Las Vegas breakthroughs for 2023

January 1

A night of Bacchanalian celebration concludes with the notes of Sinatra’s “Summer Wind” sweeping down the Strip. The crowd grows oddly mellow and walks off into the night, singing along. Hands are touching hands, reaching out, touching oops, wrong song. But suddenly, as if by that old black magic, good times never seemed so good.

February 6

As the state Legislature begins its session in Carson City, leaders of both parties in both houses announce that partisanship has no place when the issue is what’s best for the state, and that they’ll imitate the 1995 session — when the assembly was evenly split — by having co-chairs of each committee. Reporters faint from shock, citizens rejoice, and extremist lobbyists quietly shut their briefcases and stumble weeping into the winter chill.

All hail the Vegas Goat Kings
All hail the Vegas Goat Kings

February 17

The NBA decides to expand for the 2025-26 season with franchises in Las Vegas and Seattle. LeBron James, who heads the Las Vegas ownership group, wants to name the team the G.O.A.T.s, but Hornets owner Michael Jordan fires off a series of sad memes. LeBron’s next proposal, the King Jameses, is shot down by the team in Sacramento. Undeterred, LeBron pledges to play for the Goat Kings in their first season at age 40.

March 11

Senior point guard Jordan McCabe scores 18 points and dishes 17 assists to lead the UNLV men’s basketball team over heavily favored fourth-ranked San Diego State, 92-77, in the Mountain West Tournament championship game. The win secures the Rebels their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2013. McCabe’s improved shooting and solid decision-making had helped an almost completely remade Rebel squad to a 22-win regular season, by the end of which crowds at the Thomas & Mack regularly topped 12,000 fans, one of whom kept showing up in a shark costume, spurring old-time fans to turn to their grandchildren and tell a story: “Once upon a time, there was a man named Tark …”

March 16-18

Led by sophomore shooting guard Keshon Gilbert’s 21 points, the Rebels send their former coach T.J. Otzelberger’s fifth-seeded Iowa State Cyclones home in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. In the second round, the Rebels enter the final minute four points ahead of North Carolina, but fall by one on Tar Heel star Caleb Love’s last-second half-court 3-pointer. Seven grumpy old boosters write a letter to the Review-Journal calling for the firing of Rebel Coach Kevin Kruger. Responds Kruger: “We appreciate the passion.”

April 16

The city of Henderson celebrates its 70th anniversary in style. The downtown bar-and-restaurant scene on Water Street is bustling, the Silver Knights are completing a successful first full hockey season at the 5,600-seat Dollar Loan Center, and the city’s population is approaching 350,000. The New York Times, in paragraph 12 of an exposé breathlessly revealing that people live in Southern Nevada, still calls Henderson a bedroom suburb.

April 28

This beautiful spring morning, as I was taking my dog for a walk, something remarkable happened. A neighbor who had ignored my salutations for 10 full years suddenly waved and said “Hi.” Elated, I wished her a good morning. But then she said, with a warm smile: “Welcome to the neighborhood!”

Illustration by Wesley Rand
Illustration by Wesley Rand

June 23

Maybe it started in early January, with the first wisps of hair growing past the back rim of William Karlsson’s helmet. Soon he and his fellow veterans of the the original 2017-18 “Golden Misfits” — Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith — were having career years, and this season’s new young Knights such as Paul Cotter and goaltender Logan Thompson were breaking through to early stardom. Suddenly that old black-and-gold magic was on full display at T-Mobile Arena, culminating tonight when Karlsson netted a slapshot at the 7:17 mark of overtime to give the Knights a 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. He immediately threw off the helmet, flashing his old-school regrown blond locks and sprinting across the ice before being mobbed by his teammates, recently deemed “The Golden Retrofits” and now christened with a simpler moniker: NHL Champions.

July 15

It’s hot. But it’s not THAT hot.

July 29

Lightning strikes the Fremont Street Experience, burning the canopy beyond repair before the fire is extinguished. Fortunately, Nickelback was scheduled to play, so nobody came, not even Nickelback, and there are no injuries. After cleanup, the city opens the street to vehicle traffic while redevelopment plans are contemplated. The “new” open look is welcomed by both locals and tourists alike, the change is made permanent, and Vegas Vic reigns once more over Glitter Gulch the way it ought to be — the world’s brightest street under the nighttime sky.

August 8

A thunderstorm of such magnitude consumes the valley that National Weather Service advisories run on a 24/7 loop on every television, radio, and cellphone in the city. At the end of the storm, Lake Mead is, miraculously, full. There is much rejoicing throughout the West, much use of sprinklers on Sundays, and much repeated flushing of toilets in California, which has still not learned how to recycle indoor water. By August 15, the lake is half-empty. Wait. That’s not a breakthrough.

