The Games Vegas Plays: The City is a Professional Sports Mecca and Also has Great Local Teams
With all the hoopla around the Raiders relocating to Nevada and the Golden Knights reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in their first NHL season, the fact that Las Vegas already boasted a handful of cool professional sports teams got overlooked.
As one of the most successful franchises in the WNBA, the Las Vegas Aces are known beyond Sin City. But what about the Las Vegas Aviators or Lights? Unless you’re a local fan, you may have never heard of those teams.
The WNBA team relocated – and changed its name to something more Vegas appropriate – in 2018 after previous incarnations in Salt Lake City and San Antonio as the Starzz and Stars. The team racked up just seven winning seasons in 21 years in Utah and Texas.
But their luck changed when they reached The Strip. Under new coach Bill Laimbeer, an NBA veteran who played prep hoops at Palos Verdes High School, the Aces made the conference finals the last three years and lost to Seattle in the WNBA finals in 2020. Six-time WNBA All-Star Becky Hammon took over coaching duties for the 2022 season and brought home the team’s first championship, winning three games to one over the Connecticut Sun.
This success won’t be short lived. With players like forward and former league MVP A’ja Wilson and guards Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum, the Aces flaunt some of the most exciting players in the WNBA. Playing at Mandalay Bay Events Center, the team draws between 3,000 and 5,000 fans for home games. aces.wnba.com
The Las Vegas Aviators took their first swings in 1983 as a San Diego Padres farm team. Nowadays they’re a Triple-A minor league affiliate of the Oakland Athletics playing in the Pacific Coast League.
In 2019, the team moved from their old digs at Cashman Field to brand new Las Vegas Stadium, a $150-million diamond that’s among the best in minor league baseball. Because the stadium is owned by Howard Hughes Corporation, the team changed its name from the 51s – a reference to the mysterious, UFO-related Area 51 near the city – and adopted the Spruce Goose as their mascot.
Among the Aviators’ rivals in the PCL are teams like the Sugar Land (Texas) Space Cowboys, Sacramento River Cats, Albuquerque Isotopes, and Tacoma Rainiers. milb.com/las-vegas
As the Aviators were moving out of Cashman Field, the Las Vegas Lights FC were moving in. The third professional soccer teams based in Las Vegas since the 1970s, the Lights play in the second division United Soccer League (USL Championship), a notch below Major League Soccer.
The unusual nickname pays homage to the city’s neon heritage and was chosen from thousands of names submitted by fans in 2017. The club’s mascots are Dollie the Llama and an Elvis lookalike named “Cash the Soccer Rocker.” lasvegaslightsfc.com
-Joe Yogerst, Vegas Guide Writer