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WNBA stars happy to be back in Las Vegas for All-Star weekend

Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier has only experienced WNBA All-Star weekend in Las Vegas.

Collier is preparing for her third All-Star appearance after earning selections in 2019 and 2021, the two most recent years Michelob Ultra Arena has hosted All-Star weekend.

“I think it’s a great host city,” Collier said. “They’ve always done a great job in the past.”

The WNBA All-Star game returns to Las Vegas after a one-year absence. Beginning Friday, the league’s best players will descend on the city which will host various events including a two-day fan fest called WNBA Live at the Mandalay Bay Convention Space, the 3-point contest, the skills challenge and the All-Star Game, which tips off at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

Las Vegas and Michelob Ultra Arena hosted the WNBA All-Star game in 2019 and 2021 before the game moved to the Chicago Sky’s Wintrust Arena for 2022. Las Vegas has now hosted three of the past four WNBA All-Star Games. No exhibition was held in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s great having it in Vegas,” Collier said.

There are other advantages for the WNBA holding the event in Las Vegas. Mainly, All-Star weekend is coinciding with the end of the NBA’s Summer League.

The Aces have already seen an attendance boost from the great number of basketball fans who have flooded the city. Their July 11 game against the Phoenix Mercury — the Aces’ only home game during Summer League — was attended by a franchise-record 10,281 fans, including NBA stars Paul George, Bam Adebayo, Donovan Mitchell and Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas.

Indiana Fever guard Kelsey Mitchell is making her first All-Star game appearance. She said she always tries to watch the NBA Summer League when she has free time during the season, and said the proximity between the two events might help introduce more fans to the WNBA.

“To utilize the platform to further enhance the women’s game, I think it’s a phenomenal opportunity to be a part of,” Mitchell said. “I look forward to it.”

Added Collier: “There’s extra people who are there, who you know are interested in basketball. I think it’s a great opportunity to convert even more women’s basketball fans.”

Collier is also excited by the potential for collaboration between the two basketball events. She said she hopes to have some chances to support the Minnesota Timberwolves’ summer league team, as both organizations share the same ownership group.

The fifth-year forward doesn’t usually get to see the Timberwolves since Collier is normally playing abroad when the NBA season is in full swing. She said it will be a good opportunity to build those relationships and encourage their players to come to Lynx games.

The Seattle Storm’s first-time All-Star forward Ezi Magbegor has less experience than Collier, but she’s similarly thrilled by the thought of creating more WNBA fans during All-Star Weekend.

“Vegas has obviously been successful with All-Star,” Magbegor said. “So I think whenever you have that NBA and Summer League affiliation with the league, it’s going to do great things for the WNBA.”

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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