Heldorado Days rodeo

It might seem like pro sports just happened in Las Vegas, a six-year whirlwind of major league team arrivals, hot tickets and venues, and now, two exciting championships in less than a year. But sports have been an integral part of the Vegas experience for as long as this place has existed, important to locals and visitors, and essential in the city’s evolution. And above all else, sports is entertainment, which is why it has always been such a natural fit for Las Vegas.

Here are just some of the most impactful moments in our sports history.

Heldorado Days rodeo

Heldorado Days rodeo


The Elks Lodge launches a community-minded version of the traditional Helldorado Days celebration welcoming dam workers and their families to the boomtown of Las Vegas, complete with parades and rodeo events. In 1946, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans shoot a movie with Helldorado Days as the backdrop, and after decades of ups and downs, the Lodge and the City of Las Vegas rekindle the rodeo in 2005 in celebration of the city’s 100th birthday.

April 1953

Golf in the desert tees off with the Tournament of Champions at the Desert Inn Country Club, an annual event that features athletes and entertainers competing and continues through the ’60s, sometimes at the Stardust Country Club and other courses.

Ali vs Spinks, 1978

Ali vs Spinks, 1978

May 1955

Archie Moore defeats Nino Valdes in a disputed 15-round decision at old Cashman Field to claim a vacant heavyweight title in what would go down as the first major boxing match in Las Vegas. Through decades of legendary fights (Ali-Spinks in 1978, Hagler-Hearns in 1985, Mayweather-Pacquiao in 2015), Vegas is universally recognized as the boxing capital of the world.

June 1960

The Professional Bowlers Association holds the Las Vegas National PBA Invitational at the Showboat, and it continues as an annual tour event through the 1990s, also bringing essential early national TV coverage to Las Vegas.

August 1964

The Oakland Raiders beat the Houston Oilers, 34-20, in an American Football League preseason game at old Cashman Field in the first professional football game played in the Las Vegas area.

Evel Knievel jumps the Caesars fountains, 1967

Evel Knievel jumps the Caesars fountains, 1967

December 1967

Evel Knievel crashes while attempting his longest motorcycle jump yet (141 feet), over the fountains at Caesars Palace. He suffers multiple fractures but performs another jump five months later, crashing again while attempting to vault 15 Ford Mustangs in Sedona, Arizona.

October 1971

The $3.5 million, 15,000-seat Las Vegas Stadium opens in the southeast Valley, home to UNLV football and eventually to other sporting events, including the Supercross Championship, several pro football leagues, international soccer exhibitions and USA Sevens rugby. It changes its name to the Las Vegas Silver Bowl in 1978, the Sam Boyd Silver Bowl in 1984 and Sam Boyd Stadium in 1994.

May 1972

The first of 13 annual Alan King Tennis Classic tournaments takes place at Caesars Palace on outdoor hard courts.

Jerry Tarkanian

Jerry Tarkanian


UNLV hires Jerry Tarkanian to coach its men’s basketball team, and he takes the squad to the first of four Final Four appearances in 1977. “Tark the Shark” captivates the local sports community like no other figure before or since, winning a championship while revolutionizing college basketball on his way to induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.

March 1980

Mount St. Helens erupts in Skamania County, Washington, and the ensuing economic fallout from the volcanic explosion sends the AAA Spokane Indians searching for a new home. Fortunately, Las Vegas officials happen to be simultaneously hunting for a way to bring professional baseball to town. The team moves three years later and becomes the Las Vegas Stars, playing at the modern Cashman Field that opened Downtown in April 1983, which also begins hosting Major League Baseball exhibition games.

Thomas & Mack Center

Thomas & Mack Center

December 1983

The Thomas & Mack Center opens on the campus of UNLV with a gala performance featuring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Diana Ross. The all-purpose arena becomes home to UNLV basketball and boxing events, along with concerts and other live entertainment. In 2001, Cox Pavilion is added to the complex.

