Ahead of his second season as owner of the Las Vegas Aces, Mark Davis says his investment in the WNBA franchise is simply a classic case of putting your money where your mouth is.
When MGM Resorts purchased the WNBA’s San Antonio franchise and moved it to Las Vegas before the 2018 season, Davis was among the first to purchase season tickets. And although the Raiders wouldn’t move to Las Vegas until after the 2019 NFL season, Davis could still be found at as many games as possible, often bending the ear of MGM Resorts president Bill Hornbuckle.
“During each game, I would tell him, ‘Listen, you got to pay these girls more money; you got to pay these girls more money,” Davis recently told NBC Sports Bay Area. “And finally, he turned to me and said, ‘Listen, if you think they should get more money, you pay them. Buy the team.’ And I laughed, and he said, ‘I’m not joking.’”
About a week later, Hornbuckle rang Davis to discuss his offer, and on Feb. 12, 2021, the WNBA and NBA approved Davis’ purchase of the Aces.
Davis points to his father, Al Davis, for his love of the women’s game. The elder Davis – principal owner of the Raiders from 1972 until his death in 2011 – was a fervent women’s basketball enthusiast, and according to his son, his knowledge of WNBA athletes rivaled his knowledge of football players.
“He would know their high schools, where they went to college, their coaches and all of that stuff, so I got an interest in women’s basketball early on,” explained the 66-year-old Davis.
But his passion for the women’s game isn’t the only thing that Davis credits his father for: In a round-about way, Davis says he has his father to thank for securing WNBA great Becky Hammon as the Aces’ head coach ahead of the 2022 season.
Taking a cue from the Raiders’ alumni program, which was established by Al Davis and was the first of its kind in the league, Davis invited former players from the Aces, Utah Starzz (where the franchise began in 1997) and San Antonio Stars (where the franchise relocated from 2002-17) to visit the program for each home game last season. Hammon, who played for San Antonio from 2007-14 and was an assistant coach for the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs at the time, was among them.
“Each game, …we would bring in alumni, take them out to dinner the night before the game, get a chance to know them, talk to them, talk about their history in the WNBA,” he explained. “And through that process is how we met Natalie (Williams, Aces’ GM) and Becky. And with Becky, I knew right away that I wanted her to be a part of this organization one way or another.”
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Davis said he believes the alumni are “the most valuable asset we have,” and in celebrating the WNBA’s 25th anniversary last season, it was important to recognize the women who paved the way.
“We wanted to honor the fact that that this franchise was 25 years old, and to bring these women back, and to let them know that we understand that it was them upon whose backs this league was built upon, and that who’s going to help us bring the league into the future.”
What’s more, Davis is particularly proud of the way the Aces have embraced the “Just win, baby” motto that’s been synonymous with Raider Nation since Oakland’s NFL Super Bowl victory in 1984.
“It’s just amazing what kind of a family we’re building over at the Aces in the front office and on the court, and you take that ‘Just win, baby,’ and it’s ‘Just win – on and off the court,’” he said.
In particular, it’s been the WNBA players’ impact on social and political issues that have most impressed Davis, who points in particular to former Atlanta Dream co-owner and Georgia politician Kelly Loeffler. After Loeffler wrote the WNBA a public letter in July 2020 objecting to players wearing shirts with “Black Lives Matter” and “Say Her Name” printed on them, players clapped back publicly and forcefully. Loeffler lost her bid to keep her appointed U.S. Senate seat, and less than two months later, she sold the Dream.
“The women showed me how to organize and do things the right way,” said Davis. “Using your vote as a weapon was something that is talked about, but I hadn’t seen it really be done in action. And I believe that women at the WNBA helped flip the United States Senate through the vote and doing it in the right way. And so I’m honored to be associated with women of this type.”
The Aces face the Minnesota Lynx in Minneapolis for their lone preseason game on Sunday, with regular-season action kicking off on the road vs. the Phoenix Mercury on Friday, May 6. Their home opener is May 8 vs. the Seattle Storm.