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Golden Knights, UNLV topped Las Vegas sports stories of 2019

It was another wild year in Las Vegas as the city moves closer and closer to being a full-fledged major league sports town.

The Golden Knights are in full swing and the current NFL season will be the last before the nation’s dominant professional league officially calls the valley home.

Still, there was plenty of room on the list of top 10 local sports stories of 2019 for the minor league and amateur franchises that helped put Las Vegas on the sports map.



There were also several Southern Nevada natives making big splashes in their field as Bryce Harper signed a massive free agent contract with the Phillies and Kyle Busch won the NASCAR championship.

Those two stories finished just outside the top 10. The definition of a local sports story could have also included sports bettor James Holzhauer’s sensational run on “Jeopardy,” which would have probably cracked the top three had it qualified.

Here’s the ones that made the cut:

10. Antonio Brown Saga

In this Aug. 20, 2019 file photo, Oakland Raiders' Antonio Brown smiles before stretching durin ...
In this Aug. 20, 2019 file photo, Oakland Raiders' Antonio Brown smiles before stretching during NFL football practice in Alameda, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

The Raiders made one of the biggest moves of the offseason when they traded for star wide receiver Antonio Brown.

He never played a down for the franchise, never mind hanging around long enough to get to Las Vegas with the team.

Between a cryotherapy snafu that led to persistent training camp foot issues and a helmet saga that grew almost comical, there was more drama than on a reality television show.

Fortunately for the producers of “Hard Knocks,” it just so happened the Raiders were the featured franchise for this season of the show.

^

9. Earthquake shakes up schedule

Members of the New York Knicks look on after an earthquake halted their basketball game against ...
Members of the New York Knicks look on after an earthquake halted their basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans in the fourth quarter of the Vegas Summer League at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on Friday, July 5, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @csstevensphoto

A large 6.9 magnitude earthquake centered in Southern California made for a chaotic night in July.

The tremor caused the overhead scoreboard at Thomas & Mack Center to sway noticeably during a sold-out NBA Summer League game between the Pelicans and Knicks, featuring former Duke stars Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. Action was called for the night in both that gym and the adjacent Cox Pavilion.

The earthquake also impacted the WNBA game between the Aces and Washington Mystics at Mandalay Bay, which was immediately halted and continued at a later date.

8. Shea Theodore announcement

Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore (27) speaks to reporters at City National Arena i ...
Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore (27) speaks to reporters at City National Arena in Las Vegas, Friday, Sept. 13, 2019. (Erik Verduzco / Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Erik_Verduzco

Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore revealed at the start of training camp he had undergone surgery to treat testicular cancer over the offseason.

The cancer was discovered during a drug test while Theodore was competing for Team Canada at the world championships where he was a key piece on a silver medal-winning team.

7. Raiders lay foundation

The Oakland Raiders first-round picks from the 2019 NFL Draft: running back Josh Jacobs, left, ...
The Oakland Raiders first-round picks from the 2019 NFL Draft: running back Josh Jacobs, left, defensive end Clelin Ferrell, center, and safety Johnathan Abram, hold up their team jerseys at a news conference at the Raiders' headquarters in Alameda, Calif., Friday, April 26, 2019. (Heidi Fang /Las Vegas Review-Journal) @HeidiFang

The Raiders made good use of their three first-round picks in the final draft before moving to Las Vegas.

Oakland selected running back Josh Jacobs, a possible NFL offensive rookie of the year, with their final selection in the opening round.

Defensive end Clelin Ferrell has shown glimpses of ability and Johnathan Abram looked like a potential star before suffering a season-ending injury in the opener.

Those three led a youth movement that looks to be a strong foundation for what the organization hopes to build in Las Vegas.

6. Aces make a splash

Las Vegas Aces' Liz Cambage stretches during team practice at Cox Pavillion on Friday, Aug. 30 ...
Las Vegas Aces' Liz Cambage stretches during team practice at Cox Pavillion on Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye

The city’s WNBA franchise made headlines before the start of their second season in town, acquiring superstar Liz Cambage in a trade with Dallas.

Cambage helped lead the Aces to the playoffs, where they dropped a semifinal series to the Washington Mystics.

5. Liberty ends Bishop Gorman’s run

Liberty's Donte Bowers (6) celebrates his team's 30-24 overtime win against Bishop Gorman in th ...
Liberty's Donte Bowers (6) celebrates his team's 30-24 overtime win against Bishop Gorman in the football playoff game at Liberty High School in Henderson, Friday, Nov. 22, 2019. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Erik_Verduzco

Liberty scored a 30-24 overtime win over Bishop Gorman in the Desert Region final to end the Gaels’ 10-year run as state champions.

The run included a 115-game winning streak against in-state opponents and three mythical national titles. Liberty went on to win the state championship with a win over Centennial.

4. Grand opening, grand closing (maybe)

UNLV Rebels and San Jose State Spartans players and coaches come together on the field followin ...
UNLV Rebels and San Jose State Spartans players and coaches come together on the field following their final game at Sam Boyd Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Left_Eye_Images

It was the end of one era for the UNLV football program and the beginning of another.

The Rebels played (possibly) their final game at longtime home Sam Boyd Stadium in November just weeks after the official opening of their $35 million Fertitta Football Complex.

In combination with the move to Allegiant Stadium, the 73,000-foot team facility is expected to allow the program to compete at a higher level moving forward.

There is however a possibility the Rebels will have to play a game or two at Sam Boyd Stadium due to a contract dispute with the Raiders.

3. Las Vegas Ballpark opens

Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @csstevensphoto
Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @csstevensphoto

The state-of-the-art Las Vegas Ballpark opened in Summerlin with 11,036 fans in attendance in the $150 million complex. Their average of 9,299 led all minor-league teams in 2019.

A new facility meant a new name for the franchise as the 51s became the Aviators. It was a successful season on the field and at the box office as a playoff team drew a franchise-record smashing 650,934 fans.

2. Turnover at UNLV

New UNLV football head coach Marcus Arroyo, left, and former UNLV star Randall Cunningham, pose ...
New UNLV football head coach Marcus Arroyo, left, and former UNLV star Randall Cunningham, pose during a press conference at UNLV's Fertitta Football Complex in Las Vegas, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. (Erik Verduzco / Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Erik_Verduzco

It was a busy year for UNLV athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois, who fired and hired coaches for both of the school’s marquee programs.

She replaced basketball coach Marvin Menzies with former South Dakota State coach T.J. Otzelberger and tabbed Oregon offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo to take over the football program from Tony Sanchez.

1. The call

San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski, right, lies on the ice next to Vegas Golden Knights center ...
San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski, right, lies on the ice next to Vegas Golden Knights center Cody Eakin during the third period of Game 7 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series in San Jose, Calif., Tuesday, April 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

The Golden Knights called in reinforcements for what they hoped would be another long playoff run after a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2018.

Mark Stone’s acquisition wasn’t enough to overcome a disastrous meltdown by the penalty kill unit after Cody Eakin was called for a highly-controversial five-minute major in the third period of Game 7 in the opening round against San Jose with the Knights leading 3-0 and on their way to a series victory.

The Sharks scored four times on the power play and eventually won in overtime, erasing a 3-1 series deficit.

It was the latest chapter in the rivalry and the top local sports story of the year.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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