five season, the WNBA’s midseason festivities will return to a city it has become all too familiar with over the last half-decade.
Of course, that city is Las Vegas – home to the defending champion Las Vegas Aces. Along with three of the last five All-Star Games being held in the city, the Aces were also serenaded with a parade through Sin City following the 2022 season as the team brought the first-ever professional sports championship to Las Vegas.
The 2023 rendition of WNBA All-Star has the potential to be the biggest of the three All-Star weekends held in Las Vegas. Let us take a trip down WNBA memory lane…
The year was 2017. Lisa Borders was WNBA league president before the W’s top job was morphed into “commissioner” when Cathy Engelbert took over prior to the 2019 season. The WNBA announced that its All-Star festivities would be heading to Seattle (and what was KeyArena) at the time for the first time in history.
In addition, a 3-point contest that was to be held at halftime was added to the day’s festivities. It was step one in making WNBA All-Star more of an event as opposed to a standalone exhibition. Allie Quigley solidified her status as queen of the 3-ball by winning what would be her first of several 3-point competitions. Team West defeated Team East by a final score of 130-121 with Maya Moore coming away with MVP honors.
The following season, 2018, the WNBA also went into uncharted All-Star waters by taking its midseason act to Minnesota and Target Center – the home of the Minnesota Lynx. The W took a page from its big brother league – the NBA – by jettisoning the East vs. West format in favor of a team captains format. The two teams were Team (Candace) Parker and Team (Elena) Delle Donne.
Team Parker prevailed over Team Delle Donne by a final of 119-112. Again, Maya Moore was named All-Star Game MVP.
It was in 2019 when the WNBA first decided to take its act to Las Vegas. Instead of Team Delle Donne vs. Team Parker, the teams were Team Delle Donne and Team (A’ja) Wilson. That was the year Team Wilson won by a final of 129-126 over Team Delle Donne with Erica Wheeler taking home MVP honors.
When the WNBA first announced Las Vegas as the host city for the 2019 All-Star Game – which was done by Borders at her “State of the League” address in 2018 in Minnesota – it was mostly lauded by W pundits. After all – the biggest issue at the time with All-Star is it felt less like an event and more like a standalone exhibition. Las Vegas is a city that all but sells itself.
Following the bubble year of 2020, the WNBA returned to Las Vegas for 2021 All-Star, but with a format of Team USA vs. Team WNBA given it was also an Olympic year. It was an All-Star Game with a very non All-Star result.
The final score was 93-85 in favor of Team WNBA with Arike Ogunbowale winning MVP. Then came last year’s in Chicago at Wintrust Arena with Team (Breanna) Stewart prevailing over Team Wilson with the final being 134-112. Kelsey Plum won MVP after dropping 30 points.
A huge reason why this year’s All-Star festivities have the potential to be the biggest of the three held in Las Vegas is because of the old expression of the third time being the charm. In 2019, the WNBA was merely getting its feet wet in Sin City. It was the first time it ever did All-Star in Las Vegas and one is not going to get everything right on a first try (in anything in life).
In 2021, the event was hampered by COVID restrictions. Fast forward to this year where we are a long way from 2019 and COVID no longer spooks us the way it did a couple years ago.
It appears that the WNBA is indeed taking tangible steps to ensure a more robust All-Star experience than in previous years. This includes a litany of events to occur this weekend at WNBA Live which were recently announced.
It is also somewhat ironic that including 2023, four of the last six All-Star weekends will have taken place in cities whose teams won the WNBA Finals the previous season.
The WNBA already got it right with a non-generic logo worthy of an All-Star weekend. With 2019, 2021 and even the issues of last year’s midseason get-together in the backburner, the W should throw all its chips into this year’s All-Star.