WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert: It’s more than just a weight room
The WNBA commissioner speaks out on the NCAA weight room and what it represents.
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.
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.
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.
WNBA champion Chelsea Gray is headed to the Las Vegas Aces after five years with the Sparks, per @TheNextHoops— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 28, 2021
She's teaming up with MVP A'ja Wilson, Liz Cambage and Angel McCoughtry
Watch out for the Aces ???? pic.twitter.com/qcVfPazC3C
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.
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.
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