Friday, May 25, 2018 | 2 a.m.
He’s an NBA All-Star with two championship rings and a three-time WNBA champion as a coach, but Bill Laimbeer is just like us in at least one way. He came to Las Vegas to celebrate his 21st birthday. And he even remembers what happened.
“I do remember, but that was a long time ago,” says Laimbeer, 61, now president of basketball operations and head coach of the Las Vegas Aces, the city’s new WNBA team set to play its home opener May 27 at Mandalay Bay Events Center. “It was not that crazy. A couple of buddies from L.A. drove over. Before this, I could never spend more than two or three days in Las Vegas at a time.”
Laimbeer hasn’t had much opportunity to explore his new home. Too much work to do.
“I’ve played one round of golf since I’ve been here. We had to launch the franchise and I’m responsible for a lot of stuff besides what happens on the court. A lot of work from a lot of people went into this, so I haven’t taken any days off.”
The Aces split their two preseason games and have opened the regular season with road losses to the Connecticut Sun and Washington Mystics. Sunday’s game tips off at 5:30 p.m. at Mandalay Bay against the Seattle Storm, with the next home contest coming June 1 at 7:30 p.m. against the Mystics.
Laimbeer, one of the NBA’s most infamous villains during his stellar pro career with the Detroit Pistons, says the Aces players have adjusted well in a short period of time to life in Las Vegas, and everyone involved with the team — owned by MGM Resorts International — is excited about joining the city’s sports renaissance.
“It’s the right time. The town has been starved for sports over the years and it’s grown to a size where it can support pro sports, and the stigma of gambling is gone so it’s open to teams coming here now,” he says. “First it was the Knights then us then the Raiders and everybody is doing their own thing and showing what they’ve got. The newness is a positive. Everybody wants to see what we can do, but you still have to put a sustainable product out there to get people to come.”
Laimbeer won his NBA championships during the time when the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels were dominating college basketball, so he’s well aware that Las Vegas loves his sport.
“I was right in that time slot and me and [UNLV great] Reggie Theus are the same age. I think it’s a basketball town in a lot of ways but we’re going to tap into a market where we have an inexpensive product compared to football or hockey. We’re trying to grow a fan base of not only basketball people but young women who might aspire to become basketball players.”
Laimbeer was born in Boston, grew up in the Chicago suburbs and attended the University of Notre Dame, but he’s getting used to Las Vegas in a hurry.
“It’s nice and I enjoy it. The heat is going to be interesting when it gets here. I haven’t experienced that yet on a consistent basis, but I like this place.”