MA Voepel, ESPN.com July 16, 2023, 1:31 a.m. ET
CloseThe Voepel MA covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.
LAS VEGAS — Before a sold-out crowd at the Michelob Ultra Arena that included Dwyane Wade, Anthony Davis, Sue Bird and Sheryl Swoopes, Saturday’s prime-time WNBA All-Star Game was a hit.
Tim Stewart beat Tim Wilson 143-127 at home to the reigning WNBA Las Vegas Aces. Brittney Griner, who was an honorary All-Star last season while detained in Russia, dunked twice and received a symbolic submission from the Aces’ A’ja Wilson as Griner’s Phoenix Mercury will host the 2024 All-Star Game.
Tim Stewart’s Jewell Loyd, in honor of his parents’ 40th wedding anniversary, had an All-Star record of 31 points and earned MVP honors. Tim Wilson’s Kelsey Plum has 30 points and credits the much bigger MVP trophy the league has awarded this year than last year, when Plum was MVP.
Here are the highlights from All-Star weekend, as the league takes a welcome break from the heat of competition which resumes on Tuesday.
Welcome back, BG
Griner was smiling all weekend, and he reminded everyone how dominant he was even in an exhibition, finishing with 18 points, 13 rebounds and 2 blocked shots.
“The biggest thing is to watch your head so you don’t get dipped,” Wilson said of Griner. “That’s a defensive job. Any time you see BG in the paint I think you should get out of the way.”
Griner said he was honored that team captain Breanna Stewart of New York Liberty had selected him first, and wanted to make sure he contributed to the win. But overall, the opportunity to interact with the other players, who all wore the number 42 in the second half of last year’s All-Star Game in Chicago, meant a lot to him.
“What you see on the pitch is nice, but in the locker room before a game, that’s where all the little moments you capture always happen,” said Griner.
Plum’s seal of approval
The WNBA inadvertently disguised itself last season with a small trophy presented to Plum as All-Star Game MVP — which she refers to as “my little cup of tea.” But it’s definitely fixed this season.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Loyd’s trophy was much bigger and heavier, and had Plum’s approval.
“They upgraded it,” says Plum. “Whoever is in charge [of the trophy] either being fired or very afraid of being fired. But look, the whole incident with the trophy caused quite a stir, so I don’t mind it.
“That’s cool. I’m really happy for Jewell, and I think they did a great job this year.”
Plum also said he plays for charity, so it means more to him than trophies. Under Armor offers $1,000 for every basket created, while Google promises $1,000 for every help. So, Plum got a total of $16,000 to give to Child Haven in Las Vegas.
Jewell Loyd won the WNBA All-Star Game MVP with a game record of 31 points
Jewell Loyd took home the WNBA All-Star Game MVP trophy when he scored a game record 31 points.
With Loyd winning the MVP, the drought for true post player winning the honor extends for another year. Candace Parker, then with the Los Angeles Sparks, was the last true player to become an All-Star MVP, back in 2013. Since then, the award has gone to the guard or winger.
The second captain came forward. Both had good games – Wilson finished with 20 points and five rebounds, Stewart had a game-high nine assists – but they were asked what needed to happen for a post player to take home another MVP trophy.
“We just need to shoot more 3s… 3s and 4-pointers,” Stewart said, referring to the special spot on the floor awarded four points. “Or if someone gets a triple-double.”
“We have to do better,” said Wilson.
Coach goes way back
A’Ja Wilson performed several dance moves in the 4th minute
A’Ja Wilson showed off dance moves after a 3-pointer and danced with a broom in the fourth quarter.
Stephanie White of the Connecticut Sun coached Tim Stewart and Becky Hammon of the Aces coached Tim Wilson. The two were born just three months apart in 1977, finished their college careers in 1999, and went on to play in the WNBA.
White was a second round draft pick in 1999 from the Purdue Boilermakers, while Hammon, who was playing for the Colorado State Rams, was dropped. But injuries limited White, who played just five WNBA seasons before moving into coaching at the collegiate level. Hammon became an All-Star who played 16 WNBA seasons, then began his coaching career in the NBA.
“We’ve known each other since the mid-1990s,” said White, who won a national championship with Purdue in 1999. The league has since departed.
“To come back to this moment together is pretty cool. Each of us took different paths to get here. I don’t think when we played against each other in the NCAA tournament in  we would never have thought it would let us coach our team in the All-Star Game. I love this league, and I know that Becky feels the same way.”
Phoenix has next
How do you look after Brittney Griner? Try having 4 defenders
Wilson’s team used an interesting strategy in guarding Brittney Griner as they sent a full back four to him at the post.
It’s a high bar for the next All-Star Game, considering this year’s expanded WNBA Live fan festival, the exciting 3-point contest in which New York’s Sabrina Ionescu set fire to the net, and the sold-out crowd for Saturday’s game.
What could Phoenix have in store next season?
“I know that the Phoenix and the Mercury organization, they’re going to put in some amazing All-Stars,” said Griner. “I know the city is coming out, so this will be a good time.”
One piece of advice from some All-Stars: move the 3-point contests and skill challenges to prime time, like this year’s game.
This could also be the last season for Mercury’s Diana Taurasi, who is signed until 2024. She has been an All-Star 10 times.