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The Las Vegas Aces Rolled Out the Red Carpet for Chelsea Gray — And It Worked

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It’s been little over a week since Chelsea Gray signed with Las Vegas, but a new film is pulling back the curtain on the Aces’ recruitment of the elite point guard, which began over a year ago.

When the 2019 WNBA season ended, the Aces flew Gray and her wife, Tipesa, out to Sin City for a VIP visit, despite being aware that stealing her away from the LA Sparks at that point was incredibly unlikely. But Vegas was working the long game, knowing that Gray was one more season away from becoming an unrestricted free agent. (Restricted free agents can receive offers from other teams, but if their current team matches that offer, they must stay where they are. Unrestricted free agents are free to sign with any team that makes an offer, regardless of whether their current team is willing to match.)

One year later, the Aces’ patience has paid off, with Gray signing a multi-year contract to help a team that lost in the WNBA Finals last year but which should now be poised for a Championship run.

 

JUST HOW GOOD IS CHELSEA GRAY?

Gray is easily one of the best point guards in the league. After knee injuries kept her off the court for portions of both her junior and senior years at Duke, she was relieved and grateful when the Connecticut Sun drafted her 11th overall in the 2014 WNBA draft.

It wasn’t until she was traded to the LA Sparks in 2016 that her potential started to shine. In her five seasons with the Sparks, Gray was a three-time WNBA All-Star and a key contributor to the team’s 2016 WNBA Championship.

When she reached free agency status, every front office in the league was no doubt running the numbers on whether they could contend for her. None were as well set up to do so as the Las Vegas Aces.

With Uninterrupted’s newly released film “Unrestricted,” we get a captivating inside look at both how Gray navigated free agency and her enticing visit to Vegas.

 

THE ACES PULLED OUT ALL THE STOPS

As the film makes clear, Aces head coach Bill Laimbeer cares a lot about the quality of treatment his players receive in terms of travel, housing, facilities, etc. Having played in the NBA before transitioning to coaching in the WNBA, Laimbeer is familiar with the high-end treatment and recruitment of free agents on the men’s side and sees the same potential pay-off on the women’s side.

It’s simple: big name players deserve to be wooed. As Gray points out in the film, “I don’t see this happening that much. You hear about it happening on the men’s side. But why not? Why not have it happen on the women’s side?… Athletes need to see where they’re going to play, where they’re going to train, where they’re going to live. How you’re going to be treated.”

That’s exactly what she got to find out on her trip to the strip.

Shortly after touching down in the desert, the Grays were escorted to their penthouse suite at The Signature MGM Grand, the hotel where all Aces players are housed. Later that day, they were given a tour of the state-of-the-art UFC facility where the Aces put in their off-court strength and conditioning hours and recovery work.

One of the things that stood out to Gray was the prominent public positioning the Aces benefit from in a city like Vegas. Unlike LA, where the Sparks battle for the spotlight with the Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers, and not one but two NFL teams, the Vegas Aces enjoy a much bigger piece of the professional sports limelight.

The other enormous appeal of the Aces? Their treasure trove of a roster. Next year, the 2020 Championship-runners-up will be returning 2020 WNBA League MVP A’ja Wilson, All-WNBA center Liz Cambage, five-time All-Star Angel McCoughtry, two-time Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby, and 2017’s number one overall draft pick Kelsey Plum.

Combine all that with the upper echelon professional experience the Aces are able to offer, and it’s no wonder Gray started to imagine herself making a change from the SoCal franchise that has been her home for five years.

 

WHAT CHELSEA GRAY’S SIGNING MEANS FOR THE WNBA

By pulling out all the stops for her visit in 2019, the Aces paved the path for Gray’s league-altering signing last week. It’s a win for Vegas, Gray, and the future of the league. Expectations have been raised, and we both hope and anticipate that this type of courtship will soon be the norm for the stars of the WNBA.

Alyssa Naeher’s goalkeeper jersey sells out in less than three hours

uwnt goalie alyssa naeher wears jersey on the field with club team chicago red stars
USWNT star keeper Alyssa Naeher's new replica NWSL jersey was an instant success. (Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in the NWSL's 12-year history, fans can now buy their own goalkeeper jerseys. And while replica goalkeeper jerseys representing all 14 NWSL teams hit the market on Wednesday, some didn't stick around for long. 

Fans across women's soccer have long vocalized their discontent over the position's lack of availability on social media, often comparing the shortcoming to the widespread availability of men’s goalkeeper jerseys. And as the NWSL has grown, so has demand — and not just from those in the stands. 

"To have goalkeeper kits available for fans in the women’s game as they have been for so long in the men’s game is not only a long-awaited move in the right direction, it’s just good business," said Washington Spirit goalie Aubrey Kingsbury in an team press release. "I can’t wait to see fans representing me, Barnie [Barnhart], and Lyza in the stands at Audi!"

Business does, in fact, appear to be booming. Alyssa Naeher’s Chicago Red Stars kit sold out less than three hours after the league's announcement. Jerseys for other keepers like DiDi Haračić, Abby Smith, Michelle Betos, Katelyn Rowland, and Bella Bixby aren’t currently available via the Official NWSL Shop, though blank goalkeeper jerseys can be customized through some individual team sites. Jerseys start at $110 each.

