The WNBA Finals tip off on Sunday in Las Vegas. The New York Liberty will attempt to dethrone the Las Vegas Aces, the reigning champions.

While it may seem that Utahns have no skin in the game, there’s a Utah connection that makes one team a good choice for Utahns to support.

The Las Vegas Aces used to be the Utah Starzz. Yes, Utah once had a WNBA team.

The Starzz were one of the eight original WNBA teams when the league played its first season in 1997. The team lasted six years before moving to San Antonio after the 2002 season.

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What happened to the Utah Starzz?

When the WNBA started, the league’s eight teams were owned by the NBA and operated by the owners of an associated NBA team. After the 2002 season, the WNBA teams were sold to their NBA counterparts or to third-party ownership groups, according to The Athletic.

Around that time, Larry H. Miller was pressured by the NBA to sell the Starzz, which were struggling financially, the Deseret News reported in 2003. Miller said the team lost more than a million dollars each year.

Peter Holt, the owner of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, purchased the Starzz and moved them to San Antonio. The team name changed to the San Antonio Silver Stars and later the San Antonio Stars in 2014.

Candi Harvey, the Starzz’s head coach, and all of the players — at least those who weren’t traded off — moved with the team to San Antonio.

How did the Utah Starzz become the Las Vegas Aces?

MGM Resorts bought the Stars from the Spurs ownership group in 2017, then moved the team to Las Vegas and changed its name to the Las Vegas Aces.

In January 2021, Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis purchased the team. Just this week, former NFL quarterback Tom Brady became a minority owner of the Aces after the WNBA approved his bid, according to ESPN.

The Aces won the 2022 WNBA Finals under first-year head coach Becky Hammon, a former WNBA all-star, and made history this summer when the team unveiled its new 64,000-square-foot practice facility, the first built solely for a WNBA team, Front Office Sports reported.

Who played for the Utah Starzz?

Natalie Williams, who was arguably the Starzz’s best player during her playing days, is now the general manager of the Aces, giving Utahns another reason to root for the team.

Williams grew up in Taylorsville and graduated from Taylorsville High School. She played in the ABL after college until the league folded.

She was drafted No. 3 overall by the Utah Starzz in 1999. She was named an all-star in three of her four seasons with the team. Williams is seeking to bring a second championship to Vegas and — in a way — a second championship to the Starzz.

Other notable Starzz players include: Wendy Palmer, Adrienne Goodson and the late Margo Dydek, who still holds the record for the tallest player to compete in the WNBA.

How good were the Utah Starzz?

The Starzz struggled during their six seasons in Utah but did improve their win total every year. The team reached the playoffs for the first time in 2001 but lost in the first round to the Sacramento Monarchs.

In 2002, the team’s final season in Utah, the Starzz had their best season yet and finished with 20 wins and 12 losses. They ultimately fell to the Los Angeles Sparks in the Western Conference finals.

When are the 2023 WNBA Finals?

Game one of the 2023 WNBA Finals is on Sunday. It is a best of five series. Games will be played on:

  • Sunday at 1 p.m. MDT
  • Wednesday at 7 p.m. MDT
  • Sunday, Oct. 15, at 1 p.m. MDT
  • Wednesday, Oct. 18, at 6 p.m. MDT
  • Friday, Oct. 20, at 7 p.m. MDT