LAS VEGAS — A’ja Wilson, two-time MVP, 2022 Defensive Player of the Year, and the current face of the WNBA, can now add another milestone to her phenomenal resumer: WNBA champion. Thanks in large part to Wilson, the Aces defeated their nemesis in the Connecticut Sun three games to one in the best of 5 series on Sunday.
After the Las Vegas Aces suffered a disappointing last second loss in the 2021 WNBA Semifinals against the Phoenix Mercury, Wilson needed a new challenge and lane in order to thrive. That challenge and breathe of fresh air came in the form of new head coach Becky Hammon. She met with Wilson and the two proceeded to get to know one another as Hammon laid out her role for the team. Wilson would be play the center position and be the anchor on defense for the Hammon envisioned squad.
The new role stretched Wilson in a way that allowed her to grow as a player and allow Hammon to witness the “IT” factor Wilson possessed as a leader of the team. She shared where she learned how to be a leader. She gave credit to South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley, and Hammon, yet the foundation of leadership began in her household growing up.
“My mommy… my mommy is one fiesty woman,” Wilson said smiling. “I love speaking with her (because), she’s like get yours but also help others get there’s. Never lose site of that! You didn’t get here on your own, and you’re never going to make it on your own. You always have to bring someone with you and that is the sign of a great leader.”
Wilson’s father taught her to never settle for anything less than her best. Wilson shared a story when she was young, and reached for the 23 jersey, her dad told her not pick that number and to pick another number. Thus she picked the number 22 which stuck with her, however she never lost sight of the greatness that she desired to achieve and something her father saw in her at a very young age. That motivational moment stayed with her for the rest of her life.
Wilson is not only a top player in the WNBA in year five, but has also become a serious brand with endorsements from PepsiCo (Mountain Dew), Frito-Lay (Ruffles), and Nike to name a few. Along with being the face of the league, she shows determination, poise, physicality on the court, grace and style, along representing for the culture. Something that is extremely important for her to display while on and off the court. The ability to use her voice for change and representing for young Black kids who also have a dream to make it.
“I take it to heart because at the end of the I know I’m planning seeds for the next generation. To help understand that literally you can do whatever you want, just put your mind to it.”
To go from a rookie not making the playoffs, being coached by Bill Laimbeer to Hammon and now a WNBA champion, the growth has been incredible to witness by all. The best part is that Wilson has entered the prime of her career, and like the greats before her in Candace Parker, Maya Moore, Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslie, and Sue Bird, Wilson is carving her own legacy and helping this Aces team that features bonified stars in Finals MVP Chelsea Gray, Jackie Young, Kelsey Plum and Dearica Hamby to write their own story. This team has embraced another championship team in the L.A. Rams philosophy “we not me”, witnessing this team’s season, Wilson has set the tone for that philosophy to become a way of life.
More championships are surely on the way, Wilson’s focus will be not only elevating to be the best basketball player, but an even better teammate and someone the culture and the city of Las Vegas can co to us to be proud of.
The Aces also became the first professional franchise to bring a championship to Las Vegas, before the Raiders and the NHL’s Golden Knights. The city showed it appreciation as fans filled the Las Vegas strip for several hours showering Wilson and the Aces with their support. A parade that Wilson and her teammates have envisioned for quite sometime, and despite being “four shots in” herself, she also jokingly said that was a requirement for the crowd to be able to attend the parade. Nevertheless, the parade allowed the team, the organization, and the city to have a ball celebrating the work it took to hoist up the trophy and be the queens of basketball this season.