THEY’RE ACES: Players from Vegas’ WNBA team inspire local kids
Hugs don’t get any huggier than this, even if the hugger only comes up to the huggee’s waist.
This is the warm — if amusingly asymmetrical — sight as long-limbed Tamera Young gazes down from her six-foot-two-inch height at the little arms wrapped tightly around her midsection, and the adoring female face grinning all the way up at her.
“That is so sweet, you know?” says the Las Vegas Aces forward as she and two teammates visit youngsters at the Pearson Community Center gymnasium on West Carey Avenue. “I wasn’t expecting that, but it’s like that when you inspire and touch people’s lives. And you get supporters for life.”
Someday, perhaps, that little face dispensing that burst of childhood exuberance will be the one receiving it as a grownup — and that is the point of this day: inspiration, goals and dreams by way of dribbling, passing and layups.
“The Las Vegas Aces have made an impact by showing little girls in Las Vegas that you can do it — that girl power is huge,” says Clark County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly, host of the invitation-only event. During the 90-minute hoops-and-hoopla get-together, Young, along with guards Kelsey Plum and Lindsay Allen of the new WNBA franchise, exercise, practice and field questions from a roaring throng of boys and girls, ages 7 to 14, selected from the Pearson, Walnut and Cambridge community centers.
“One of the things I love about the Aces is that they hit the ground running,” says Weekly, who is also the board chairman of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “People didn’t have to ask them to come to communities — they’re out there, building that community base, being hands-on and not afraid to embrace the community they are now residing in.”
Serious skill-honing is the focus as Anthony Manor, the Pearson Center recreation/cultural program supervisor, dons the persona of a benevolent drill sergeant to lead approximately 75 kids — all clad in bright orange “Jr. NBA” T-shirts — through vigorous calisthenics and practice rounds amid a cacophony of bouncing basketballs.
“Knowing the median income we have here, a lot of our parents can’t afford the leisure things within our community and a lot of the kids have never been to a professional game, so for (Aces players) to come here and give them that opportunity is great for them,” Manor says. “And it gives kids aspirations to do great things.”
Everywhere you fix your gaze around this gymnasium is a blur of perpetual motion underscored by a soundtrack of shouts, squeals and laughter as the Aces pros mingle among the mass of kids — coaching, encouraging and demonstrating some slick moves.
“The kids are great because they have a ton of energy, they’re super fun, they’re always messing around and it’s really cool,” says Plum, recently returned to the U.S, after playing in Turkey. “They think that when we come it makes their day, but it really makes our day. Simply making layups and passing the ball makes so much joy.”
So does the Q&A session between the kids and their guests, moderated by Weekly, with gender competition being the main line of questioning from boys and girls alike:
“Is it true that girls can play basketball like boys?”
“Are boys better than girls?”
“If you are better than boys, can you play LeBron James?”
Through it all, the Aces athletes, grinning and clearly amused, patiently explain why the big girls can match the big boys pass for pass and dribble for dribble — culminating in a playful pushup competition between Plum and a particularly zealous little boy, to full-throated cheers.
“The girls can know they can strive for anything they want to be in life, that women are just as powerful as men if not more powerful and can definitely be equal,” Manor says.
Yet as the clinic draws to a close, it is, above all, the sense of community connection that lingers. “They look up to us and we’re here to be able to be examples as persons as well,” says Young, whose teammate hopes the bond they are cementing is eternal.
“It’s important for us to put our roots in and understand we are here to serve as part of the community,” Plum adds. “We’re going to be here hopefully forever.”