As the Aces took to the court to begin what they hope is a successful quest to bring Las Vegas its first professional championship, their fan base was there in force.
Days before Sunday’s noon tip of Game 1 of the WNBA Finals against the Connecticut Sun, the Aces announced the game was sold out. The announced attendance at Michelob Ultra Arena was 10,135, good enough to set an Aces attendance record, team president Nikki Fargas said in a tweet.
The crowd roared pregame as star forward A’ja Wilson was awarded her 2022 WNBA MVP trophy by league commissioner Cathy Engelbert at center court. That crowd support carried over throughout the game, as the Aces won 67-64 in Game 1 of the best-of-five series.
Many of the fans in attendance donned outrageous outfits to show their over-the-top support. One of those fans, Albert Ronquillo, a Las Vegas resident and Aces season ticket holder, was front and center in full black and red face paint, a stringy gold and red wig and a massive gold chain link necklace.
“These women have been working hard all year, and it’s time for us to work hard for them,” Ronquillo said. “We’re here to support them and help bring home a championship.”
Being loud and vocal when the Aces excel on the court is the name of the game for Ronquillo and the Aces’ fan base. That fan energy does motivate the players on the court, according to Aces guard Kelsey Plum.
“It’s awesome,” Plum said. “The city has wrapped their arms around us and we want to pay it forward. There’s never been a (professional) championship won in Las Vegas, so we’re trying to be the first.”
Gov. Steve Sisolak, who has been a mainstay at Aces games all season, said it’s been tremendous seeing the fan base grow and evolve over the past few years.
“The fans have really gotten behind these women,” Sisolak said. “If you come to one of these games, you’re coming back. It’s such a great experience. It’s great family entertainment. It’s a fun place to be.”
An overflow crowd showed up to the game, even as the first full Sunday of NFL games took place. Aces owner Mark Davis made the decision to take in the regular season opener of the Raiders, the other team he owns, in Los Angeles.
Sisolak said he was in contact with Davis about the dueling games.
“I’ve been texting MD (Davis) a little bit. … he’s down there (in LA),” Sisolak said. “I’ve got the Aces covered. He’s got the Raiders covered. Obviously it’s competing interests. But to be here live in person, I can catch the second half of the Raiders game anyway, so it doesn’t matter.”
Engelbert said Game 1 of the finals is always on a Sunday and the time slot on ABC was selected a year ago. The series is also being played earlier than in years past, due to the FIBA World Cup starting next week.
“We had no ideas which teams were going to be in it,” Engelbert said. “If the Aces weren’t owned by an NFL owner, maybe you wouldn’t be asking that.”
Sisolak said when, not if, the Aces win the championship, he looks forward to celebrating the team with a potential parade on the Las Vegas Strip.
“I haven’t heard any plans about that yet, but if there’s a parade, I’ll be there,” Sisolak said.
Plum wasn’t as eager to talk about the what ifs when it comes to a possible rally on the Strip. She is focused on the task at hand.
“We’ll talk about it when we get there,” Plum said.
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