“I was speechless… The first thing I said to myself was just ‘Mom, thank you.’ Because more than ever, I know she’s watching me.” –All Star MVP Erica Wheeler
Las Vegas, NV- In the culminating event of All-Star weekend, the Team captained by the injured A’ja Wilson of the hometown Las Vegas Aces held off a late charge from Team Delle Donne to triumph by a final score of 129-126. Indiana’s Erica Wheeler capped off an incredible 2019 WNBA All-Star weekend by coming off the bench to pour in 25 points on 9-for-17 shooting including a WNBA All-Star game record SEVEN from long distance to lead the way for Team Wilson, earning the MVP honors in the process. The undrafted Wheeler fought back tears while being presented with the trophy honoring her as the standout performer in the league’s mid-season matchup showcasing the best of the best.
In a touching scene, countless players -from both squads- were visibly emotional when the diminutive Wheeler (generously listed at 5’7″ tall) was announced as MVP.
“The first thing I said to myself was like, ‘Mom, thank you,’ because more than ever I know she’s watching me, and like I tell everybody, what I do and how I do it, I do it for my mom,” said Wheeler after the game. “So that’s the first thing I said was thank you, and I said, ‘Thank you, God,’ because without him, I’m not here. So that was going through my mind, that and just to give my mom that praise.”
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Wheeler became the first-ever undrafted player to win All-Star game MVP honors, and wasted no time in getting going in the first half, draining her first six shots from long distance. Wheeler actually came agonizingly close to making that 7-for-7 in the half, but her seventh attempt just rimmed out.
Nevertheless, Wheeler finished the half with 18 points, to lead all scorers. Meanwhile, the two most dominant centers in the game, Liz Cambage, and Brittney Griner in a back-and-forth battle for a good portion of the first half, culminating in a ferocious two-handed dunk by Griner, prompting Cambage to playfully smack her on the backside, with Griner still hanging on the rim. Griner finished with 16 points and 9 rebounds, as well as becoming the first player to record multiple dunks in an All-Star game as the star center from Baylor rocked the rim dunking cleanly on three different occasions Saturday night.
However, it was Wheeler, the mercurial guard for the Indianapolis Fever by way of Miami’s Little Haiti who was the story of the night, sealing her honors by knocking down a ridiculous step-back jumper from long range with :22 seconds left in the game, to put her team up by six, at 129-123. Washington’s Kristi Toliver would drain a desperation three-pointer as the buzzer sounded to supply the final points on the night.
As has become custom at many Aces home games played at Mandalay Bay Events Center, the stars were out in full force to see the stars of the WNBA, as Kobe Bryant took in the game from courtside seats (accompanied by his daughter Gianna for the second time this season alone), as did his former teammate and current LA Sparks coach Derek Fisher. Perennial NBA All-Star Chris Paul, former North Carolina Tar Heel Sam Perkins and Rodney Hood among others also enjoyed the action from courtside seats. Proving once again just how much a draw women’s basketball is in Las Vegas.
Post Game Quotables
Second-time All-Star A’ja Wilson: “I was crying my eyes out, it was just so real. It’s moments like that that people don’t really see. For those that don’t know her (Wheeler’s) story, I suggest you look her up. She’s someone that we all need to know. It’s 144 of us and she is one of them. It was just such a powerful, emotional moment.”
Third-time All-Star Kayla McBride: “Yeah, definitely. Just to see it all cultivate in one moment. We know what the grind is like. We know what it’s like going overseas. She’s been grinding overseas. I’ve been playing against her since I got into this league, so to see it kind of all cultivate and her have that moment and just kind of get emotional, we all felt that because we know what it’s like to go through stuff, go through injuries, go through adversity, but it doesn’t stop. Like it doesn’t stop. You know, this game is a constant in all of our lives, it’s bigger than basketball sometimes, and for her specifically, with her story, I mean, it’s amazing, and God is definitely working today. He showed up. Yeah, just shout-out to Erica. It’s amazing.”
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