To say the Las Vegas Aces’ title run was rooted in fate or seemingly destined is muck with cliché, but it rings true in spite.
On the surface, everything about this team just made sense, implicating a future championship; a new head coach of historical W fame and glory, a past run to the Finals, postseason tribulations, a budding young core, and an MVP caliber talent.
The Aces could’ve had five All-Stars. Riquna Williams (oh hey, she was pretty important!) is one of basketball’s great volume shooters and microwave scorers.
Becky Hammon revamped, tweaked, and modernized the Aces’ play style and finished with the second most efficient offense in league history. They toyed with numerous defensive schemes and got funky with junk coverages to make playing small sustainable. The chemistry of this team stands above all else for me.
The deeper I’ve gotten into sports, the more I’ve found how rare a team like this is. Numerous dominant, successful basketball teams fit and redefine what a contender is each season. The Aces redefined what it meant to be a team.
I’m not privy to everything in the locker room, off the court, and behind closed doors. Yet, the closeness and togetherness of teams typically tend to be overplayed. There’s a greater façade in camaraderie amongst pro teams that tends to remain untouched.
Think of all the places you’ve worked; you’ve probably liked many of the people you spent your daily grind in proximity to. Maybe you even are friends outside of the workplace. Rarely is there a work environment, especially one based on competition, that can foster a habitat conducive to something above a “working relationship.”
You’ve said that phrase before, don’t lie!
That isn’t to slander others who don’t fit the mold but to point out how special it is when a group breaks it. The 2022 Las Vegas Aces are different. They’re special. And while I can point out the things that made them a revelation on the court, I honestly will remember them most for the moments they had off of it.
Every team has character and vibes, but the brazen personality of this team is unmatched. They are unabashedly themselves at all times.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I think people are often endeared to a team because of grit, toughness, fighting through adversity, and finding creative ways to win.
The Aces appealed to me through that celebration of self. That’s the kind of thing I look at and think, “I want that. I want to be in settings like that.” They won games (a lot of them!), but it was how that set them apart. Hammon stated in the postgame presser of Game Four and throughout the season that she could run the blandest schemes in the world, but if the group bought in and believed in it, that’s what mattered most.
Hammon implements some of the best schemes in basketball alongside that buy-in.
Even if the team hadn’t won the Finals, they’re the group I feel I’d remember most for what they brought to the league and the game. It’s easy to quantify winning a title; the Aces were quite literally the last team standing, something that can’t be taken away from them, as A’ja Wilson put eloquently postgame. Yet, that unquantifiable connectivity, togetherness, and self-belief are what people yearn for and can only hope to capture some of that magic in a proverbial bottle.
The 2022 Las Vegas Aces, ladies, and gentlemen, are a special squad. Without further adieu, let’s reminisce on some of the moments that set this team apart this summer.
The Tortilla Challenge video was the one that really broke out and put the team on the map roughly a month into the season.
Perhaps the least surprising thing is that Jackie Young won while keeping her composure. Kelsey Plum’s pronunciation of tortilla set Twitter ablaze for nearly a full day.
Talking to Wilson at All-Star about the tortilla challenge and the team’s off-court chemistry, she mentioned that she never felt it was forced; everything is genuine and in the moment with the Aces. Plum just showed up to practice with a fresh package of tortillas one day. Half the team had no idea why, and that’s all she wrote.
Speaking of Plum, she and Dearica Hamby had an epic prank war to start the year. A play date turned into a water balloon pelting at brunch extremely quickly as Plum picked up Hamby’s daughter, Amaya, and brought the rain into a restaurant. Hamby got back at Plum and then some by painting Plum’s car before practice!
Speaking of being themselves at all times, no one on the team or even in basketball embodies that notion quite like MVP A’ja Wilson. She had many hilarious, passionate, heartfelt, and genuine quotes during postgame pressers, live interviews, and in-game mic ’d-up moments.
After making the playoffs at the end of the regular season, her postgame was like no other. ‘House members’ will live in my head rent-free for years to come.
The Aces lived for Tik Tok this season. Every trend, they hit it and rebranded it in their own way. On days before games or nights of, you could often see the Aces going live on Instagram, posting team renditions to Tik Tok itself, or uploading to Twitter. You never knew quite what would come out of a post-practice evening from the Aces!
I CERTAINLY did not expect the team to play out I Think I Love Her, but it was everything. There’s so much to break down here.
A’ja is selling out for the Oscar playing her part as Gucci. Jackie Young lying on the training table with sunglasses on just fits. The massage gun used as a boom mic is the touch that takes this from B+ to A.
Hammon has spoken all year openly that she wasn’t entirely sure how to take a group that was so loose but ran with it because it worked for them. Players, in turn, have mentioned that Becky’s personality has meshed since day one. She brings a level of accountability while also prioritizing people.
As Becky said herself, “It’s important to keep everyone engaged. We’re a unit. We’re a team. Whether you’re Aisha Sheppard or A’ja Wilson, I try to be fair with everybody.”
“Equal doesn’t always mean fair,” says Hammon with a laugh.
“But I will be fair with everybody.”
As the year went on, more and more could be seen of Hammon intertwining with the team. Those personalities so clearly meshed and practically became one cohesive Aces identity. The team hit another stride after a low point before the All-Star Break.
Is it coincidental that the Aces won a title after Hammon participated in a team version of Cry Me a River? I’d say not!
I could write a small novel about Sydney Colson’s best tweets throughout the season.
Kelsey Plum walking up on stage with a giant speaker and dancing postgame after last night was just… Aces.
We had the recreation of the All-Star MVP Trophy ceremony in which a squeezable applesauce pouch was used as a fake trophy. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert returned the favor with a trophy prank herself at the Commissioner’s Cup Final.
This is still my favorite quote tweet of the last six months.
This team is special and has been all season. While it’s easy to get caught up in what’s next, what may come for this team, where the league is headed, and how 2023 might look, it’s worth stopping to appreciate the here and now. It’s so easy to lose sight of how incredible something is in the moment and, more importantly, why it’s worth remembering.
Congratulations to the Las Vegas Aces on their first championship, the first professional major sports title in Vegas. Congrats to the Sun on a great season as well. Again, we can get so hung up on ‘falling short.’ One team wins each year, and while the championship is the ultimate goal for most franchises and certainly was for the Sun this season, a loss shouldn’t erase the positive memories of their stellar run this season and improbable postseason play.
What a year, what a season, and what a playoff.
WNBA reporter Mark Schindler writes a column on WNBA.com throughout the season and can be reached on Twitter at @MG_Schindler. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.