It’s an impossible choice, one Mark Davis is both thrilled and annoyed with.
First Thrill: With the Las Vegas Aces reaching the WNBA Finals, a team owned by the Davis family will compete for the championship for the first time in nearly 20 years. Now the annoyance: Ninety minutes after Game 1 of the final between the Aces and the Connecticut Sun Tips in Las Vegas on Sunday afternoon, the Davis Raiders began the NFL season in Los Angeles against the Chargers.
“I’m like a parent who has two kids I love dearly and it decides which kid you go to see,” Davis told USA Today Sports.
A longtime women’s basketball fan – another thing she inherited from her father, Al – Davies bought the Aces in early 2021 because she believes the player and the league deserves more visibility and financial rewards Were. He’s doing his part — see Becky Hyman’s seven-figure contract — but has only one boss.
So, while he’s glad both of his teams are playing at this time of year, he doesn’t understand the wisdom of pitting the WNBA against the behemoth of the NFL, just as the league is finally making progress in attracting casual fans. Both afternoon windows of the NFL will overlap with Game 1 of the W Finals.
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“It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make any sense,” Davis said.
Especially not when the WNBA will soon try to make a case for a big — huge — media rights deal.
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Women’s sports have long been given the excuse of not getting mass media contracts because they attract smaller audiences. But ratings over the years have shown that when women’s sports are not regarded as an afterthought, they are attracted.
Putting the WNBA in direct competition with the NFL, especially on its first full day of play, runs its opposite.
“‘We don’t have eyeballs. Well, how are you eyeing when you’re going up against the opening day of the National Football League?” Davis asked. “That part is hard.”
ESPN and league officials certainly wouldn’t be happy to hear Davis’ criticism. But he hasn’t spent that much time around the NFL, or his father, to let his other team be part of a charity project.
“We have some of the greatest athletes in the world for what they do,” Davis said. “We need people to invest in the game. …if we invest in the product, it will come back to us in manifolds.”
Look no further than aces.
In only his second season as owner of the Aces, Davis is building a state-of-the-art practice facility for the team, which he will share with the Raiders. The building should open next spring. He lured Hammon back to the W from the NBA, and making him the first coach in the league to earn more than $1 million in a season,
He signed a maximum two-year contract for Aja Wilson, who won his second MVP award in three years, and extensions for Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young, Chelsea Gray and Dierika Hamby.
The team has responded with a season of superlatives. The Aces finished the regular season with a franchise-record 26 wins, and their win over Seattle in the finale of the regular season—a game Davis participated in in the Raiders’ first preseason game—gave them the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
They set a franchise record with a 90.4 scoring average, were only the third team in WNBA history to break the 90-point mark, and were second in the league with 343 3-pointers.
Individually, Hyman won Coach of the Year honors, Young was named Most Improved and Plum was third behind Wilson and Brenna Stewart in the MVP voting. Wilson, Plum and Young were all-star starters, and Hamby was a reserve.
Meanwhile, Gray used his All-Star snub to steer one of the finest post-season runs in any league. He averages 24 points on 62.6% shooting in the playoffs, and his 31 points and 10 assists in Game 4 against the Storm on Tuesday was the first 30-10 game in WNBA playoff history.
The only other player to match Gray’s playoff stats? Larry Bird and Chris Paul. Not a bad company.
“That’s why you do these things to win the title. It’s just victory, baby,” Davis said, borrowing his father’s trademark line.
“It’s just victory – on and off the court, that’s what matters.”
So about that decision of Sunday…
Because the Aces are hosting Game 1, Davis knows his family and friends will be at that game a lot. But the game in Los Angeles is the Raiders’ first game with new coach Josh McDaniels, along with big off-season pickup Davante Adams from Las Vegas, and Davis decided he needed to be there for it.
If Game 4 is in the WNBA Finals on September 18, it will skip the Raiders’ home opener and move to Connecticut.
“I would definitely be in the Aces game at that point, because it will be a deciding game,” Davis said. “If this is a deciding game, I absolutely have to be there, whether it is to win it all for the aces or not. The fact (Game 1 is) at home, it made that decision a little easier. But it’s not easy.
“It’s an absolutely difficult decision because I want to make it clear: Aces are not a hobby,” he said. “It’s a real deal for me.”
He just hopes it will happen to everyone soon, so he’s never forced to choose between his teams again.
Follow USA TODAY Sports Columnist Nancy Armor on Twitter @nrarmour,