A’ja Wilson won’t be satisfied until Las Vegas Aces reach Bill Russell status

The Athletic is providing live coverage of the highly anticipated WNBA Finals matchup between the Las Vegas Aces and the New York Liberty. In a special feature called “Super Squads,” The Athletic will closely follow both teams as they compete for a WNBA championship. Our talented reporters will delve into the personal stories of the star players on these two teams, exploring how their journeys shape the future of women’s basketball.

The first game of the WNBA semifinals showcased the dominance of the Las Vegas Aces. With less than a minute left on the clock, the Aces enjoyed a comfortable 17-point lead against the Dallas Wings. Despite the game being practically over, A’ja Wilson’s determination to make a play led her to attempt to steal a pass from Crystal Dangerfield. Unfortunately, her momentum carried her out of bounds, forcing her to jump over the courtside seats to avoid falling. In an act of grace, Wilson quickly curtsied to the fans behind the bench before returning to the court. Her teammates Kelsey Plum and Alysha Clark found the incident amusing, but Chelsea Gray, the team’s veteran leader, gave Wilson a serious talking-to and told her to sub out for the rest of the game. This moment perfectly encapsulated Wilson’s unique combination of competitiveness and joy, making her an invaluable player for the Aces and the entire WNBA.

Wilson’s excellence on the court was on full display in the game. She scored an impressive 34 points, grabbed eight rebounds, recorded four blocks, and made two steals. The Aces won by a staggering 26-point margin during the 34 minutes Wilson played, while losing by 14 points in the six minutes she was on the bench. Her performance was a testament to her status as a two-time MVP and arguably the best player in the league. According to her teammate Jackie Young, Wilson does it all for the team. She excels at scoring at all three levels, defends diligently, and provides leadership night after night. Her teammates trust her implicitly, and her impact on the team is undeniable.

Wilson’s offseason began with her leading Team USA to a gold medal in the FIBA World Cup, earning her the MVP title. Throughout the regular season, she played a pivotal role in the Aces’ success by anchoring the league’s best offense and defense. In fact, she had the best statistical season of her WNBA career, setting personal records in points, rebounds, and blocks per game, all while shooting at her highest percentage in six seasons. Despite playing fewer minutes per game than many other players due to the Aces’ numerous blowout victories, Wilson consistently delivered exceptional performances.

While her three-point shooting slightly decreased this season, Wilson has perfected her skills in other areas. Her face-up game has improved, allowing her to confidently attack the basket with either hand. Additionally, she has maintained her accuracy with midrange jumpers, connecting on an impressive 53.4 percent of those attempts, well above the league average of 36.6 percent. Coaches, such as Eric Thibault of the Mystics, have praised Wilson for her composure and comfort on the court. Her ability to stay poised, take good shots, and remain unflappable sets her apart as one of the elite players in the league.

Wilson’s unwavering effort on the court compels her teammates to match her intensity. She welcomes tough coaching from Becky Hammon and constantly strives to improve as a player and leader. Her teammate Kelsey Plum emphasizes that Wilson’s work ethic is a testament to her selflessness. Wilson doesn’t prioritize one end of the court over the other, playing hard on both offense and defense. She sprints down the court in transition, creating opportunities for her teammates even if she doesn’t touch the ball. She doesn’t demand more plays to be run for her and instead thrives within the team’s offensive flow. Candace Parker, a veteran player on the Aces, applauds Wilson’s ability to make impactful plays even when they’re not specifically designed for her. This unselfishness extends off the court as well. Wilson willingly signed a contract below the maximum allowed during free agency, ensuring the team’s core remains intact. She graciously shared credit for her defensive player of the year award with her teammate Kiah Stokes, inviting her to join her on stage. Wilson’s selflessness resonates with her teammates and contributes to the team’s success.

Winning is an essential aspect of Wilson’s enjoyment on the court. As a three-time All-Star captain, she playfully acknowledges her failures, such as enforcing curfews or staying hydrated during All-Star weekend. Wilson’s vibrant personality can be seen in the locker room, where she energizes her teammates. Alaina Coates, who has known Wilson since their youth grassroots days, attests that she has always been a joyful and silly person, even amidst her busy schedule. As Wilson strives to become one of the greatest players of all time, she seeks to expand the fanbase of women’s basketball in Las Vegas. From being able to go unnoticed in stores as a rookie to now being recognized by fans who proudly wear Aces merchandise, Wilson has witnessed the growth of her popularity. However, she believes there is still room for further expansion. Wilson looks up to Candace Parker as a role model for staying relevant during the offseason, building her off-court business without playing overseas. Like Parker, Wilson has secured national commercial spots and is in the process of publishing a book during the 2024 offseason. Wilson aspires to be a role model for young Black girls and children with dyslexia, using her own experiences to inspire pride in their identities.

Although Wilson is proud of her accomplishments, she is far from complacent. She rejects the notion of the Aces being a “super team” and hesitates to compare herself to basketball legends. Winning more championships is essential for Wilson to consider the Aces as a truly super team, surpassing the legacy of Bill Russell’s Celtics in the NBA. She remains focused on her goals and is determined to leave a lasting legacy. While she enjoys the entertainment aspect of the game, Wilson is dedicated to her career and committed to respecting and cherishing basketball.


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