August 16

All of the states and cities and city-states in the Colorado River Compact pledge to take steps to recycle all indoor water. Southern Nevada teaches them how to do it. That’s a breakthrough.

The Flyin’ Rebels
The Flyin’ Rebels

August 31-September 9

Traffic delays the entire UNLV football team for two hours at the I-15 Tropicana offramp, causing the Rebels to forfeit their Allegiant Stadium opener to the Bryant Bulldogs. Ten days later, they take out their frustration on the Michigan Wolverines, defeating them 42-7 before more than 100,000 fans in Ann Arbor. After the game, the Rebels fly back to Las Vegas without needing a plane, walking on air all the way. Michigan immediately fires its coach. UNLV, meanwhile, hires a fleet of helicopters to get to future home games.

September 16

Well, that was weird. The Rebels wake up from a collective dream to realize that, while they beat Bryant, they actually lost to No. 5 Michigan. Back in the realm of reality, the Rebels are undeterred, lifting off early for Allegiant Stadium and defeating Southeastern Conference opponent Vanderbilt, 35-27. Junior quarterback Doug Brumfield throws for three touchdowns and rushes for another in the win. UNLV ultimately finishes the season with a 12-1 record and a Mountain West Conference championship.

Sir Paul and Snoop
Sir Paul and Snoop

October 10

Seeking to capture the cheeky eldercharm of Steve Martin and Martin Short in Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building, Sir Paul McCartney and Snoop Dogg announce a “joint residency” at Caesars’ Colosseum. “No pun intended,” Snoop insists.

October 22

Leaders of parched but ever-expanding cities of the West defy political expectations and announce a 10-year program to mitigate sprawl. The plan includes pilot implementation of reimagined “dynamic” urban growth boundaries. The idea is not to stop growth, but to ensure its sustainability and preserve natural geographic borders such as hillsides. Growth boundaries have been imperfect where attempted, distorting housing markets in such places as Portland, but the bottom line remains: Less sprawl = fewer buildings in need of far-flung water infrastructure = water savings. Today’s announcement signals that the West is ready to get creative not only with water management, but also with growth management.

October 28

The Fontainebleau Las Vegas opens to great fanfare after looking so forlorn and blue, literally and figuratively, on the Strip for 15 years. Owner Jeffrey Soffer celebrates the occasion by announcing that he’s going to build Fontainebleau Tower 2. Locals make reservations for the new tower’s opening in 2040.

November 2

The last-place Oakland A’s play their top minor league club, the Las Vegas Aviators, in a postseason winner-take-Las Vegas showdown. The Aviators prevail. Dollar beer night survives.

November 9

Two months after leading the Las Vegas Aces to the WNBA championship for the second straight season, coach Becky Hammon is named as the successor to retiring San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich following the 2023-24 season. The announcement makes the 46-year-old Hammon, who worked as a Spurs assistant coach under Popovich for eight seasons before coming to Las Vegas, the first woman to be named head coach of a major men’s professional sports franchise.

November 19

For the 160th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, Penn and Teller announce that they are going to make Abraham Lincoln appear and deliver the speech. Despite their considerable abilities, they can only get Lincoln to say, “Where’s John Wilkes Booth? I have something to talk to him about.” So, Teller ends up giving the speech himself. All concerned agree that while Lincoln’s appearance was interesting, the fact that Teller spoke onstage was far more important.

December 10

Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby sacks Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins four times in a 24-7 victory over Minnesota at Allegiant Stadium. The dominating performance gives Crosby an NFL-leading 15 sacks in 13 games, en route to setting a franchise single-season record with 20 sacks and being named NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

December 18

Snow has fallen, not just in the Rockies, but all along the Colorado River Basin, coating desert expanses in fluffy white. Lake Mead, which had been filled by unusually abundant rains earlier in the year — then emptied again when the drought and bad behavior resumed — promises to be replenished once more when the spring thaw arrives. Las Vegas residents are spotted cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on the shoreline of Lake Mead. Strip hotels are full of guests who can’t fly home, so they buy homes here. Cocktail waitresses serve hot chocolate in casinos. Uber drivers in tricked-out Teslas offer sleigh rides from the Luxor to Bellagio. A true white Christmas! Somewhere in Sun City Anthem, a grumpy dude with a snowed-in driveway blames Biden.

December 31

Just as Sinatra sang in 2023, he sings it out. “It was,” he croons, “a very good year.” ◆

Contributors: Sean DeFrank, Michael Green, Sveta Lari and Greg Blake Miller