Defense was optional Saturday during the WNBA All-Star Game at Mandalay Bay Events Center.
Fun, though, was mandatory.
The league’s first All-Star Game in Las Vegas concluded with a 129-126 victory for Team Wilson over Team Delle Donne before an announced crowd of 9,157 that included NBA legend Kobe Bryant, American soccer star Megan Rapinoe and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul.
Indiana Fever guard Erica Wheeler of Team Wilson posted 25 points, seven 3-pointers and seven assists to earn MVP honors.
“The journey has been amazing,” said a teary-eyed Wheeler, who was not drafted in 2013 and didn’t reach the WNBA until 2015. “My main goal for today was to be unforgettable. … I think I did that. My main thing is just to be able to inspire the youth to never give up. I think I’m a walking ‘never give up’ word.”
Aces standouts Kayla McBride and Liz Cambage started for Team Wilson. McBride scored 13 points in 24 minutes, and Cambage had eight points and six rebounds in 22 minutes. A’ja Wilson captained the team but didn’t play because of a sprained ankle, forced to watch as the teams combined for an All-Star Game record 255 points.
Players and coaches touted the presentation that MGM Resorts International and the Aces provided and relished the atmosphere Saturday at the game.
Cirque du Soleil, the Blue Man Group, Tony award-winning actress Kristin Chenoweth and recording artist Teyana Taylor provided the entertainment during stoppages in play.
The players provided entertainment for four quarters.
“I thought it was a really great game for the fans,” Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne said. “It definitely means a lot for them to come out and support.”
Typical of All-Star Games, the players ceded defense for scoring and highlights and delivered plenty of both. Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner dunked three times for Team Delle Donne, and Los Angeles Sparks guard Chelsea Gray of Team Wilson showed her uncanny vision with several no-look passes.
But the afternoon belonged to Wheeler, who made her first six 3-pointers en route to 18 first-half points.
Team Delle Donne revved up its defensive effort in the second half after a 77-63 halftime deficit, but Wheeler made her final 3-pointer in the final minute to clinch the victory.
She cried at half court while WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert presented her with the MVP trophy. Her fellow All-Stars applauded, knowing the significance of the honor.
“I’ve been speechless,” Wheeler said. “Just being able to see the ball go in. I’m a real rhythm shooter. I’ve seen it go in twice. Bill (Laimbeer) said, ‘If you get hot, just keep going.’ And that’s what I did.”
All-Star weekend is over and the regular season resumes Tuesday. But the players enjoyed the break before getting back to serious business.
“A lot of preparation went into it,” Griner said. “They did a really good job here in Vegas. It was good actually seeing current basketball players coming back and legends that were here.”