May 31, 2023 

Locked on Women’s Basketball: Inside the Las Vegas Aces 2022 WNBA championship banner-raising

Howard and Matthew chat about the Aces ring and banner ceremony and what drives A'ja Wilson for more

It’s time for another Locked on Women’s Basketball podcast episode. The Las Vegas Aces made a big show of raising that 2022 WNBA championship banner, and The Next’s Aces beat reporter, Matthew Walter, was there to document it all. He joins host Howard Megdal to discuss everything that happened at the ceremony and the many reasons why the Aces, early on, look ready to do it again in 2023. A’ja Wilson‘s championship mindset, the breakout of Jackie Young as an early MVP candidate, and the clutch performance of Kiah Stokes all get examined.

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Matthew talks about his experience being in the building for the Aces 2022 WNBA championship banner:

“Yeah, I think it starts with the fact that the Aces did a great job of trying to make everyone feel involved, every fan, every person. They sold out their ring night; they had Anita Baker sing the national anthem, and they brought Coil Leray to do the halftime show. And again, all the players, having never seen these rings before, were in such awe to get their rings. There’s only one player on the Aces when they were given out rings who had already won a ring and that was Chelsea Gray. Everybody else was getting their ring for the first time in their career. Aisha Sheppard was there; she came back after being cut to get her ring. Dearica Hamby obviously now on the Sparks, but because they played the Sparks, she got her ring and got to celebrate that with her daughter and her newborn son.

So it was just an awe-inspiring moment for, I think all of them, right? They all just looked so happy, so excited to see what they were getting. And the thing that caught my eye was the banner that they raised right next to their one retired jersey, you know who that belongs to their now head coach Becky Hammon. So the fact that they put the banner right next to the head coach’s jersey, the one player whose jersey they retired. And A’ja Wilson got very emotional when that banner was revealed. And I asked her, and she said, it just brought back all of the feelings or emotions of winning the championship a year ago.

The Aces are really leaning into it, everything promotion-wise, everything involving their on-court stuff, their in-game entertainment, everything. It’s the first championship in Las Vegas history. We want a championship with this group and really trying to just continue to bring that vibe and even the media lanyard that I was given that has my credential on it says champions on it. So they are just trying to sell the idea that they won this championship. The rings are 560 plus diamonds just they really went all out in trying to show the players, show the city that they are the champions and they want to sell it and celebrate that.”

Matthew talks about A’ja Wilson’s desire to want more than just one championship:

“She wants another one. She said it; she said we want to build a dynasty here. We want to be one of the all-time great teams in WNBA history. And that’s what drives her. She said, I’m treating this season just like I treated last season, just like I’ve treated every season. I’m going to act the same way, do the same things, and pretend like I’m going for my first one again because now I know what it takes, but she even quoted Steve Kerr said the second one is always harder, the second, the third the times you try to go after you get that first one because now you know what it takes. And you know that it is a difficult grind. Sometimes you have that first one. And you’re like, okay, I have it. Maybe I don’t want to do the difficult stuff as much anymore. And she’s not like that, she is like, we are going to grind. This is not a slowing down this is a speeding up.

They are trying to continue to do and even get to a better higher level than they were last year. The drive is there. You talk to her at any media availability. She has the same mentality and mindset, and nothing has changed for her. She may have even gotten more locked in. And she’s excited because she, like many Aces players, didn’t play in the offseason and didn’t go overseas.

She’s like, I’ve just been missing basketball so much. I just wanted to play; I wanted to get out there. And so just having all these games for her has been excellent, not only get in game shape but just to play basketball again, something I think she clearly has missed. And like you said, she’s young, she’s 27. She’s been fairly healthy her entire career, and I don’t see her slowing down anytime soon.”

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