60°F
weather icon Windy

Gordon: A’ja Wilson has ascended to Las Vegas sports icon

A bronze statue of A’ja Wilson sits outside Colonial Life Arena on the University of South Carolina’s campus.

Another one belongs someday outside Mandalay Bay.

At 27, Wilson is already among Las Vegas’ greatest all-time athletes — armed with two WNBA championships, a pair of MVPs and a couple of Defensive Player of the Year trophies to show for it.

Her latest feat — a 24-point, 16-rebound force-of-will punctuated by a picturesque 14-footer in the clutch of Game 4 of the WNBA Finals — ensured that the Aces became the league’s first repeat champions in 21 years.

Her gregarious temperament and genuine deferential sense of humility are as foundational to the franchise as her nightly two-way dominance.

“When you have your best player, your franchise player that can do that, that can show up and be like that, it makes everybody want to rally around her even more,” teammate Alysha Clark said after a 3-1 series victory in the WNBA Finals over the New York Liberty.

“It just speaks to the testament of who she is, the woman her parents have raised. … She’s been doing this all season, and she did it on the biggest stage.”

All-time greatness

The accolades affirm her greatness, and so to do the statistics she regularly submits: averages of 22.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks during what should have been another MVP season swelled to 23.8, 11.8 and 2.3 during the postseason.

Accordingly, she was honored as the Finals MVP.

She’s unstoppable around the rim and deft and fluid away from it — and on the other end a defense unto herself.

Her ravaging play in Game 4 of the Finals powered the Aces to the most impressive victory in the history of the franchise.

Among her comments afterward: “I don’t do it without my teammates. … I’m so grateful that I have teammates that allow me to be me, because that’s when we can get things flowing.”

Her actions match her words. She’s taken less than the maximum salary available to her so the Aces can retain All-Star teammates Chelsea Gray, Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum and sign key role players like Clark and center Kiah Stokes.

She’s as content to set screens, rebound and defend if other teammates are thriving offensively, maximizing her impact without the ball. She willingly bypassed the accumulation of statistics in noncompetitive fourth quarters so the reserves could play.

When asked by ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt about what Wilson brings to the Aces every night, coach Becky Hammon said, “I get a selfless superstar and a super human being. She has so much humility and grace sometimes I want to shake her. I’m like, ‘Do you even understand how good you are?’ ”

‘Need to celebrate’

Her coach sure does.

Her teammates do, too, and so does the Las Vegas sporting faithful.

Her customary pregame sprint from the tunnel onto the court when lineups are announced is greeted — more and more often by sellout crowds — with the loudest ovation among the starting five, morphing during games into chants of “MVP” when she steps to the free-throw line.

She reciprocates the adoration with unmitigated effort. Possession after possession, game after game, season after season.

Championship after championship. Parade after parade.

“This is what it’s all about, to have your name sketched in history right now with other teams — we never gave up,” Wilson said. “This a moment we need to celebrate.”

Wilson is an icon the city needs to celebrate.

Contact Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on X.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST