WNBA All-Star Epilogue: Las Vegas has given Phoenix a tough act to follow

Photo Credit: Akiem Bailum

One was not expecting for there to be any news about future All-Star Games throughout the conclusion of the recently completed All-Star weekend. 

But commissioner Cathy Engelbert apparently had other ideas.

When Engelbert concluded her opening remarks prior to Saturday’s All-Star Game at Las Vegas’ Michelob Ultra Arena, she made an announcement that the 2024 All-Star Game would take place at Footprint Center in Phoenix. 

In 2024, Arizona will be the host state for the W’s All-Star festivities for the third time in history. The years 2000 and 2014 were when Phoenix also was an All-Star host city on the WNBA side of things. The year 2014 also happened to be the year when the Mercury won its third-ever WNBA championship. 

What makes Engelbert’s announcement eye-opening is that 2024 also happens to be an Olympic year. On previous occasions, the WNBA typically shelved All-Star weekend because of the Games. In 2021, the W did stage All-Star in Las Vegas while using the Team USA vs. Team WNBA format. Team WNBA won the All-Star Game that year by a final of 93-85 with Arike Ogunbowale winning MVP. 

One can almost certainly expect that the 2024 All-Star festivities will likely be done in conjunction with USA Basketball which maintains a strong relationship with the WNBA. 

The Phoenix Mercury wasted no time in announcing the days for its All-Star events. Per a social media post, the All-Star Skills Challenge and 3-Point Contest will occur on Friday, July 19 with the All-Star Game happening the next day. Both events will take place at the Footprint Center. 

With the Phoenix Convention Center and Footprint Center both sharing an intersection of 3rd and Jefferson Sts., one would think that would be more than a suitable location to host WNBA Live. After all, any sporting event or sports-themed event in Arizona in the middle of the summer would have to be held indoors. If one thinks Las Vegas heat was one thing, Phoenix is on a completely different plane. 

Regardless, if Phoenix wants to pull off what Las Vegas pulled off this past weekend, it will have a tough act to follow. Sin City’s third time hosting WNBA All-Star weekend can be measured in almost every aspect as a success. WNBA Live was much bigger inside the Mandalay Bay Convention Center than it ever was outside of Chicago’s McCormick Convention Center in 2022. It allowed for more entities such as the Sports Bra, Playa Society and beauty brand Mielle to have displays at WNBA Live. 

Las Vegas in its third time hosting WNBA All-Star made the game feel like a main event to the entire weekend. The player and coach presentations were pure Vegas. Kehlani was a great halftime performer. All-Star Saturday was a success – including Sabrina Ionescu’s 37-point showing in the 3-Point Contest. 

It was no secret that when Mat Ishbia bought the Mercury and Phoenix Suns from the disgrace that was Robert Sarver that he intended to shake things up across both franchises. Ishbia already fired coach Vanessa Nygaard following a dismal tenure at the helm with the Mercury (replaced by Nikki Blue) and Monty Williams was replaced as head coach of the Suns by Frank Vogel. Williams then took the Detroit Pistons coaching gig. 

He also was the driving force behind getting the Phoenix City Council to approve WNBA and NBA All-Star weekends coming to the city. The NBA last staged its All-Star party in Phoenix in 2009 – the year Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal were named co All-Star MVPs. And as Engelbert said in her remarks, hosting All-Star festivities is a matter of one of the 12 ownership groups displaying interest.

Given the proximity of the Mercury’s home arena to a convention center, it can be done – and Ishbia is already showing signs that he wants to be the type of owner that wants to get it done. 

The venue is situated in the sporting hub of the city with Chase Field and Arizona State University a short distance from the gym the Mercury call home. Phoenix has done this before, but not to the extent of how WNBA All-Star weekend is put together today. 

A major advantage that Phoenix has is it is a consistent draw in terms of attendance. The X-Factor is loud, proud, widespread and passionate about Mercury basketball. Look at almost any set of attendance figures on a team-by-team basis and one will likely find Phoenix at or near the top of those statistics.

Just as A’ja Wilson has been an unofficial grand marshal for three of the last four All-Star events given their location in Las Vegas, BG and Diana Taurasi (and possibly Skylar Diggins-Smith?) will certainly be unofficial grand marshals for when the glitz and glamour of All-Star weekend engulfs Phoenix next July. 

Phoenix may not possess the over-the-top theatrics of a place like Las Vegas, but it is a large, bustling and vibrant city in its own right. This is why the shoes of Las Vegas will be hard to fill, Phoenix having an entire year to prepare for its All-Star party will be a key X-Factor in ensuring the Valley is ready to reach a peak as the game’s greats converge once again on the southwest.