Las Vegas Aces – the new name for Vegas’ WNBA team

Photo Credit: Jason Westerhaus/KVVU-TV Fox 5 Las Vegas

Imagine if your favorite radio station on the AM or FM dial not only was changing frequencies, but was also relaunching with a new identity. That is the analogy for what has happened to the franchise formerly known as the San Antonio Stars.

Not only have they changed their city after being bought out by MGM Resorts, but they are relaunching with a new identity as the Las Vegas Aces. This means the Mandalay Bay Events Center will be the home of Aces basketball starting next year.

When it became news that an announcement would be made later in the day regarding the Las Vegas team name, lots of people within the women’s basketball community knew they would be getting some much-talked about questions answered. They knew that there was an application that was filed for the team to be called the Las Vegas Stars, but apparently, that try fell short of its goal.

It appears that MGM had a very viable Plan B – and they made the announcement purely Vegas.

Emceeing the festivities was none other than LaChina Robinson, who recognized two local area high school girls basketball teams that were in attendance.

I remember the impact that the WNBA had on me back in 1997 when it began. I remember Lisa Leslie, and Rebecca Lobo, and Sheryl Swoopes. They totally transformed what I thought I could be in my future and I know that the women that play here will have the same impact on the community.

–LaChina Robinson

League president Lisa Borders, along with Chief Operating Officer Jay Parry and Senior Vice President of League Operations Ann Rodriguez were also in attendance.

Also on hand – head coach Bill Laimbeer, players Kayla Alexander and Moriah Jefferson, former WNBA player Erin Thorn, former NBA player Lester Conner, three Las Vegas Golden Knights hockey players, MGM Resorts International president Bill Hornbuckle, Clark County Commissioners Chairman Steve Sisolak, and Las Vegas mayor Carolyn Goodman.

The MGM family, the MGM values – integrity, inclusion, excellence, and teamwork, is in clear alignment with the WNBA.

–Lisa Borders

It was Hornbuckle who gave the honors of announcing the team name of Aces. He said lots of time and consulting with many people – including Borders – was done to come to the conclusion. The goal was to create a brand that would not only symbolize the players’ status as elite athletes, but give it a connection to Las Vegas. Cirque du Soleil also helped in the buildup to the reveal with an introductory video revealing the new team name.

He spoke after Borders, Goodman, and Sisolak all gave their remarks. Hornbuckle acknowledged MGM Resorts International Jim Murren with always staying the course even when there was some doubt about the venture to purchase the team and bring them to Las Vegas.

I also think it’s very fair to say that the entertainment capital of the world is quickly becoming, without a doubt, the sports capital of the world. It’s something we’ve all been working on for some time. We all recognize what entertainment brings to us, but the other aspect of it wasn’t quite there.

Hornbuckle then told a story of how he and Murren always had a premonition that the building that is now the Mandalay Bay Events Center – as well as Las Vegas itself – could eventually host pro sports. He expressed confidence that the Las Vegas and Nevada communities would rally around the WNBA team the way they have rallied around the hockey franchise, referencing how they have averaged around 20,000 fans per contest.

And I believe we will do the same come next spring right here at Mandalay Bay.

–Bill Hornbuckle

He also referenced how their relationship to basketball runs deep, mentioning partnerships with several NBA teams, hosting NBA preseason games, as well as for USA Basketball and hosting the Play 4 Kay women’s basketball tournament. Hornbuckle mentioned how Borders convinced them that it would work.

He later referenced how much of a driving force in the community the team can be under the umbrella of MGM.

The WNBA and MGM Resorts – we both are committed to bettering the communities in which we serve and operation and not in a superficial fashion. But we really dig in. We engage, we identify where we can make a difference, and we stay. And we succeed.

It was announced that with Mandalay Bay Events Center being the home for WNBA basketball in Las Vegas that MGM Resorts would put $10 million into renovating the venue to bring it up to league standards and that it would be finished in time for the 2018 season. The day of the event was also the same day MGM was accepting deposits for season tickets.

He said tickets start at $20 per game with center court tickets beginning at $65 per game as well as other options for VIP floor tabling. Those particular seats – costing $100 – were also available for purchase the day of the announcement.

We want to work with people we like – who share our values and our mission and I think we have found them.

–Bill Hornbuckle

It was right before Hornbuckle introduced Laimbeer to the stage where he announced the franchise would have a new name other than “Stars” in addition to the new city.

Laimbeer mentioned how he received a call from Murren who mentioned that they were purchasing the San Antonio Stars and moving them to Las Vegas – and that they wanted Laimbeer, previously the New York Liberty’s head coach, to be along for the ride.

Laimbeer said he talked about it with his wife, but eventually gave his seal of approval.

I was ready for a new challenge. It was time to do something special. This is what this is.

— Bill Laimbeer

It surprises me to no end everyday the commitment MGM has, the resources that MGM has. They have some unbelievably talented people that are working very hard right now. I see it everyday.

He talked about how now the real work begins in terms of tickets, sponsors, and players – but also brought up its…. “ace” in the hole…the number one pick in next season’s WNBA Draft. Laimbeer also drilled down on the importance of community and knows something about it first hand given the community events he witnessed while with the Liberty.

These truly are the best of times to be in Las Vegas because there’s so much all of us believe in which is sports, sports, sports.

–Carolyn Goodman

I must say, however, I’m not altogether surprised, welcoming the WNBA to Las Vegas – it is a natural progression of our destination related to basketball.

Mayor Goodman also mentioned that the push for professional sports to be in Las Vegas was something that was even on the agenda of her husband, Oscar Goodman, who served as the city’s mayor for 12 years – from 1999 to 2011.

She also heralded the WNBA’s community efforts – such as the WNBA Cares program – and how she believes athletics can be a force for empowering young people – mentioning that there are over 100 million women and girls worldwide playing basketball.

As someone who has worked for decades to improve educational outcomes in Nevada – including within our inner-city areas, where much attention is still needed – I know how much of an impact good deeds of groups like the WNBA can be.

After Goodman concluded her remarks, Sisolak took to the podium.

This is something we could not have imagined just a few years ago.

He praised the work of the two Mayor Goodmans as well as other dignitaries in the local community to make Vegas a more attractive destination for sports leagues to plant teams in. Sisolak also mentioned that the newfound partnership between the WNBA and Las Vegas was made possible by a desire on the part of MGM Resorts to lift up Las Vegas into an attractive sports city.

Another example of MGM’s stellar leadership and enduring confidence in Las Vegas and our community.

Sisolak also took some time in is remarks to acknowledge the fans that there are in Las Vegas – a city that also has a hockey team and will soon be home to soccer and football teams.

There is no fan like a Las Vegas fan.

The name also got the attention of a minor league baseball team in Reno. Salty much?

By: Akiem Bailum (@AkiemBailum on Twitter, Instagram)