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March 21, 2019

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Catch up with Bill Laimbeer, the coach of Las Vegas’ new WNBA team

WNBA's Las Vegas Aces Seat Selection

Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau

Head coach Bill Laimbeer gives an interview during the season ticket holder seat selection for the newest WNBA team the Las Vegas Aces Tuesday, February 6, 2018, at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

WNBA Team Las Vegas Aces Announced

From left: Bill Hornbuckle, Lilian Tomovich, Lisa Borders, Lisa Alexander, Jim Murren, Moriah Jefferson, Bill Laimbeer, Ann Rodriguez, Jay Parry, Chuck Bowling pose for a photo during a WNBA and MGM Resorts announcement at the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay, Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. MGM Resorts International announced that its WNBA franchise will be called the Las Vegas Aces. Las Vegas first major professional basketball team  formerly the San Antonio Stars  will begin play in its new home in the 2018 season. Launch slideshow »

Tip-off is getting closer for the Las Vegas Aces. On Feb. 5, the newly arrived WNBA franchise staged its first event for season-ticket holders, allowing fans to view the seating arrangements inside Mandalay Bay Events Center and choose their spots for the upcoming campaign. Head coach Bill Laimbeer was on hand to meet fans, take photos and, in a few cases, help them select their seats.

Laimbeer has been hands-on with everything pertaining to the Aces since the team announced its relocation from San Antonio last year. We caught up with the two-time NBA champion at the season-ticket event for an update.

What has been the organization’s top priority since announcing the move? The logistics of getting organized and set up. Going out and buying all the equipment and getting the arena refurbished and finding a practice site. Everything you have to do from scratch is time-consuming and a logistical challenge, so that’s been the biggest thing, company-wide. From a basketball perspective, it’s waiting for free agency, identifying what our needs were, going out and acquiring some players, and now we prepare for the draft.

How has the relocation process gone? It’s a lot of work — more than I expected — but I think overall it’s gone very well. Everyone at MGM is very excited about the product. They’re working very hard at it. As the players get to town, I’ve gotten to meet with them, and they’re excited about being here, so it’s a very positive environment.

What do you think of the MGM facilities and the Mandalay Bay Events Center? I saw the facilities when I first got here, and then we went through all the discussions of what was going to change and how they were going to improve it, and it was like, ‘Wow, look at all this commitment they’re making, from locker rooms to a new Jumbotron to new seating.’ Everything they’ve been involved in, including the WNBA, has been first-class.

What kind of response have you gotten from the local community? We’re still in launch mode. We’ve made a couple splashes, like this event tonight, and our schedule is about to come out, so that will be another big positive for us. But I walk around town and I stopped by the police [station] one day, and it’s, ‘Hey, Coach, what’s going on? Welcome to town.’

How important will it be for the Aces to connect with the community? It’s a long process with community outreach. The players are very big into the community, myself included, as well as the executives of the MGM. We’re going to get out there. [But] it doesn’t happen overnight. You’re building a fanbase from scratch, so you have to get to know them, and they have to get to know you.

What is the biggest focus between now and the start of the season? From my perspective, it’s preparing for the draft. Identifying players who might be available where we’re at. We know with the No. 1 pick, there are only a couple players we’re going to look at. No. 13 is probably going to make the team, so we’ve got to identify how many players we’re going to look at and scout them and make decisions on them. Also, helping sell tickets. I’m going to get out there and get in the marketplace, talk to the newspapers and radio stations and TV stations, and create an awareness factor of who we are and what we’re about.

How important is that No. 1 draft pick? No. 1 picks are normally impact players, and I think this year will be no exception. I’m not going to say who it is we’re looking at, but the usual cast of characters is what I’ll say [laughs]. It can be a very big positive for this franchise.

This appears to be a very fancy event. They’re serving Champagne and strawberries to the season-ticket holders. Do you want the Aces to be a Champagne-and-strawberries kind of team? With MGM, I’ve learned not to underestimate the splash they like to make and the bigness, and this is no exception. They wanted to make their presence known, and that’s a great positive for our team. Our players are paying attention to that.

I want our team to compete and put on a show. The in-game experience MGM is renowned for is the experience I want our fans to have. We want our fans to go home saying, ‘That was really fun,’ so win or lose, they want to come back.