LAS VEGAS — Los Angeles Sparks forward Dearica Hamby made her way to halfcourt Saturday night and was presented with her championship ring from Las Vegas Aces owner Mark Davis and received a warm ovation from the crowd.
Upon returning to her team, which promptly went to its locker room while the ring celebration continued, she had one message for Sparks coach Curt Miller.
“First thing she did when we got into the locker room was apologize to me because she was worried about how I was impacted by the ceremony,” Miller said after the Aces’ 93-65 destruction of the Sparks. “That just tells you what kind of character she has.”
No surprise there, but it was unnecessary. She earned her moment, and not just after helping the Aces win the 2022 title, but as a once-staple for the franchise.
Nevertheless, it’s the type of accountability and leadership Hamby exudes. Always has.
She did it when the Aces franchise was in San Antonio.
It’s how she was as the glue for the Aces while they were under construction, being built into a championship franchise.
And it’s how she’ll be during the next chapter of her career, in Los Angeles.
“I will go until I’m blue in the face, what she’s done and how she’s playing on such a short turnaround from having her second child, how fast she’s back, and the quality that she’s playing is a credit to her, it’s just unreal,” Miller said. “It’s just not normal, how incredible it is to have her back this soon and playing at the level.”
THE BREAK UP
Hamby, who was traded in January to the Sparks, was heavily critical of the Aces after the transaction, accusing them of treating her in an “unprofessional and unethical way” due to her pregnancy while not following through on alleged promises made to her when she signed a contract extension during the 2022 season.
Flipside, the Aces have explicitly denied mistreating Hamby – most notably coach Becky Hammon and general manager Natalie Williams, who have both been vocal in regards to the situation.
“We always look at, as a group, what we need to do to make our team even better than it was last year,” Williams told The Sporting Tribune during Aces media day. “And so we really knew that we had to strengthen our bench. We had a great core, but we knew we had to do what we could, and unfortunately, trades happen. Just the way everything went down, it’s unfortunate, but in the game of basketball, there’s trades that happen every day.”
After an investigation, the WNBA handed down penalties on May 16, reprimanding Hammon and the Aces for violating the league’s Respect in the Workplace policy and impermissible player benefits regarding Hamby.
Hammon was suspended two games, and the Aces were stripped of a 2025 first-round draft pick.
“I don’t recall my relationship with Hamby being anything but on the up-and-up, and I’m just – obviously along with the organization – disappointed with the findings,” Hammon said. “It’s never (good) to have your name be associated with something like that, which is not who you are as a person. That’s not how I operate.”
Nevertheless, the anticipation leading up to Saturday’s ring ceremony could have been a bit more nervewracking for Hamby had the teams not met two nights earlier in Los Angeles.
“Kind of got that part out of the way,” Hamby told The Sporting Tribune during an exclusive interview just before Saturday’s game. “Obviously, a moment that I know I should probably be proud of and embrace. I mean me getting a ring is special but I’m going to do it for the fans.”
Hamby added she never had a chance to necessarily process and embrace everything that took place in one of the most celebrated seasons for any sports team from Southern Nevada, what, with being pregnant and then being traded.
But she was able to collect her thoughts in other ways.
“I’d say more so what I meant to the franchise and not kind of discredit myself, even though the way it ended the way that it ended,” Hamby said. “Just kind of be able to process and enjoy what actually took place and being a part of this franchise since I’ve been drafted essentially.
“I was at the lowest of the lows of this team and at the highest of the high, so just kind of appreciate that.”
So, now that the Sparks and Aces have played twice and Hamby has received her ring, is there closure?
“Uhhh, no,” Hamby said with a chuckle. “I wouldn’t say so. But it’s a big part of a pivotal moment for me emotionally. I think, obviously close the chapter with my time with Aces. Kind of then move forward after this. I know everybody’s kind of waiting on this moment both ways, so just kind of ready for it to be over with.”
By turning the page so quickly, Hamby’s impact has been felt by her teammates.
“I’ve noticed her impact, her presence,” second-year pro Nia Clouden said. “She’s a vocal leader, she’s a leader by example, and she’s just a good person. From how she talks to people, cares about people, and embraced me since I’ve been here. Everyone else, too. She’s been a really big part of what we’re doing.”
Through the team’s first three games, Hamby has started two and is averaging 8.0 points, 4.5 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game over 23.3 minutes per outing.
But it’s more than her numbers, which are sure to improve. It’s her experience and presence that lift the Sparks.
“She’s an inspiration, that’s for sure,” Karlie Samuelson said. “She picks us up and she brings energy clearly on the court.”
She’s also a big part of women’s professional sports for those wanting to have children and maintain their athletic careers.
Hamby certainly isn’t the only inspiring story from the WNBA, of mothers continuing their careers after giving birth. But she’s been one of the best examples for the league since having her daughter, Amaya, and recently her son, Legend.
“She is such a great story for working mothers and how moms can have children in professional sports, regardless of the sport,” Miller added. “What she’s doing is such a trailblazer and such a great story for all mothers that want to have children and continue to be a professional athlete. She’s remarkable and we’re fortunate to have her.”
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