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Aces fans turn out in force for 2022 championship parade

Standing on the rail of the Bellagio fountain pool, Junior Arbelaez is trying to get a better view of the stage.

Arbelaez holds onto a light post to steady his balance, but he’s unlikely to fall. His father, Johnny Arbelaez, has one hand wrapped around Junior’s foot, just in case.

Both father and son are wearing UNLV shirts. They hoped to buy some Aces merchandise at the parade. However, after navigating parking and arriving just before the event started, they figure it will be easier to order something online.

For now, they’re hoping the red shirts and Las Vegas-associated logo are enough to let people know they’re here to support the Aces. “It brings us together as a Las Vegas community,” Johnny Arbelaez said.

The Arbelaez family were among the thousands of fans who attended the Aces’ championship parade Tuesday. People lined a section of Las Vegas Boulevard between Caesars Palace and the Bellagio to shower praise upon the Aces, who won their first WNBA championship by defeating the Connecticut Sun 3-1 in the best-of-five WNBA Finals Sunday.

It’s the first major-league championship in Las Vegas’ history.

“This is a sports town, and mostly a basketball town,” said Arbelaez, who’s lived in Las Vegas for the past 25 years. “At its core, I think Vegas is a basketball city.”

Fans arrived hours before the parade started. Jess Jackson was standing by the stage at 3:15 p.m. to make sure she had a good spot. Roslind Robertson arrived at 1:30 p.m. to secure a front-row seat

Tiffany Jones was here with her 11-year-old son Nigel, and her nine-and-a-half-year-old daughter True, who was supposed to be at track practice this afternoon. Instead, she’s on her mother’s shoulders, waving at the parade as it moves past to try to get a glimpse of her favorite player, A’ja Wilson.

“It gives her something to look up to,” Jones said, “to let her know that a woman can do anything.”

Seated on a rail a few feet away from Arbelaez’s light post, Michael Wong and Amy Duong are also enjoying the parade. They’ve given up trying to fight their way through the scrum of Aces fans in front of them and instead enjoy the cool breeze which blows over the alcove while enjoying the view.

They’re not mad about their seating arrangement.

“It’s really awesome to see a turnout like this,” Wong said.

Wong — wearing a Kelsey Plum shirt — admitted he’s not a Las Vegas native. He moved here from Southern California five years ago, but being an Aces fan has allowed him to create a deeper connection to Las Vegas.

The Aces WNBA championship isn’t just about people’s connection to Las Vegas, though. Mya Weathersbee hasn’t been a sports fan for most of her life. After working with the Aces during the pandemic, she found a new passion for both the team and women’s basketball.

She thinks Las Vegas’ turnout for the parade is proof that the sport has a more than viable future.

Weathersbee became a fan two seasons ago, but John Robinson has watched Aces games since the team arrived in Las Vegas in 2018. He’s seen Wilson and Plum develop into stars, watched the franchise become a contender and seen the fan base grow alongside the organization.

“We’ve got to celebrate us,” Robinson said. “Everybody else, when they win theirs, they celebrate. They go crazy. Why wouldn’t we?”

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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