April 1984

The Los Angeles Lakers’ Kareem Abdul-Jabbar breaks the NBA’s all-time scoring record in a regular season game at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Utah Jazz played 11 games at the Mack that season because the team was struggling to fill seats in Salt Lake City.

December 1985

The National Finals Rodeo moves from Oklahoma City to Las Vegas’ Thomas & Mack Center, a major victory for Vegas tourism officials looking to fill the holiday season slowdown. The Cowboy Christmas gift and trade show adds to the western cultural event in 1986, and the Professional Bull Riders championship lands in Las Vegas for the first time at MGM Grand Garden Arena in 1994.

UNLV’s 1990 men’s basketball championship team

UNLV’s 1990 men’s basketball championship team

April 1990

UNLV’s men’s basketball team wins the NCAA Championship with a blowout 103-73 victory over Duke at McNichols Arena in Denver.

December 1992

Born out of Fresno, California’s Raisin Bowl, the first Las Vegas Bowl is played in front of more than 15,000 fans at Sam Boyd Stadium, with Bowling Green defeating UNR. The college football event eventually upgrades its conference connections to include the Pac-12, SEC and Big Ten and moves to Allegiant Stadium.

April 1996

The Oakland A’s open the season against the Toronto Blue Jays in front of 7,294 fans at Cashman Field. The A’s play their first “home” games in Las Vegas while the Oakland Coliseum completes renovations.

September 1996

Tiger Woods after his first pro victory

Tiger Woods after his first pro victory

The Las Vegas area had hosted various car racing events since the 1960s, including the Mint 400 beginning in 1968 and the Caesars Palace Grand Prix in the early ’80s, but when Ralph Engelstad and Richie Clyne opened the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 1996, it brought the NASCAR Cup Series to Las Vegas. A second race weekend was initiated at LVMS in 2018, and since 2011, the sports venue has also been home to the massive Electric Daisy Carnival dance music festival.

October 1996 

Twenty-year-old golfer Tiger Woods posts his first professional victory at the Las Vegas Invitational, besting Davis Love III in a playoff. The event, spread over three courses at TPC Summerlin, the Las Vegas Hilton and the Desert Inn that year, has since changed its name to the Shriners Children’s Open, moved exclusively to TPC Summerlin and will celebrate its 40th anniversary in October.



January 2001

Station Casinos executives Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta and business partner Dana White purchase the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) for $2 million, usher the fledgling mixed martial arts promotion through sanctioning and sponsorship, and eventually build the company into a global sports phenomenon—based in Las Vegas.

February 2001

The Las Vegas Outlaws shut out the New York/New Jersey Hitmen in the XFL’s first-ever game at Sam Boyd Stadium, turning Rod “He Hate Me” Smart into an overnight sensation and producing surprisingly high TV ratings. The league folds after the season, and through the years Las Vegas has been home to a series of short-lived pro football franchises, including the Las Vegas Posse of the Canadian Football League, Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League, and Las Vegas Sting, Gladiators and Outlaws of the Arena Football League.

May 2003

Chris Moneymaker wins the Main Event of the World Series of Poker, and its then-record-setting $2.5 million prize—at Binion’s Horseshoe, ushering in a global poker boom. The series, which began in 1970, continues today at Horseshoe on the Strip, with a whopping 10,043 entrants in this year’s Main Event field.

July 2004

The NBA Summer League runs its inaugural season at the Thomas & Mack Center with six teams and 13 games. Since 2018, every NBA squad has participated in the Vegas-based league.

February 2007

The NBA All-Star Game takes place at the Thomas & Mack Center, with Kobe Bryant winning MVP honors and leading the Western Conference to the win.

April 2016

The 20,000-seat T-Mobile Arena opens on the Las Vegas Strip, a multipurpose facility built to accommodate professional hockey and basketball teams. A bout between Canelo Alvarez and Amir Khan christens the arena with its first full-fledged sporting event.

