The WNBA Raised The Stakes At 2023 All-Star Weekend In Las Vegas –

Anyone who says that the WNBA isn’t entertaining simply isn’t watching. This season alone, fans have witnessed the dominance of defending champions Las Vegas Aces, the rise of the New York Liberty’s elite trio of Breanna Stewart, Sabrina Ionescu, and Courtney Vandersloot, and the exciting return of Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner. 

The league expanded its regular season to 40 games after previously only hosting 36. With the presence of more stars who have branched beyond the confines of the hardwood, more eyes are on the WNBA than ever before. Viewership and social media impressions have increased significantly and contributed to the longstanding fight for higher wages, proper treatment, and equal consideration to the NBA.

With so much excitement for the 2023 WNBA season, there was much intrigue going into All-Star Weekend at the Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas. Stewart captained her own team, and reigning WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson led the opposing side. Team Stewart took the 143-127 victory and the Seattle Storm’s Jewell Loyd earned the MVP trophy after racking up 31 points, six assists and four rebounds. 

“It’s awesome,” Loyd shared about appearing in her fifth All-Star game ahead of taking the MVP trophy home. “People want to say, ‘You’ve been here so many times’ but it’s still a great experience. You never know, right? You want to play ball and you never know until your name is actually called. For me, it’s super important to make sure I focus on my family and everyone who’s going to help me out the right way. I take this honor to think it’s not really about me.”

Loyd’s humility was aligned with her teammate, Minnesota Lynx’s Napheesa Collier, who was the second-leading scorer for Team Stewart with 20 points. Collier and Stewart recently partnered to create Unrivaled, a U.S.-based women’s league that will provide an alternative to top WNBA players who would normally resort to playing overseas.

“We’ve been planning [this league] for about seven or eight months now,” Collier said. “Time is flying. We’re just really excited to offer an opportunity where the women can stay in the States, not have to leave their families and go overseas, but still be able to increase our visibility. [Playing] overseas we’d basically go black, content-wise. You never see us until we’re back in the [WNBA].”

Collier beamed with pride upon letting it sink in that Unrivaled could be a catalyst for other women’s leagues to follow suit. “Then, it’s also just capitalizing on women profiting from what we’re putting on the court or on the field or whatever your sport may be and just taking the reins and then taking a little bit [of] control of our futures in that way,” she said with enthusiasm.

Chicago Sky’s Allie Quigley was also enthusiastic about All-Star Weekend and the WNBA as a whole. She holds the unique title of being the only player—NBA or WNBA—to win the 3-Point Contest four times. Even her massive achievements couldn’t stop her from being in awe of what Sabrina Ionescu accomplished during the Starry 3-Point Contest this year, scoring an NBA and WNBA record-breaking 37 points in the final round of the competition to seal her victory. 

“It was [like] watching a video game,” Quigley said. “It was insane. I was like everybody else– just in awe, amazed, just very impressed that she did that. That’s never going to be touched again. That’s one of the best shooting performances that I’ve ever seen in my life.” 

Naturally, there was some curiosity as to what would happen if Quigley and Ionescu ever went head-to-head in a long-range shootout. “Well, if it was yesterday, it would’ve been her,” the former WNBA champion said with a laugh. “Because I don’t think anyone’s touching that, but she’s an amazing shooter. I’ve had a front-row seat all season being able to watch her, and she’s unbelievable. It would be a tough one.”

Ionescu’s victory came after a tough loss in the Skills Challenge alongside her Liberty teammate Courtney Vandersloot. They faced off against the Las Vegas Aces’ Chelsea Gray and Kelsey Plum in the final round, who completed their round in 45 seconds, the day’s best time, to the Liberty’s 58. While the competition may not have gone Vandersloot’s way, she was very happy with the way the Liberty has been playing this season and the reception she has received after spending the last 11 years with the Chicago Sky.

“It is so fun to play in front of the [Barclay’s Center] crowd. They just really love us, ” Vandersloot said. “To get that support, and to only have been there for half a season, it just means [the] world to me. I was nervous about that because Chicago’s tough [but] they invested in me from the beginning. [So for New York] to just welcome me like this, it’s been amazing. I’m honored to be playing in front of them every night.”

Vandersloot won a championship with the Chicago Sky in 2021 and brought that experience with her to New York, along with a few of the team’s new additions. As a result, the New York Liberty have set a franchise record this season with 25 wins—and the season isn’t even over. Fans anticipate seeing them match up against the Las Vegas Aces in the WNBA Finals. 

Aces guard Jackie Young made 15 shots before being eliminated in the first round of the Starry 3-Point contest, though she could have made more if not for an unfortunate mishap. The contest featured two Starry Balls which were worth three points each, and Young skipped an entire rack in the midst of the competition.

“Yeah, I don’t know,” Young said with a laugh when asked what happened during that moment. “[I was] locked in, my teammates [were] talking to me on the side.” While the 3-Point Contest didn’t go her way, she was happy to be part of All-Star Weekend for the second time in her career and that the Aces were able to host it. 

“It’s an honor because we haven’t played here,” Jackie said. “[I’m just] having fun, playing my game.” Young ascended to 19 points per game this season, a career-high, and understands how important she and the other young players are for the Aces to go back-to-back in the WNBA Finals. “A lot of us are young so we don’t exactly know everything that comes with repeating,” she said. “We do have some [veterans] on our team that have been to the [WNBA Finals] before, so we just try to take as much advice from them as we can.”

While conversations were mostly about the Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty, the Connecticut Sun cannot be overlooked. They are the third-best team in the WNBA, with a 23-10 record and victories over both teams ahead of them in the league standings. “We’re still adjusting without [Brionna Jones], that was a huge loss for us,” forward Alyssa Thomas said. “We’re still working out kinks, but so far [I’m] just happy with how my team has responded [to] her injury. Everybody’s really stepped up and helped a lot.”

Thomas has had a very well-rounded season. She is the league’s third-best rebounder, second-best passer, and is second in steals. She is one of just two players to average eight assists per game and two steals per game. For her though, there’s nothing like a smooth pass leading to a three-pointer. 

“Oh, I love it,” she said. “It’s something that I really live for. I love to push tempo. I love to get my teammate [an] easy open bucket. So for me, it’s fun being able to give an assist, especially at the three-point location.” Thomas is an unselfish player who says defense is her identity and prioritizes doing whatever the team needs to get a win.

There are just a few weeks left before the WNBA Playoffs begin. Given what the players have accomplished so far both on and off the court, one can only expect the postseason to overdeliver. It’s not too late to start watching The W and be as entertained as the rabid fans who fill up each arena on a nearly nightly basis.

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