"This should be the benchmark," said Spirit Chief Operations Officer Theresa McDonnell. "The expectation is that all players’ jerseys are available to fans. Keepers are inspiring leaders and mentors with their own unique fan base who want to represent them... I can’t wait to see them all over the city."

Simone Biles talks Tokyo Olympics fallout in new interview

gymnast simone biles on a balance beam
Biles' candid interview shed light on the gymnast's internal struggle. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Decorated gymnast Simone Biles took to the popular Call Her Daddy podcast this week to open up about her experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, revealing she thought she was going to be "banned from America" for her performance.

After Biles botched her vault routine due to a bout of the "twisties," she withdrew from the team final as well as the all-around final in order to focus on her mental health. She later reentered the competition to win bronze in the individual balance beam final.

In her interview with podcast host Alex Cooper, Biles admitted to feeling like she let the entire country down by failing her vault attempt.

"As soon as I landed I was like 'Oh, America hates me. The world is going to hate me. I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,'" she recalled thinking. "I was like, ‘Holy s---, what are they gonna say about me?'"

"I thought I was going to be banned from America," she continued. "That’s what they tell you: Don’t come back if not gold. Gold or bust. Don’t come back."

Widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles has hinted at a desire to join her third Olympic team in Paris, though her participation won't be confirmed until after the gymnastics trials in late June. She holds over 30 medals from the Olympic Games and World Artistic Gymnastics Championships combined, and if qualified, would be a sure favorite heading into this summer’s games.

Caitlin Clark reportedly nearing $20 million+ Nike deal

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever poses for a portrait at Gainbridge Fieldhouse during her introductory press conference
WNBA-bound Caitlin Clark is said to be closing in on a monumental NIke deal. (Photo by Matt Kryger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to cementing a hefty endorsement deal with Nike.

The Athletic was the first to break the news Wednesday evening, commenting that the deal would be worth "eight figures" and include her own signature shoe. On Thursday afternoon, the publication tweeted that the deal would top $20 million, according to lead NBA Insider Shams Charania. Both Under Armour and Adidas are said to have also made sizable offers to the college phenom and expected future WNBA star.

The new agreement comes after Clark's previous Nike partnership ended with the conclusion of the college basketball season. She was one of five NCAA athletes to sign an NIL deal with the brand back in October, 2022. 

Considering Clark's overwhelming popularity and Nike's deep pockets, the signing's purported value doesn't exactly come as a shock. New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu’s deal with the brand is reportedly worth $24 million, while NBA rookie and No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama’s deal is rumored to weigh in at $100 million. And in 2003, LeBron James famously earned $90 million off his own Nike deal. 

Clark’s star power continues to skyrocket, with the NCAA championship averaging 18.9 million viewers and the 2024 WNBA Draft more than doubling its previous viewership record. Following the draft, Fanatics stated that Clark's Indiana Fever jersey — which sold out within an hour — was the top seller for any draft night pick in the company’s history, with droves of unlucky fans now being forced to wait until August to get their hands on some official No. 22 gear.

In Wednesday's Indiana Fever introductory press conference, the unfailingly cool, calm, and collected Clark said that turning pro hasn’t made a huge impact on how she’s conducting her deals.

"If I’m being completely honest, I feel like it doesn’t change a ton from how I lived my life over the course of the last year," she said. "Sponsorships stay the same. The people around me, agents and whatnot, have been able to help me and guide me through the course of the last year. I don’t know if I would be in this moment if it wasn’t for a lot of them."

Star slugger Jocelyn Alo joins Athletes Unlimited AUX league

softball star jocelyn alo rounds the bases at an oklahoma sooners game
Former Oklahoma star Jocelyn Alo has signed with Athletes Unlimited. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Former Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo has signed on with Athletes Unlimited and will compete in the AU Pro Softball AUX this June.

The NCAA record holder in career home runs (122), total bases (761), and slugging percentage (.987), Alo was originally drafted by the league in 2022 but opted instead to join the newly debuted Women’s Professional Fastpitch

Alo currently plays for independent pro softball team Oklahoma City Spark, with team owner Tina Floyd reportedly on board with her recent AUX signing. AUX games are scheduled for June 10-25, while the Spark's season will kick off June 19th. Alo will play for both. 

Among those joining Alo on the AUX roster are former James Madison ace pitcher Odicci Alexander and former Wichita State standout middle infielder Sydney McKinney.

According to Alo, the decision to play in the Athletes Unlimited league was fueled by her desire to propel women's sports forward as well as provide more exposure to a sport that's given her "so many opportunities."

"Not only to challenge myself more, but just for the growth of the game," Alo said, explaining her reasoning to The Oklahoman. "I genuinely believe that professional softball can be a career for girls."

Joining AUX is also one more step in her plan toward representing Team USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I’m constantly thinking about how can I do these little things right in these four years to prepare me for the biggest stage of softball," she told The Oklahoman. "I definitely want to play in the Olympics, for sure."

Alo further expressed enthusiasm in the hope that the rise of other women’s sports, like women’s basketball and the NWSL, will push softball’s professional viability even higher.

"We’re seeing the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) get their stuff going, I see the WNBA starting to get hot," she continued. "I feel like the softball community is like, 'All right, it’s our turn and it’s our turn to just demand more.'"

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