When the Vegas Golden Knights began their inaugural season in 2017-18, the entire sports world was watching intently. Not because they all of a sudden cared about hockey but because they wanted to know the answer to the age old question, “Can professional sports survive/thrive in Las Vegas?” No one knew the answer to that question but as the season started, the Golden Knights provided the answer.
Professional expansion teams don’t do well in their first year. Or their second year. Or even their third year. The Golden Knights bucked that trend by not only having a winning record and not only making the playoffs but by having the best record in the West and earning a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals where — well, the result doesn’t need to be talked about.
The success on and off the ice for the franchise showed that Las Vegas knows how to support a team without championship aspirations. We are just happy to have a team that we can call our own and cheer them throughout the good times and the bad. But then, what if there’s a professional team with championship aspirations but not in a well-respected league? What will Vegas locals do then? Well, we’re about to find out because in only their second year of existence, the Las Vegas Aces are among the favorites to win it all; the WNBA championship I’m referring to.
Yes, we have a WNBA team. Since last May when the San Antonio Silver Stars moved here and got rebranded as the Las Vegas Aces. They play at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Yes, they are good and if not for a commercial flight gaffe, they definitely would’ve snuck into the playoffs. So why are many sports pundits predicted a second year franchise to win the whole thing?
Let’s start with the first building block of the organization and that’s former No. 1 overall pick from last year, A’ja Wilson. Drafted from South Carolina where she led the Lady Gamecocks to their first national championship and won National Player of the Year honors, Wilson burst onto the scene in her rookie season in the WNBA, garnering an All-Star appearance and Rookie of the Year honors averaging 20.7 points per game and 8.7 rebounds per game.
The rest of the starting five isn’t chopped liver at all. Kayla McBride, the 3rd overall pick in 2014 by the then-Silver Stars averaged a career high 18.2 points per game last season, is now a seasoned vet. Kelsey Plum, whose lethal left-handed scoring game had many calling her the female James Harden (Yes, they did.), takes the reigns at shooting guard. Oh, and by the way, Plum is the all-time leading scorer in women’s college basketball history. Jackie Young, entering her rookie season out of Notre Dame, was the Aces No. 1 pick this season and all she did in South Bend was win a National Championship and was the ACC Tournament MVP.
Lastly, the trade that turned the Aces from potential contenders to title favorites, Liz Cambage was acquired by the Aces in the spring for Moriah Jefferson, Isabelle Harrison and the Aces first and second round picks in 2020. That may mean nothing to you except, Liz Cambage averaged 23 ppg and 10 rpg last season. Cambage had two games where she put up 43 points and 12 rebounds and 53 points and 12 rebounds, respectively. Adding her to an already devastating lineup and you see why the Aces are the trendy pick. Also, might I add coach Bill Laimbeer, yes that Bill Laimbeer of the Detroit “Bad Boys” Pistons, has championship experience (two titles as a Detroit Piston) as a player and as a coach, winning three WNBA titles with the then-Detroit Shock.
If you’re a sports fan, casual or invested, and a sports team is saying, “Hey! Come look at us! Come support us!”, you might be skeptical especially if they’re new on the block. You might wonder if they are any good, did the front office do a great job of acquiring talent to put on the playing floor and when it comes to the Las Vegas Aces, the answer is unequivocally yes. So, you Vegas locals better hop on this bandwagon quickly. You already know how we love winners here.