Mercury, Ishbia plan on setting standard for “best All-Star weekend in WNBA history”

VIDEO – “I want the WNBA All-Star Game, and I want it in 2024.”

Those were Mercury and Suns owner Mat Ishbia’s words to CEO Josh Bartelstein when he first got the job.

At every turn, Ishbia has continued to set the tone and back his words with action regarding his plan to make “Phoenix one of the leading basketball destinations in the world.”

“It was number one on our list of priorities,” Bartelstein said. “We knew it was open for bidding. We went all-in to get it…Mat has huge visions and his view is if you put a process in place to execute it, you’ll figure out a way to get it done…He was checking every single day to make sure we pulled it off.”

No one has minced words.

Not Ishbia. Not Bartelstein. Not Diana Taurasi. 

Everyone has made it clear: anything less than “the best All-Star Game in the history of All-Star Games” is unacceptable.

“It’s all the small details,” Bartelstein said. “There’s no silver bullet to making it the best All-Star. It’s everything you do. Whether it’s fireworks you saw or Scorch flying down – everything will be intentional. From the time someone arrives to a gift basket in their hotel room to the entertainment we have here to what’s happening around Phoenix. Everything with have mapped out and planned out to make sure no detail goes overlooked.”

“The challenge for us is, Mat has really high standards, and that’s a great thing,” Mercury President Vince Kozar said. “He was in Vegas and he got to see everything that was there. We talked about throughout the weekend,’What do we like?..What do we want to bring to the table that’s never been done before?’ We took about 15 staff with us to see everything.”

When the press conference starts with team mascot, Scorch, coming down from the rafters of Footprint Center accompanied by sparklers in each hand to introduce the 2024 WNBA All-Star representatives – the hype is REAL.

As Taurasi took the stage, she looked back to watching the first time Phoenix hosted the big game, and how badly she wanted to be there one day.

“I could just think back to when I was a little kid,” Taurasi said. “The year was 2000 & it was the first year that All-Star was [in Phoenix]…We have everything the big cities have but we have heart.”

In what could be her final season, making the 2024 All-Star squad won’t be easy.

“It would be nice,” Taurasi said. “I have one more year on my contract & I hope to honor that. It’s a big year, it’s an Olympic year…There’s a lot, once this season ends, to go back, & think about.”

“To be able to honor [Taurasi] – that honoring is this year, next year, & hopefully, for as long as she wants to play,” Bartelstein said. “We’re enjoying every second we have with her.”

While Taurasi aims at making the roster for the Paris Olympics, the All-Star game in Phoenix is expected to be similar to what we saw in 2021.

It’d be a matchup between Team USA and the All-Stars who didn’t make the Olympic roster.

“It’s challenging because it’s an Olympic year, but I was adamant that we needed to have an All-Star Game because the players need to say they are an All-Star in that Olympic year,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said.

Until then, Bartelstein announced two community initiatives the franchise is putting in place.

First, establishing a free all-girls league at the Valley of the Sun YMCA’s (grades 1-4).

Second, a full basketball court renovation at the Chicanos Por La Cuasa’s (CPLC) Colores, a local domestic violence shelter. The court will be in the middle of the apartments to serve mothers and their children.

The next order of business for Kozar is to debrief all Mercury staffers that came on the All-Star Vegas trip this year and of course, the rest of the 2023 season ahead.

The schedule continues on Tuesday at home against the Connecticut Sun at 7 pm.

More sights and sounds from the All-Star event: