Monday, Feb. 22, 2021 | 2 a.m.
Boy, is Mark Davis doing wonderful things for Las Vegas.
Fresh from putting our community on the NFL map, the Las Vegas Raiders owner is giving our WNBA team the gold-standard support it deserves as the new owner of the Las Vegas Aces. And further, he’s establishing a leadership academy to develop minority leaders in the NFL.
Now that’s community leadership.
Davis, whose bid to buy the Aces gained approval from the WNBA this month, has unveiled grand plans for the team that include construction of a complex housing practice facilities, offices, a training room and locker room. The 50,000-square-foot team facility will be built next door to the Raiders’ headquarters in Henderson and is scheduled for a March 2022 opening. It also will house the Al Davis-Eddie Robinson Leadership Academy, a venture dedicated to establishing greater ethnic diversity in the NFL by grooming minority coaches and administrators. The academy’s board members include baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson and former Olympian Tommie Smith, who joined teammate John Carlos in an iconic demonstration against social injustice on the medal stand in the 1968 games.
Clearly, Davis is a great fit for our community: He shares the value we place on diversity and, like so many of us, also loves his basketball.
Davis, an Aces season-ticket holder before he bought the team, said he picked up a passion for women’s basketball early in life from his father, a longtime fan of the powerhouse University of Connecticut women’s team.
In fact, Davis’ ownership of the Aces grew from a sideline conversation he had with Bill Hornbuckle, the CEO of MGM Resorts International, the team’s former owner. When Davis good-naturedly ribbed Hornbuckle by saying the players should be paid more, Hornbuckle retorted that Davis should buy the team and take care of the salary issue himself.
That set the idea into motion, with Davis weighing the purchase on one factor: whether he could provide the team with the facilities it needed. Despite the pandemic, Davis determined that he could build the complex, and he bought the team in January.
“One thing I noticed was that what they didn’t have was a real home,” he said during a recent media availability. “They were practicing at UNLV, had offices at MGM and offices down in an airplane hangar.”
The new complex is befitting of the Aces’ talent and status as one of the league’s premier teams. Last year, in just their third season in Las Vegas after moving from San Antonio, the Aces finished the regular season with a league-best 18-4 record and made their way to the finals. Superstar forward A’ja Wilson was named MVP.
“I believe these women are the greatest athletes in the world at what they do,” Davis said. “And the difference they can make in the community with young women and the leadership goals that they can give them are limitless.”
Well put. Now Davis is vowing to borrow from the Raiders’ successful promotional strategies to raise the team’s visibility, which will include more interactions between the team and the community.
“Women’s sports deserve so much more recognition,” he said.
Given the economic impact of the pandemic and the fact that many WNBA teams struggle to turn a profit, Davis’ investment in the team was especially meaningful for Las Vegas. It’s business with social principles and community pride underneath. But let’s be clear, it makes sense from a business standpoint too. The WNBA’s star is on the rise, coming off of a year when the league’s ratings increased significantly and a number of deep-pocketed celebrities bought stakes in teams, including tennis stars Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka.
Davis’ ownership is one more reason to cheer for the Aces, who are expected to be strong again this year behind Wilson and with coach Bill Laimbeer still at the helm. If forward Liz Cambage returns after sitting out last year with a medical exemption and guard Kelsey Plum comes back after suffering a torn Achilles tendon last year, look out.
Although there are a lot of unknowns about the 2021 season, including when it will start and where games will be played, Las Vegas has a lot to look forward to from the Aces.
And with Davis as the owner, we’re sure great things lie ahead in future seasons as well.