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‘I can’t wait’: Aces excited to raise title banner, receive rings

A’ja Wilson knows she should be focused on the game. The reigning WNBA MVP said Saturday’s matchup with the Los Angeles Sparks is one the Aces “have to win.”

However, Wilson can’t help the excitement that bubbles up when she thinks about the rings and the banner.

“I can’t wait,” she said.

The Aces (2-0) return to Michelob Ultra Arena at 6 p.m. Saturday for their home opener against the Sparks (1-1). About 40 minutes before the game, the team will raise a banner in honor of their 2022 WNBA championship, and players, coaches and staff will receive their championship rings.

Eight-time Grammy Award winner Anita Baker will sing the national anthem before the game, and rapper Coi Leray will perform at halftime.

Saturday is the first of back-to-back games for the Aces, who host the Minnesota Lynx at 6 p.m. Sunday.

The Aces won the title by defeating the Connecticut Sun 3-1 in the WNBA Finals. Wilson said she hasn’t seen the rings or the banner yet, so her first reaction will be on the court Saturday night.

“I’m not going to lose that moment,” Wilson said. “I’m going to stay right in that moment and take it all in, because it’s big.”

The banner ceremony will be the first in franchise history. The organization is one of the WNBA’s original eight teams that debuted in 1997, but it hadn’t won a championship before last season.

The Sparks and Phoenix Mercury, two of the league’s other founding teams, have three titles each. The New York Liberty are the only founding franchise still in existence that hasn’t won a championship.

The Aces organization didn’t win a championship in Salt Lake City as the Utah Starzz. No titles arrived in San Antonio. Franchise greats like Sophia Young-Malcolm, current general manager Natalie Williams and Margo Dydek weren’t able to bring the organization its first trophy.

Even Aces coach Becky Hammon, owner of the team’s only retired number, wasn’t able to capture a championship as a player.

“It’s hard to win a championship,” point guard Chelsea Gray said. “There’s a select few in this world that’s won championships.”

Gray, the 2022 WNBA Finals MVP, is one of the few players on the Aces’ roster who has already experienced a banner ceremony. She won a championship with new Ace Candace Parker and the Sparks in 2016.

Gray said there aren’t many moments when professional athletes get to reflect on their journey, so she’s excited to celebrate the accomplishments of the 2022 championship squad with her teammates.

“You don’t get that moment back, that group back,” Gray said. “We talk about playing — and our careers are a short snippet of our life — so you’ve got to embrace those moments, have fun with it and take a lot of pictures.”

Hammon will be back on the sideline for the Aces on Saturday after serving a two-game suspension for violating league and team workplace policies.

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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