Wilson relishing role as the face of Aces and WNBA

While A'ja Wilson has lived up to her role for the Las Vegas Aces both on and off the court, she's also embraced becoming the face of the WNBA.

LAS VEGAS — A’ja Wilson slowly panned the crowd and marked her target.

Wearing her trademark ear-to-ear grin, she autographed a balled-up T-shirt and hand-delivered it to an adoring little fan jumping gleefully while awaiting Wilson’s arrival.

Who was more excited, the little one or the parents, is entirely another discussion.

Then again, it might have been Wilson.

“Oh man, I’m having tons of fun, honestly,” said the two-time WNBA MVP on Sunday, after scoring 21 points in the Las Vegas Aces’ 94-73 win over the Minnesota Lynx.

Through the Aces’ 4-0 start, the reigning MVP is averaging 19 points and 9.3 rebounds per game and has Las Vegas looking every bit like the league favorite.

Saturday night, she was the final person to embrace owner Mark Davis, who presented Wilson with her championship ring before she delivered a speech to a sold-out crowd of 10,191 fans.

“We couldn’t be able to wear these rings if it wasn’t for y’all,” Wilson told the frenzied gathering, who erupted at the end of each one of her comments.

In her sixth season, Wilson has learned how to embrace her role, not only as the leader of arguably the league’s most visible franchise but as the face of the league.

Wilson, as they say, has arrived.

“Her ability to do what she does on both ends of the basketball court, it’s a sight to see. I’m just so happy to be a part of it,” said two-time WNBA champion Chelsea Gray, named MVP of the WNBA Finals last season. “Her growth from when I first got here to now, like she’s just not always gonna be the loudest person that’s saying that she’s gonna go do something, but it shows in her work and what she puts out on the court every night.

“And then off the court, her personality, young kids aspiring to be in her footsteps. It’s fun to be around.”


Wilson’s passion for who she is can be felt whenever she enters a room.

At the unveiling of the Aces’ 64,000-square-foot facility, she walked into the locker room and told media members to hurry it up and get the interviews over with cause this was her space.

She was kidding, of course. Sort of. Not really.

But if she’s not giving you the business, taking shots here and there, or simply not giving you the time – then you worry.

And if a team starts to model itself after its leader, the Aces clearly are Wilson’s team.

After Sunday’s win, coach Becky Hammon called her squad “silly, but mature and competitive.”

“They know how to have a good time but they also know how to buckle in and play when the lights come on,” Hammon said.

Added 14-year veteran Alysha Clark: “I’m a lot older than everyone, you know, we’re a little older, so they help keep you young. But they know when to have fun, and they know when it’s time to work. And that balance and that combination, it’s really special because not everybody can master that.”

Back to the facility unveiling. Wilson took her time and answered every reporter that day, laughing and joking about the amenities. Then proceeded to do a second round of questioning with each reporter who wanted a little one-on-one time.

It’s who she’s become.

She made the rounds at the team’s official media day, from station to station and reporter to reporter, and delivered nothing less than genuine answers to each question. She knows what she’s saying, and has become accustomed to what needs to be said. But she also speaks from the heart.

After Saturday’s ring ceremony, a 23-point performance during a 93-65 blowout win over the Los Angeles Sparks, and appearing at the mandatory post-game press conference, she ventured into a private gathering with fans and teammates and Aces staff to celebrate.

Then, upon request, she granted yet another interview for someone writing an article that had nothing to do with her.

It’s who she’s become.

And she’s loving every minute of it.

“I’ve been bored in the offseason because I have nothing to do, so this is my excitement every single day,” Wilson said. “I get to come to work with a bunch of women that are just like-minded and just really good at what they do, and I love that.”


This year, the Aces not only added Clark, but a person Wilson once idolized as a little girl growing up in South Carolina: Candace Parker.

And while Wilson could spend time raving about having a pair of veteran dynamos on the roster to help bring the Aces a second championship, they appreciate who they’ve come to play with in Las Vegas.

“I’ve gotten the opportunity to play alongside a lot of really legendary Hall of Fame post-players in my career, and I would put her right up there,” Clark said after scoring 11 points and dishing five assists on Sunday. “Just the way that she approaches the game, the way that she approaches every day. Her fight, her competitiveness. That kind of stuff, you can’t teach. Match that with her skill set and her hunger, it makes coming to work easy.”

That’s the Aces, a strong group of women who each bring an individual characteristic to the roster, but who also know and appreciate who they have in Wilson.

“This city has embraced her from when she first came,” Gray said. “And she’s had a responsibility on her shoulders and she’s managed that with care, with the fans, with kids screaming and she makes time for every single person. And so, that’s a character of who that person is.”

It’s a character beloved by adoring fans of all ages, including little girls who would love nothing more than to be like A’ja Wilson, but for now, will settle for a balled-up autographed T-shirt.

“If we can put smiles on young kids’ faces and let them know that they can be us one day, it’s a lot of fun, and it helps when we’re winning,” Wilson said. “But even if we’re not I’m always gonna try to have fun in this game.”

It’s who Wilson has become.

W.G. Ramirez is a 36-year veteran sports reporter in Southern Nevada, serving as a staff writer for The Sporting Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @WillieGRamirez