Aces forward A’ja Wilson arrived late last month in Tokyo, an Olympic debutante — hoping to help the U.S. national women’s basketball team to a seventh consecutive Olympic gold medal.
She departed late Saturday night with another Olympic gold medal, having validated her standing as one of the best basketball players in the world.
This time, on the world’s biggest sporting stage.
Wilson celebrated her 25th birthday by helping Team USA roll to yet another gold medal at Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo, contributing 19 points, seven rebounds and five blocks in a 90-75 victory over Japan.
The gregarious superstar played some of the best basketball of her increasingly brilliant career during the two-week tournament, averaging a team-high 16.5 points to go with seven rebounds and 1.8 blocks.
She hasn’t yet reached the peak of powers, but has quickly assembled one of the better resumes in basketball history.
She was already an NCAA national champion and No. 1 overall draft pick. A perennial WNBA All-Star and league MVP. Now she’s an Olympic gold medalist and international basketball great like the predecessors she’s long admired.
Wilson thrived with the Americans as their starting power forward, overwhelming the opposition with her generational combination of skill and size. She’s a mid-range maestro and a fleet finisher around the rim, equipped with nimble feet and array of low post moves that the likes Nigeria, Japan, France, Australia and Serbia could not contain.
Her skills were optimized alongside a fleet of other WNBA greats. Like center Brittney Griner, who overpowered Japan’s smaller front line en route to 30 points on 14-of-18 shooting.
Or guards Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, who won the fifth gold medal of their legendary careers.
And so on and so forth.
Aces teammate Chelsea Gray is one of those All-Stars, having a crucial role as the backup point guard in what was also her first Olympic experience. The 28-year-old played it to perfection by operating the offense with poise and efficiency whenever she replaced Bird.
She finished the gold medal game with six points and four assists, and averaged 7.3 points and 3.2 assists across the six games in the tournament. She adds a gold medal to a resume that already included a WNBA championship and multiple All-Star and All-WNBA honors.
After the win, Wilson and Gray were jubilant in celebration alongside the rest of their teammates, who collectively maintained American international dominance. Team USA has won 55 consecutive games in Olympic competition, dating back to 1996 when this year’s head coach, Dawn Staley, was a star point guard for the national team.
This year’s team boasted an indomitable frontline comprised of Wilson, Griner, Breanna Stewart, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles. They collectively played a brilliant brand of basketball predicated on ball and player movement, and stellar team defense.
They extended the streak that Staley helped start.
Wilson and Gray join Aces teammates Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young as gold medalists. Plum and Young helped USA Basketball win the inaugural three-on-three tournament.
The Aces will reconvene in Las Vegas and resume their season Aug. 15 against the Washington Mystics at Michelob Ultra Arena.