LAS VEGAS — While the Vegas Golden Knights had a playoff game less than 2 miles down Frank Sinatra Drive at T-Mobile Arena, the Las Vegas Aces were throwing their own house party at Michelob Ultra Arena.
A sellout crowd of 10,191 cheered as the Aces received their championship rings from owner Mark Davis, continued to emit electricity as the team’s new game introduction played on the jumbotron, and roared endlessly as Las Vegas dismantled the Los Angeles Sparks 93-65 on Saturday night.
“It’s a great environment,” WNBA Ccommissioner Cathy Engelbert said. “To sell out the home opener here for the ring ceremony is great, especially when the Knights are playing down the road. That’s pretty outstanding that they sold out tonight. So, we love the fan base here and we love Vegas.”
A’ja Wilson had 23 points and six rebounds to lead the Aces, who led 31-13 after the first quarter and 59-28 at halftime. Kelsey Plum added 19, and Jackie Young had 16.
For Los Angeles, it was Nneka Ogwumike leading the way with 16 points, while Karlie Samuelson chipped in with 13.
The game was merely a sideshow, though, as the night seemingly belonged to the fans who were there to see the unveiling of the championship banner hanging next to Aces coach Becky Hammon’s retired jersey, the players receive their championship rings and the entertainment throughout the night.
“Yeah, I didn’t even know though they were going to hang it right there, but I will say it looks very lovely next to it,” Hammon said of the banner and her jersey. “They need some neighbors though. Some other jerseys will be up there eventually, I know.
“And championship vendors, hopefully. Hopefully.”
Anita Baker performed the national anthem and Coi Leray performed at halftime.
“We wouldn’t be able to wear these rings without y’all,” Wilson told the energetic crowd.
Now with the Sparks, after an offseason trade, Dearica Hamby was the first player from last year’s championship squad to receive her ring.
“Obviously a moment that I know I should probably be proud of and embrace,” Hamby told The Associated Press before the game. “I mean, me getting a ring is special, but I’m going to do it for the fans.”
And the fans reciprocated with an exuberant response as she and Davis embraced at midcourt.
It’s the type of energy the defending champs expect all season, considering the franchise has taken things to another level in time for the season.
Earlier this year, the Aces opened their new 64,000-square-foot facility in nearby Henderson, adjacent to the Las Vegas Raiders’ headquarters, which many of the players said has set a new standard for every franchise in the league.
They held their media day earlier this month inside Vu Studios, a multi-story production facility with increased technological capabilities. The payoff came Saturday night when several video creations from that day played out on the arena’s jumbotron, including veteran Sydney Colson appearing to run through a forest with an axe as Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” plays while closing out the scene by replicating Jack Nicholson’s notorious scene in “The Shining.”
“Here’s Sydney!” she exclaimed while imploring fans to “make some noise.”
Which they did loudly for her when Colson scored on a breakaway for her first points of the game with 4:24 left in the game.
It was a scene Engelbert appreciated not only for the Aces, but the entire league.
“I think you see what a great sports town Vegas is, and the Aces were here even before the Raiders,” Engelbert said. “Whenever a franchise has a first win in their history, like Chicago in ’21 and Vegas last year, I think it helps lift the entire league.”