For the second time in three years, Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas hosted the WNBA All-Star Game.
With this being an Olympic year, the format saw Team WNBA taking on Team USA, with a three-point shooting contest at half time as another special event as part of the festivities.
Team WNBA, headlined by veterans Candace Parker and Courtney Vandersloot, saw many first-time all-stars such as Arike Ogunbowale, Courtney Williams, Kahleah Copper, Satou Sabally and Betnijah Laney taking the floor against the Olympic-bound U.S. squad.
Meanwhile, Team USA, who will be looking to win their seventh consecutive gold medal in Tokyo, have Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, though Taurasi did not play in the All-Star game, attempting to make history with a fifth gold medal at the games, while also taking first-time Olympians like A’ja Wilson, Napheesa Collier, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Jewell Loyd.
It was a stacked event, full of bright stars on both sides, but Team WNBA managed to come up with a 93-85 victory.
Ogunbowale was named MVP of the event for a 26-point performance in her first-ever all-star appearance.
Coached by former WNBA champions Tina Thompson and Lisa Leslie, Team WNBA had more intentions than just making the game circus shots or open layups – with many players never getting the chance to make the USA Olympic squad, being able to beat them was on the minds of many like Jonquel Jones.
“Listen, we want to beat Team USA,” said Jones before the event. “I want to tell my grandkids, ‘Back in 2021, we beat the gold-medal team, so technically we won a gold medal.’ This is the closest I'm going to get to a gold medal.”
Jones, who represents Bosnia and Herzegovina on the international stage, was making her third all-star appearance Wednesday, while players like Parker, who is no longer involved with Team USA after roster snubs, was selected to her sixth all-star game, and both wanted to win for more than just bragging rights.
After one quarter, Team USA led 28-25, but Team WNBA managed to comeback in the second quarter and carried a 44-43 lead at halftime. Ogunbowale scored 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting at the half.
Then, during half-time, two-time WNBA three-point champion Allie Quigley looked for her third title against Jones, Loyd and Sami Whitcomb.
Jones, who shot first, missed only five shots and scored 27 points to open the contest, followed by Loyd who scored 18. Whitcomb knocked down enough to eliminate Loyd, scoring 26 points of her own but then reigning champion Quigley hit a last-minute money ball to match Jones with 27 points to set up the final between the two.
In the championship round, Jones scored 24 points, but Quigley showed why she had won the previous two competitions and became a three-time three-point competition champion with her 28-point performance including hitting her full money ball rack and hitting nine of her final 10 shots to win.
— WNBA (@WNBA) July 15, 2021
“I promise this is the last time I’m doing this, I told myself no more, I wanted to go out on a win,” said Quigley after her three-point competition win.
After the three-point contest, play resume after some back-and-forth between the two sides Team WNBA allowed managed to pull away and lead 86-80 with just under three minutes to play in the fourth quarter leading to their eventual victory.
Game MVP Ogunbowale was outstanding herself, but was keen to point out the team performance is what actually made the difference with multiple scorers on Team WNBA helping beat the Olympic roster.
“This just shows that out of 144 players, everyone is good and we just wanted to get Team USA prepared for Tokyo [because] they’re representing all of us so good luck to them,” said Ogunbowale after winning the MVP award.
— WNBA (@WNBA) July 15, 2021
The game, which gives usual competitors a chance to play together and showcase fan favourites and some of the best in the game, is also a chance for women’s basketball to be shown in a new light that features more personality and fun to the game.
Parker, who became the first-ever woman to grace the cover of the NBA 2K video game franchise on Wednesday, put in perspective just how much growing the game has done despite there being much further to go.
“When TV wants to put on a sitcom that is up and coming, they put it before a really great sitcom, or they put it after… we were before an NBA Finals game, we are going to be able to get that audience that now know Arike Ogunbowale’s name,” said Parker.
“I think this was a great move, this was a great step forward for our league because there are a lot of fans that support us, we gotta continue to grow because I want my daughter, I want Dearica’s daughter to have the opportunity to play in a league like this.”