April 2016

The Golden Knights’ Jonathan Marchessault

The Golden Knights’ Jonathan Marchessault

Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis says he wants to move the team to Las Vegas and pledges $500 million for the construction of a stadium. In October, the Nevada Legislature approves a stadium funding bill, and in March 2017, the NFL approves the move with a 31-1 vote.

June 2016

The National Hockey League grants an expansion team to Las Vegas, the league’s first since 2000. Businessman Bill Foley is the principal owner, and in November the team is unveiled as the Vegas Golden Knights, inspired by the Black Knights of his alma mater, West Point.

October 2017

The Vegas Golden Knights host the Arizona Coyotes in the team’s first home game at T-Mobile Arena, days after the country’s deadliest mass shooting occurred less than two miles away during the Route 91 Harvest country music festival. A pregame ceremony honors victims and first responders before the Knights score four goals in the first period en route to a 5-2 victory, the beginning of a magical inaugural season that takes the team and the city to the Stanley Cup Final.

The Aces' A'ja Wilson

The Aces’ A’ja Wilson

October 2017

The WNBA approves the sale of the San Antonio Stars to MGM Resorts, which moves the team to Las Vegas to play at Mandalay Bay’s arena. In December inside the House of Blues, the new name is announced as the Las Vegas Aces, and the team plays its first game in Vegas on May 20, 2018.

March 2018 

The U.S. Supreme Court strikes down a 1992 federal law banning sports betting in most states. As a result, the NCAA’s frosty relationship with Las Vegas thaws, and before long the Valley is hosting postseason conference tournaments and the second weekend of the 2023 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, with that tournament’s Final Four scheduled for Allegiant Stadium in 2028.

April 2019

The Raiders’ Derek Carr

The Raiders’ Derek Carr

The $150 million, 10,000-seat Las Vegas Ballpark opens in Downtown Summerlin, the new home of the Las Vegas Aviators, the city’s AAA baseball team previously known as the Stars (1983-2000) and the 51s (2001-2018). It’s named Ballpark of the Year by Ballpark Digest following its first season of activity.

September 2020

Allegiant Stadium opens with a Raiders victory during Monday Night Football against the New Orleans Saints, but no fans are in the new stadium’s seats due to the pandemic. UNLV plays its first game at Allegiant on October 31, the first event with fans in attendance at the venue.

December 2021

The NFL announces Las Vegas will host Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium on February 11, 2024.

March 2022

The $70 million, 5,567-seat Dollar Loan Center opens at the former site of the Henderson Pavilion, now home to the Henderson Silver Knights of the American Hockey League, the Vegas Knight Hawks of the Indoor Football League and the NBA G League Ignite.

Formula One driver Sergio Perez during a preview event on the Las Vegas Strip

March 2022

Formula One announces the Las Vegas Grand Prix, a new night race that will take place partially along the Strip starting in November 2023.

April 2022

After two years of pandemic postponement, the NFL Draft finally lands in Las Vegas, centered at the Caesars Forum behind the Linq Promenade just east of the Strip.

September 2022

The Las Vegas Aces defeat the Connecticut Sun, 78-71, to win the WNBA Championship and bring Las Vegas its first major league professional sports title. Becky Hammon becomes the first rookie head coach to win the WNBA title, and Chelsea Gray is named Finals MVP.

June 2023

The Vegas Golden Knights topple the Florida Panthers to claim the Stanley Cup in five games, winning their first championship in six years to live up to owner Bill Foley’s original prediction.

June 2023

The Nevada Legislature approves $380 million in public funding toward a new $1.5 billion stadium on the Las Vegas Strip to house Major League Baseball’s Oakland A’s. If MLB approves the team’s move in the coming months, the A’s could begin playing in Las Vegas as soon as 2025 at the Las Vegas Ballpark, with 2027 their likely first season at the new stadium on the Strip.

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Mike McNamara

Mike McNamara

A Las Vegas Realtor since 2008. Mike has a wide range of knowledge around all things Las Vegas.

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