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The WNBA All-Star game was played on Saturday in Las Vegas and it proved to be one of the most talent-laden and festive exhibitions in league history and a showcase for the next generation of league superstars. The stars come in all races, creeds, colors, shapes and sizes, from all over the world, with each player offering something unique to the mix.
In the end, Team A’ja Wilson beat Team Elena Delle Donne 129-126, at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
The WNBA instituted new shot clock rules and hockey-style substitutions, in an attempt to add to game efficiency. The drama, however, was provided by an underdog’s redemption and recognition.
Indiana’s 5-foot-7 guard Erica Wheeler stole the show with seven 3-pointers, 25 points, and an emotional MVP award. It’s been quite a journey in perseverance for the former Rutgers player who endured the death of her mother from cancer in college, went undrafted and then was cut by Atlanta before finding her niche with a WNBA squad. She became the league’s first undrafted player to win an All-Star MVP.
On Saturday, she wept after the game, clutching her All-Star MVP trophy which puts the stamp of validation of her journey. After the game, Wheeler spoke as inspirationally as she played, dedicating her performance to the kids with aspirations in life.
“My main goal today, and I told Candice Dupree that I don’t know how I’m going to be unforgettable,” Wheeler told reporters after the game. “but I want to be unforgettable once we play this game, and I think I did that. What do you guys think? So I think I did that, and my main thing is just to be able to inspire the youth to never give up, and I think I’m a walking never-give-up word. If you go in the dictionary and they say never give up, I think they should put Erica Wheeler because of the path I went. That’s all I have to say.”
Wheeler never had a coach that believed in her abilities until she landed with Pokey Chatman.
With an opportunity to show the world that they were wrong about her, she held nothing back in the WNBA All-Star celebration.
“Hmm, I’m really humble, but I’m not going to be humble in this moment right here, ” Wheeler laughed. My confidence was through the roof because I had a chip on my shoulder. I knew I was the only undrafted player. I don’t have a shoe contract. I have no contracts besides the WNBA. So for me, it was to make my mark, and I think I did that because nobody is looking at me. I’m a no-name. So I think I left today with a name that everybody can remember. My confidence is through the roof. I don’t know how high this roof is, but it’s past this roof. (Laughter).”
While Wheeler represented for the shorties, one of the WNBA’s biggest personalities, Phoenix’s 6-9 Brittney Griner, dunked three times in the first half, giving her 11 for her WNBA career.
Said Griner: “I think everybody would have killed me, honestly, if I didn’t dunk, so the whole week everybody was like, dunk, dunk, make sure you dunk. So I was just trying to think about it a little bit more and was able to throw a couple down today. Didn’t get hung. That was my goal. Don’t get hung, don’t fall.”
Of course, we couldn’t have a WNBA extravaganza and display of skills without bringing light to the pay disparity between men and women that still exists throughout pro sports. Griner made sure to bring attention to that very significant issue.
“So hopefully it gets to a point where — I don’t want to keep hitting a dead bush because it’s not a dead bush, but hopefully, we’re able to be paid what we deserve,” Griner told reporters. “We put our bodies on the line a lot. So I think that’s our No. 1 thing. And then from different teams, we hear different things, but travel and stay and other accommodations, hopefully, all that meets the high standard that we perform at.
New York Liberty guard Kia Nurse brought some international flair to the event. The Candian native and former UConn Huskies star participated in both the All-Star Game and the 3-point skills contest portion of the All-Star Skills Challenge.
“Exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time,” Nurse said after the game. “But it was so much fun to be able to represent New York and Canada. My family was here so it was fun to have them cheering me on as well. I’m very fortunate and grateful for everyone who voted for me to have this opportunity… All the legends, to be around them because without them we wouldn’t have a league like this. It was absolutely amazing.