Las Vegas Aces All In

MGM’s Las Vegas WNBA Named the Aces, Which is an Aces Name

Las Vegas has not been home to much in the way of major professional sports, primarily because sports leagues have been afraid of the whole sports betting angle and how it could potentially “hurt the integrity of the games.” To me, the disappointing thing about the teams Las Vegas HAS had is that their names almost never have an awesome, obvious tie-in to gambling. The NFL’s Raiders are moving to Vegas and almost certainly won’t change their name. The Golden Knights NHL team started play this season. Minor league teams are the 51’s, Desert Dogs (coming in 2018), and Lights (coming in 2018 and not a bad Vegas-related name). There is a slew of past professional teams, many of which have some name having to do with Bandits or Outlaws, or the Wild West in general. Most names haven’t been bad, but they don’t scream “Las Vegas.” That changed this month when MGM Resorts International announced that its WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association) team will be the Las Vegas Aces.

Thank you, someone finally used the best most obvious name available. In October, I wrote this parenthetical statement, verbatim: “(Let’s assume that the team is keeping its name and doesn’t change to Aces or Gamblers or even Lions in honor of its MGM ownership).”

I was prescient in an opposite-day sort of way! Every time there is talk about a Las Vegas sports team, the first name that people think of is Aces. But no, let’s go with Golden Knights. Hell, the Gamblers weren’t even a Las Vegas team – they were Houston’s USFL team back in the day.

“Selecting a new name is an important and symbolic step,” said Las Vegas Aces President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach Bill Laimbeer in a press release. “Las Vegas has enthusiastically embraced us, and we’re incredibly excited for this opportunity. We have a strong roster driven to succeed, which makes this name an ideal choice. ‘Las Vegas Aces’ is a nod to the excellence, confidence and competitive spirit of our new hometown.”

MGM Resorts International purchased the San Antonio Stars this fall, immediately moving it to Las Vegas once the WNBA approved the sale. The team was one of the league’s original eight back in 1997, but even with that staying power, this is not its first relocation. The Aces began as the Utah Starzz (the dumb double-z spelling is to link it to the Utah’s NBA team, the Jazz) and was owned by the NBA, as were the other seven original WNBA teams. The NBA sold the teams after the 2002 season, at which point this team was moved to San Antonio and renamed the Silver Stars (later shortened to Stars).

“We are ecstatic to officially welcome the Las Vegas Aces to the WNBA family,” said WNBA President Lisa Borders. “The Aces are already embracing the opportunity to develop a deep connection with the local community, and we can’t wait to watch them bring the WNBA’s brand of world-class basketball to their new home in 2018.”

The Starzz/Stars/Aces franchise has had little success on the court in its two decades of existence. The team finished with the worst record in the entire WNBA the past three seasons, going 8-26, 7-27, and 8-26. Its best season was 2008, when it won the Western Conference with a 24-10 record and advanced to the WNBA finals before being swept by Detroit. The Stars finished second the year before, also posting its only two back-to-back 20 win seasons. The team has had just four 20-win seasons in its history and has compiled a sad .418 historical winning percentage. They’re looking for better results in their new home.

The Aces will play their games at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. MGM’s Chief Experience & Marketing Officer Lilian Tomovich told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the arena was chosen because, “Mandalay Bay is a smaller, more intimate arena with about 12,000 seats. We feel it’s the absolute right size arena for the fans to have that intimate experience to come watch basketball.”

MGM has decided that it will not list Aces games at any of its sportsbooks. It will list other WNBA games, just not ones involving the team that the company owns.

The WNBA sees the Aces as another, less “adult” entertainment option in Las Vegas. In October, Borders told the Review-Journal:

Las Vegas is the entertainment capital of the world. We are a friends and family entertainment option. The WNBA is a women’s professional basketball league, but we are in the entertainment business.

There is tremendous synergy between who we are and what the Las Vegas market offers, particularly in the hands of the MGM team. This is a match made in heaven between the MGM and the WNBA.

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