Record performances make for a show at WNBA All-Star game

Saturday, July 27, 2019 - Team Wilson in action against Team Delle Donne during the WNBA All-Star Game at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, NV. (Maria Noble)
Saturday, July 27, 2019 – Team Wilson in action against Team Delle Donne during the WNBA All-Star Game at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, NV. (Maria Noble)

Las Vegas – In a city that knows how to put on a show, it was the players who staged the biggest one at the 2019 WNBA All-Star game.

Brittney Griner threw down three dunks – the most ever in the annual match up – as Team A’ja Wilson edged Team Delle Donne, 129-126 – the highest combined score in All-Star history. And the league’s only undrafted player, Erica Wheeler, was named game MVP for her 25 points, that included seven three-pointers.

She claimed her trophy from new WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert with tears streaming down her face, after which Wilson – who couldn’t play due to an ankle sprain – hugged her and gave her tissues.

“What’s really important to me is that my peers who I compete with every day, day and night, reach out to me and tell me how proud they are of me and that I belong,” Wheeler said after the game. “Because everybody got drafted, I didn’t get drafted, so for them to show that respect level is amazing.”

Wheeler’s mother died of cancer when she was in college, and though she was invited to a WNBA training camp, she was cut. She said she persevered because she knew her mother would want her to keep going.

“The first thing I said to myself was like, ‘Mom, thank you,’ because more than ever, I know she’s watching me,” Wheeler said. “What I do and how I do it, I do it for my mom.”

Two of Griner’s dunks came in the first half, but it was the third – where the 6-9 center dangled from the rim over Liz Cambage for a few long seconds, that brought the most smiles.

“I think everybody would have killed me, honestly, if I didn’t dunk,” Griner said. “The whole week everybody was like, ‘dunk, dunk, make sure you dunk.’ So I was just trying to think about it a little more and was able to throw a couple down today.”

The enthusiastic crowd of over 9,000 included NBA guard Chris Paul, retired NBA great Kobe Bryant, and soccer star Megan Rapinoe. Delle Donne said their appearances were appreciated.

“It means so much, especially people who know the game of basketball and who respect it this much,” she said. It definitely means a lot for them to come out and support.”

The city of Las Vegas and the Aces earned high praise from athletes, who said it was a winner for many reasons.

“They do a really good job marketing their team, (and) their fan base is awesome,” Kia Nurse said. “It’s a fun place with lots of things to do so you can’t get bored here. That was the best part about it, people the entire weekend whether we were walking around the casino or at the hotel, people knew we were here and that was the great part of the marketing they did here.”

Wilson said 9,000-plus fans in attendance brought joy to the court.

“The vibe….was electric. It was positive,” Wilson said. “I think we should have (the All-Star game) here every year. I just had so much fun.”