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|Posted: 06/12/18 7:57 pm ::: Article about the loss of the San Antonio Stars
|From last May 11, before the 2018 WNBA season began.
WNBA SEASON SET TO BEGIN -- WITHOUT THE STARS
By Terrence Thomas |
May 11, 2018 | Updated: May 14, 2018 10:04am
For three years, during late spring and the summer, Mike Mitchell Jr. had grown accustomed to the sounds of a coach’s whistle, sneakers squeaking, basketballs bouncing and players racing up and down the Antioch Sports Complex court.
This was Mitchell’s daily morning routine at the facility on the city’s east side, like drinking coffee and reading the newspaper are for others. But now his mornings are relatively quiet. Moriah Jefferson and Kayla McBride no longer race back and forth in front of his eyes. Coach Vickie Johnson’s whistle doesn’t ring throughout the facility. General manager Ruth Riley is absent from the courtside bleachers.
The WNBA’s Stars no longer reside in San Antonio. Spurs Sports & Entertainment, the Stars’ parent company, sold the team to MGM Resorts International of Las Vegas in October 2017, ending a 15-season run.
San Antonio’s former team is now the Las Vegas Aces. Coached by Bill Laimbeer, the Aces open their season May 20 at the Connecticut Sun. The squad’s home opener in Vegas is May 27 against the Seattle Storm, who are coached by former longtime Stars coach and general manager Dan Hughes.
"It definitely is weird," said Mitchell, facility director at Antioch Sports Complex. "I'm used to having them in here in the morning hours, and now it’s still pretty quiet, besides our regular membership. Not being able to sit here and watch practice is a lot different. I’ve been a basketball fan forever, so watching the girls was always fun, exciting for me. Without them here, it’s kind of boring sometimes."
The son of the late Spurs forward, Mitchell’s sentiment appears to be common.
Melissa Martinez was a part of the local franchise virtually from the first day it moved to the Alamo City from Utah in 2003 as an expansion team. Utah was one of the league’s original eight charter members in 1996.
Martinez, a teacher and coach at Judson ISD’s Veterans Memorial High School, served as a ball girl, equipment manager and director of basketball operations during a 13-year tenure (2003-2016).
“It was heartbreaking,” Martinez said of the team’s departure. “I just realized how different it’s going to be. I’m like, ‘What do I do with my summer now?’ I didn’t think it was ever going to happen to us. I thought we were in good standing, being with the Spurs and everything. I was thinking we would be here forever."
The franchise instead moved west to become another city’s team — leaving behind memories and resentment. Martinez said many of the fans she has come in contact with still fume about the team no longer being here. She used terms such as "anger" and "bitterness."
"I get that a lot,” Martinez said. “It was like a bomb that was dropped on everyone. No one saw it coming."
One moment, the Stars were celebrating a season-ending 75-71 road win over the Indiana Fever on Sept. 2, hoping it was a springboard for a young, talented team that appeared to have the pieces for a promising future with Jefferson, McBride, Kelsey Plum — the No. 1 pick in the 2017 league draft — Isabelle Harrison and Nia Coffey. Las Vegas also landed the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, taking South Carolina center A’ja Wilson.
A few weeks later, players — some halfway around the world — were on a conference call with Riley learning the team was being sold and moved to Nevada. Johnson joined Laimbeer’s staff as an assistant and Riley got married earlier this year and now works for the NBA as a global technical director.
"I thought maybe it was a mistake,” Mitchell said. “I was like, ‘No, that can’t be. They might be thinking of something, but they wouldn’t want them to move.’ And then I found out, ‘Oh, no, this is real, it’s going forward.’ When we had some of the people (from SS&E) that were in town come turn in some badges and keys to the facility, we said, ‘OK, this is definitely serious.’ I’m still shocked. I didn’t think we would be without a team.”
On Aug. 25, the Stars played their final home game against eventual champion Minnesota. It started out as one of the last three contests of the season but morphed into something more dramatic.
With Hurricane Harvey churning in the Gulf of Mexico, hours from making landfall on the Texas coast and unleashing unfathomable damage from Corpus Christi to Beaumont, the Lynx rallied from an early deficit to defeat the Stars 89-70 before 7,950 at the AT&T Center.
McBride and Kayla Alexander each scored a team-high 15 points and Plum added 11 for the Stars, who had already secured the league’s worst record and missed postseason play for the third straight season. The players thanked the fans before quickly scattering home as officials urged safety precautions with an imminent threat of dangerous weather.
"I’ve been here for four years and it didn’t matter what the record was, it didn’t matter how the season was going, they’ve always been so consistent," McBride said of Stars fans in a postgame interview. "I think that shows true fans. I think just having that camaraderie here makes you want to play harder, makes you want to stay in San Antonio forever."
A little more than a month later, the Stars were gone.
In a corner on the second floor at the Antioch Sports Complex still resides a commemoration to the crowning moment of professional women’s basketball in San Antonio — a banner celebrating the Stars’ 2008 WNBA Western Conference championship.
Their signage and office equipment are still around, but in the seven months since the team was sold, SS&E officials have removed medical and training equipment, Mitchell said.
"You become friends and family with some of them," Mitchell said. "It’s definitely weird when you know one of your friends, family members isn’t going to be awhile anymore. It definitely takes some adjusting to."
Terrence Thomas is a San Antonio Express-News staff writer. Read more of his stories here. | email@example.com | @en_terrence
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