Vegas entered the big leagues in 2016 when the NHL unanimously approved Bill Foley's bid for a franchise in the area. While some may have questioned the viability of hockey in the tourist-heavy city, the record number of season ticket deposits quickly erased that thought.
The Golden Knights were not the first pro hockey team to play on the Vegas strip. In 1991, Caesars Palace hosted an outdoor game between the Rangers and Kings - the first of its kind, and a precursor to the Winter Classic. [If you're interested, here's an oral history about this event on the Golden Knights' NHL.com page.]
Las Vegas was home to a minor league hockey franchise in the 1990s, the IHL's Thunder. I remember seeing quite a few Thunder cards in 1994, when Radek Bonk was projected to be a top pick in the NHL Draft. I have one such card in my collection today:
It's not the cool 4 Sport card with the lightning background, but that one is going on my want list.
Curtis Joseph, Alexei Yashin, and Manon Rheaume also played for the Thunder. You might even recognize one of their announcers:
Las Vegas has hosted the NHL's awards ceremony since 2009. Perhaps that event laid the groundwork for the Golden Knights' arrival less than a decade later.
The Knights avoided the struggles of a traditional expansion team thanks to shrewd roster moves by GM George McPhee and two built-in advantages: an exceptional pool of players to choose from due to the salary cap, and no competition with another new entry.
Upper Deck produced the first Golden Knights cards in 2017, featuring photos from the expansion draft. Marc-Andre Fleury was the first pick and the first player featured on a Knights card.
The first Golden Knights card I purchased was this William Karlsson O-Pee-Chee Platinum rainbow parallel. However Knights fan Billy sent me this card of Vegas resident (and former Las Vegas Wrangler) Deryk Engelland before my COMC order arrived, so he gets the honor of contributing the first such card to my collection.
Since then I've added six more Knights cards - though once again an O-Pee-Chee Platinum rainbow parallel is held up at COMC (this time it's a Jonathan Marchessault.)
Las Vegas was in mourning as the most deadly mass shooting in U.S. history occurred just prior to the start of the Golden Knights' inaugural season in 2017-18. The tragedy accelerated the bond between the new team and the community, and inspired the Knights' magical run to the Stanley Cup Final.
Vegas became the first first-year expansion team to win a game in the final, defeating the Capitals in Game 1. However the Caps roared back to take the next four games and the Stanley Cup. I mentioned this in my Washington D.C. post, but it's worth re-posting here:
Former Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper was cheering for his hometown team in the series. Harper and Cubs All-Star Kris Bryant are both Vegas natives and Knights fans.
There's no MLB franchise in Las Vegas but the city has produced its share of major league talent. Harper and Bryant played on the same little league team as Rangers slugger Joey Gallo.
Las Vegas has been home to a triple-A franchise since 1983. The 51s were rebranded as the Aviators upon moving into a new stadium for the 2019 season. (I don't have any cards of either team.)
The Oakland Raiders finally left the dilapidated Coliseum and moved to Las Vegas following the 2019 season. Allegiant Stadium is expected to be completed before the 2020 season kicks off in September (hopefully.)
On Thursday the Raiders made Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs III the first pick of the Las Vegas era. The draft was initially scheduled to be hosted by the city - which has since been awarded the 2022 draft. [Not surprisingly, commissioner Roger Goodell bungled this announcement.]
Las Vegas hosted NBA All-Star Weekend in 2007 and was once discussed as a potential relocation site for struggling franchises such as the Sacramento Kings. The WNBA's Aces play their home games at Mandalay Bay. Bill Laimbeer is the Aces' head coach.
These cards are not mine. I do have an A'Ja Wilson college card in my collection from a stack of cards Wes sent me with his pack blowout prizes.
Sports Card Tour has primarily focused on pro teams, but I do want to mention the UNLV Runnin' Rebels. UNLV won the NCAA Championship in 1990 - the first tournament I remember watching. They returned to the Final Four in 1991, losing to Duke by a bucket.
Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon were the stars of that UNLV team. I traded for this LJ Wild Card single on TCDB specifically for this post. Head Coach Jerry Tarkanian lasted less than a year as Spurs bench boss after leaving the university in 1992. [I'm leaving this documentary about the UNLV basketball program here if anyone is interested.]
I hope you enjoyed this bonus stop on the tour. This will absolutely be the final post in the series unless a big-four franchise comes to a city that doesn't already have one. If you're new to The Collector and you'd like to read more Sports Card Tour posts you can find the entire library on the Your City, Your Team tab.
Thanks for reading!