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Las Vegas raises standards for WNBA All-Star experience

Updated July 26, 2019 - 9:57 pm

The Aces have experienced the luxury that Las Vegas and MGM Resorts International provides since relocating from San Antonio two years ago.

The lodging. The marketing. The promotion. The success.

“It’s unheard of in this league to get the consistent love that we do,” Aces All-Star guard Kayla McBride said. “There’s nothing like it in the league right now. We’re one of one. We are the alpha from what we bring to the table.”

The rest of the WNBA knows now, too.

The city of Las Vegas, MGM and the Aces’ franchise are raising the proverbial bar for the WNBA All-Star experience, providing the requisite amenities, marketing and general treatment the stars feel they’ve earned. The players arrived Thursday for a dinner at Bellagio, followed by a light, playful practice Friday at Mandalay Bay Events Center, a walk along the orange carpet at Delano Las Vegas and a beach party at Mandalay Bay.

All-Star Friday night, featuring the 3-point contest and skills challenge, was resurrected for the first time since 2006.

The weekend culminates with the All-Star Game at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Mandalay Bay Events Center, where Team Wilson, captained by injured Aces forward A’ja Wilson, meets Team Della Donne, captained by Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne.

“Everything has just kind of been bigger and grander,” said Delle Donne, a six-time All-Star. “Even right when you land, you’re seeing the marketing behind it. It’s why the Aces have been so successful these last two years. They market the crap out of their team, and it works.”

Aces players had hoped to showcase their city and franchise to the rest of the league; they believe they play for the WNBA’s pre-eminent franchise. Their local visibility is good for the rest of the league, Chicago Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot said, and it provides other franchises with a model of how to promote their product.

“People see what the Aces are doing, and it can be done,” the two-time All-Star said. “It’s always this or that. No, it can be done. And they’re doing it right in front of our eyes. I like that they’re raising a bar. They’re doing such a good job. This should be the new standard. They’re everywhere in Vegas, which is awesome. They deserve it.”

Aces coach Bill Laimbeer has advocated bringing the All-Star Game to Las Vegas every year, and he reasserted Friday that no other city can match the experience.

His adversary on Saturday, Mystics coach Mike Thibault, is enjoying Las Vegas but didn’t quite go that far with his analysis.

“Everybody has been well taken care of,” Thibault said. “Players, coaches. I think the fans will see a great game because of that. We’ve had some really good All-Star cities. … I don’t think it’s something you want to do it every year, but I think in the rotation of this, it’s a place that’s a little more unique because of the situation.”

New rules for game

The WNBA will experiment with a 20-second shot clock and one live ball substitution per quarter during Saturday’s game. The player checking into the game can only enter on offense and can’t replace the ballhandler. The players must tag each other before the exchange becomes official.

“The substitution is not going to be a big deal because it’s only once a quarter,” Thibault said. “But the 20-second shot clock is going to be fun. We do that sometimes in practice, anyway. From that standpoint, we have an opportunity to have a great pace for the game.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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