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WNBA acknowledges obstacles of ‘cobbling together’ All-Star weekend

(David Banks/USA TODAY Sports)

The 2022 WNBA All-Star weekend had a plethora of exciting moments — as well as some issues that led to questioning of the league’s commitment to the event.

Saturday’s skills challenge and 3-point contest were held in McCormick Place, a convention center, without fans. The bleachers around the court featured Elite Youth Basketball League players, and a few select Chicago Sky season-ticket holders were invited to a hospitality area inside the convention center.

Others were expected to watch the action from WNBA Live, a fan fest which was held in the parking lot outside of McCormick Place. The lack of fan access to the events drew criticism on social media.

The competitions were not held in Wintrust Arena – where the All-Star game took place the next day – due to previous scheduling conflicts. Discussions began in December 2021 for the All-Star game, with the contract being signed in April 2022. By then, a Pampered Chef conference was set to take place in Wintrust Arena on Saturday.

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert recognized that the event didn’t meet full expectations while speaking with media Sunday.

“When we picked Chicago as a place for the All-Star Game, we knew we weren’t going to be able to have Wintrust Arena (on Saturday). It was already committed,” Engelbert said. “So given that, when we found that Nike Nationals was going to be here, we took this great opportunity to integrate the elite youth sports into our 3-point and skills competitions, so the competition was not outside.”

When asked about the decision to not allow fans into Chance the Rapper’s concert Saturday, Engelbert cited gun violence as a reason.

“There’s also a lot going on in our world around security and even having an outdoor festival at this very crazy time as you see shootings and people driving into restaurants with outdoor diners and things like that,” she said. “So as we were planning this last fall, we were trying to find the best thing to do to try to stand up at least a little bit of an outdoor festival, to have a fan festival element. We still have COVID out there. So you know, cobbling together everything that’s going on and coming off two tough COVID years and not having Wintrust available yesterday, it just wasn’t possible to have a fan event.

“We didn’t have an arena that could happen in here in the city of Chicago. I understand the fans are frustrated not attending that, but again, last year we weren’t at 100%, the year before we didn’t have an All-Star Game, so we’re kind of just trying to build what All-Star weekend will look like. We’re just trying to do the best we could with the cards we were dealt this year.”