FILE -Las Vegas Aces guard Chelsea Gray (12) plays against...

FILE -Las Vegas Aces guard Chelsea Gray (12) plays against the New York Liberty during Game 1 of a WNBA basketball final playoff series Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023, in Las Vegas. The Las Vegas Aces signed three-time WNBA Champion Chelsea Gray to a contract extension, Tuesday, April 30, 2024. Credit: AP/John Locher

LAS VEGAS — The WNBA is investigating whether the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority's $100,000 annual sponsorship to Aces player for this season and next is allowed.

A league spokesperson confirmed Saturday that there is an open investigation looking into the deal. The sponsorship does not violate the WNBA’s salary cap because the Las Vegas authority did not orchestrate it with the club. But other teams likely were raising questions about the fairness of the sponsorship and whether it violates the spirit of the cap rules.

“I’ll put it to you real simple. Most of sponsorship people go after the top two people,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “This situation from what I understand is, they wanted the whole team. They called individual agents. I don't know the details. I have nothing to do with it. The Aces don't have anything to do with it. That's what happened.”

This isn’t the Aces first run-in with the league over the last few years. Last year, the WNBA suspended Hammon for two games and took away the Aces’ 2025 first-round draft pick because the franchise violated league rules regarding impermissible player benefits and workplace policies.

“Just another day in the life of the Aces. We can't just ever start normal," star A'ja Wilson said. "There's always going to be something and that's OK. When we're talking about growing the game or taking the next step it can't always be investigated. It has to be like we're trying to make things better for franchises, for players for teams.”

The head of the authority feels they did nothing wrong.

“We did this the right way,” authority president and CEO Steve Hill told The Associated Press on Saturday. “We did something that we think works for Las Vegas and I think great for the players. We did this without the team. It was our idea and any questions they ask they’ll find that out.”

Iowa's Kate Martin, left, poses for a photo with WNBA...

Iowa's Kate Martin, left, poses for a photo with WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert, right, after being selected 18th overall by the Las Vegas Aces during the second round of the WNBA basketball draft April 15, 2024, in New York. Former Iowa player Martin made the Aces opening day roster after being chosen in the second round of the WNBA draft. Credit: AP/Adam Hunger

The authority posted a video on X of Hill telling the players in the locker room the news on Friday.

“We have 100 influencers we pay to represent Las Vegas,” Hill told the AP. “This isn’t any different then that. All of these ladies are completely eligible to have sponsorships. We are just asking them to represent Vegas.”

The players were thrilled by the move.

“The city of Vegas I’ve always said, it’s a big small town and they just want the best for the people here,” point guard Chelsea Gray said before the Aces' home game Saturday against the Los Angeles Sparks. "They’re investing in us and so they put their money where their mouth is. We’ve done so much for the city and having fun doing it.

From left, Las Vegas Aces guard Sydney Colson, guard Kierstan...

From left, Las Vegas Aces guard Sydney Colson, guard Kierstan Bell and forward Alysha Clark react as they open boxes with their 2023 championship rings before a WNBA basketball game Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in Las Vegas. Credit: AP/John Locher

“It was a great moment for me and my teammates, of somebody actually putting funds behind, saying that they’re supporting and they want to have our back.”

According to the website Spotrac, which tracks player salaries, the sponsorship is higher than the earnings of six Aces players.

“Definitely more than my salary,” said rookie Kate Martin, who makes $67,249, according to the website. “I’m super thankful. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming, but this is very much real life and that is what all these players deserve. I wouldn’t be getting this crazy bonus if it weren’t for how great all of these players have played in the last few years.”

The $100,000 also is a big addition even to what the top players make. A’ja Wilson and Kelsey Plum are the highest-paid Aces at $200,000 each and Gray is right behind at $196,267.

“(For) the LVCVA to see our value and to help close that pay gap, it says a lot about the character of the people that are there,” said Alysha Clark, whose salary is listed at $110,000. “So I’m extremely grateful. I’m honored to be able to represent this organization and this city and be able to put on for the city, give back to this city and pour into the community, and that’s what they did for us. It was really, really special.”

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AP Basketball Writer Doug Feinberg and AP freelance writer W.G. Ramirez contributed to this report.

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