A’ja Wilson is the perfect basketball superstar for the modern era

Basketball is a game born out of the desire for indoor fun when the weather limited outdoor play. Among the numerous professional players in the world today, A’ja Wilson truly embodies the spirit of fun that is intrinsic to basketball. She is the current and future face of the WNBA. Since fun is a challenging stat to quantify in basketball, here are some scenarios from this year’s Finals game to help you understand A’ja Wilson.

During Game 4, Wilson’s Las Vegas Aces faced a crucial moment. The “superteam” was one win away from clinching the title but had lost two starters to injury in Game 3. The New York Liberty used the absence and their home crowd advantage to build an eight-point lead at halftime. Then A’ja took over the game, almost erasing that deficit single-handedly. She made acrobatic stops on defense and hit shots that had basketball enthusiasts analyzing her moves. In the final seconds, Wilson deterred a Jonquel Jones putback attempt, securing Las Vegas’s second-consecutive title.

As the buzzer sounded, we witnessed A’ja Wilson giving in to the emotion of such an accomplishment. She sprinted to the other side of the court, eyes brimming with tears, and collapsed into a heap with her teammates. This marked the first time a WNBA team went back-to-back since the 2002 LA Sparks. The Seattle Storm and the Minnesota Lynx never achieved it. Even the Liberty, who countered Las Vegas’ “superteam” with one of their own, were chasing their elusive first title after a 21-year absence from the championship round.

When Wilson accepted the Finals MVP trophy amidst a serenade of “MVP!” chants, ESPN’s Holly Rowe asked her where she found the strength to come up so big in those last moments.

“My teammates,” Wilson answered, “I can’t express how proud I am of my teammates. They picked me up when I was down. We cried together, prayed together, and now we poppin’ champagne togethaaaa!”

She turned her face to the ceiling and cackled with delight, answered one more question, then danced away from the table so head coach Becky Hammon could speak. Seconds later, Wilson sheepishly snuck back into the frame so she could pick up her trophy. She had forgotten it on the table.

This is A’ja Wilson. She is kinetic and professional, gregarious and forthcoming, but never disguised, never anything but herself. When Wilson speaks, her personality blossoms forth the same way the subtle hues of a desert sunrise give way to blazing colors that cannot be truly captured on canvas or film. She has to be seen up close, whether it’s her focused destruction during games or one of her many quotables in victorious postgame press conferences.

Sorry, I left out the quintessential A’ja moment: the day after the Finals ended, she went on Good Morning America and once again implored Usher to come to the Aces’ victory parade. He compromised by singing to her onstage at his next concert.

Sports television, with its many cameras and talking heads, comes up short of communicating the entirety of A’ja Wilson to the viewing audience. They’ll keep trying, though: the Aces (and A’ja) are the main reason that viewing audience continues to grow. The Game 4 finale, according to the league, averaged 889,000 viewers, and the entire series averaged 728,000 viewers – both significant increases from last year’s championship round. The Aces, this season’s villain after controversially trading franchise stalwart Dearica Hamby, were finally vulnerable and you can bet people tuned in to see if they would lose the series and become another dynasty that never was. Instead, Wilson was there at the end, ensuring Las Vegas again sat atop the WNBA hierarchy.

Earlier this year, Wilson appeared on Paul George’s “Podcast P.” In that episode, she stated her goal to be one of the all-time greats of the game of basketball.

“When you’re talking about GOATS of the W, I want my name to be up there,” she said.

George asked her, “You don’t feel none of the pressure, though?”

He was alluding to the external pressure of being the leader of her team and face of the Las Vegas franchise, maintaining her MVP-level of play and of attaining those lofty career goals. He didn’t mention the pressure many, including myself, don’t fully understand: the constant pressure on pro women and non-binary athletes to walk an insane line of being competitors, but non-threatening to the audience. Wilson, with all that in mind, replied without hesitation.

“It’s fun.”

Even as she strives for accomplishments we may not have seen in the game of basketball, A’ja Wilson recognizes basketball for what it is: a game. That fact has almost been swallowed up in the business of the sport. So treasure A’ja Wilson for her skill, her fervor, her dignity, but treasure her unbridled happiness, on the court and off.

Go out there and have fun, A’ja. We’ll try to keep up.

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