SALT LAKE CITY – The balance of power in the WNBA is consolidating, but that doesn’t bother A’ja Wilson. The reigning MVP (her second overall) and defending WNBA champion will take on any challengers and is prepared for what comes next, even if that means developing a rivalry with another team in the league. She’s singularly focused on repeating, and those odds became a lot more likely now that Candace Parker is in the fold in Las Vegas. The Aces also added Ayesha Clark in what turned out to be a seismic shift in free agency, with major names moving around the league.
There’s plenty of time to speculate, though. For now, Wilson is enjoying the offseason. The 26-year-old forward was present for all the NBA All-Star festivities, and even got her own Ruffles chip flavor to boot — smoky bbq twists — while helping to create a flavor for Charles Barkley, appropriately named “hot dog.”
Dime had the chance to catch up with Wilson on All-Star Saturday to chat all things Aces, the importance of being open and vulnerable to show young fans it’s okay to not be okay, the grounding nature of candles, Steely Dan, and more.
Martin Rickman: I know it’s been an exciting and busy offseason, but just in general, have you even had time to take stock of how it’s all shaken out?
A’ja Wilson: Yeah. I mean, I always love free agency because I feel like I don’t know who’s on which team until the season comes, and they’re in uniform. But no, I think the beauty of it is that we’re growing. We’re growing every single day and we’re heading in the direction that we want to head in, which is upward. And we’re in control of our own destiny as a franchise of the Vegas Aces and also as the league. And it’s been super fun to be a part of. And I’m so glad that I finally have one [title] underneath my belt, because it’s always going to be in your legacy, in your career, your first one is always going to be your baby. So I’m super excited just where the W’s going, but also where I am today.
When you talk about legacy, is that something that you’ve been able to pay any attention to? It’s hard when you’re in the moment, because you want to be present, but it’s also hard not to notice that when you start collecting trophies and you get a statue and you’re like, “Wow, I’ve come a long way.”
I would have my doubts … maybe not doubts, but I would have just kind of hiccups or whatever. But I think last year really kind of just solidified just who I want to be in the league, really established myself. I always felt like I was trying to establish myself in the league. And I think coming off of last year I was pretty established so I can kind of pat myself in the back there and say, “Hey, this is legendary no matter what. They can’t take it away from you, so you just got to continue to just work hard and be you.”
When you add a player like Candace, what can you learn from her personally, not just on the court, but from her ability to juggle as many things as she’s done? And you’re creating that lasting off-court legacy too as you continue to build your profile?
That’s so key, just firing on all cylinders. When it comes to Candace, I think my biggest thing is picking her brain from the basketball standpoint. Her basketball IQ is just out of this world, and I’m so glad that I don’t have the guard her anymore. I can do it in practice, I can get through that. But no, in game, she picks the game apart and I love that. And so just to be alongside her and to learn the way that she’s guided throughout this league, how it’s changed, and what does she want to see change? I think we could really dominate the WNBA as a whole, and not just necessarily on paper or on the court, but just as a whole of what we want the W to look like.
Do you want more competition with super teams you’ve got with the Liberty? Is that a challenge that you readily embrace? I mean, it’s good for the league as a whole. It’s good for fans, but it does make it harder to win.
I’m going to try to beat everybody, whether it’s the super team or not so super team. My goal is I’m going to try to beat everyone alongside of my teammates, but it’s super exciting just to have that, because I think every sport needs a good rival rivalry. And I think the W was kind of missing it. It was kind of like, “Oh, kumbaya. Okay.” And it’s like now I think we’re getting it. And when people see a rivalry and you see two teams don’t mess with each other, you’re going to tune in. I mean, when the Lakers and Boston play, no matter what records they have, you’re going to watch.
Yeah, there’s history.
You know it’s history. So to now start developing that in the W I think is a huge deal for us.
What does it mean for you personally to be a part of NBA All-Star weekend? And what do you want to take away to start to build into W All-Star, too, to kind of grab some of that extra shine?
I’ve been super blessed to be able to come to pretty much every All-Star since I’ve been in the league and just have fun. I mean, have activations, like Ruffles here, creating just different fan content. And I think that’s so key. And that’s something that we always want to bring to the W is getting that fan support. I mean, there are kids out here going crazy, in Jazz jerseys, but they see Jayson Tatum and they’re like, “Oh my God.” So that right there, these activations that we are in, I’m blessed to be a part of. And that’s where we’re now starting to turn over to the W, having those times where you can sit down with a fan and be partnered with Ruffles, that’s like, yeah, “we’re going to turn your hot dog idea into a national chip.” It’s mind-blowing, but it’s what it’s all about. And I’m just blessed to be in this situation.
How did the flavor come about for you, and if you were going to try to pick someone else to get one, whether it’s W or NBA player, who would you then be the next person to get one?
Well, my flavor came about, I just tasted the smokey barbecue twist, and it just kind of reminded me of home, just something like barbecue down south in the Carolinas. And my hot dog flavor just came from, I just thought of Charles Barkley and the first food item that came to mind was a hot dog. [Laughs] But the next person to get one, I don’t even know. I can’t name one athlete. I feel like everyone’s pretty cool, but I’m blessed to have my flavor in the spot.
I know you’re a big candle person. I’m starting to get into them now. I’m noticing that it’s really been clarifying for me. I’m starting to think about bringing travel ones on the road with me so that I can actually center myself a little bit more. What does that mean to you, building that brand, but also candles in general? And what are some of the other things that you’re doing self-care wise right now that have helped you kind of stay grounded?
Candles are so big. I have my own candle company, Burnt Wax Candle, and I partner with my mom. I never knew going into business with your mother would be so hard, but it is. But I love her. But no, my love of candles has been incredible. Like you said, it’s just the aromatherapy of it all, just peaceful. And I just love the scents, I love diving into what smells good with anything. And I think when it comes to self-care, I really just focus on me. I’m big on my nails. I love getting my nails done always. And it’s kind of therapeutic to me in a sense. So that’s something that I’ve gained. But yeah, I’m really, I love candles, I’m a huge candle fan.
What are you rocking with scent wise right now that you really like?
Scent-wise right now, I love a good vanilla. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve just been stuck with vanilla and I’ve just really been loving it.
You’ve been very forward facing about your struggles, whether it be with dyslexia or about growing up as a woman of color in Colombia and everything like that. How important is it for young girls, but just anybody, whether it’s people of color, just anybody going through struggles, dyslexia, depression, anxiety, and have an athlete like at the top of their game, sharing that? And does that platform mean more to you as you kind of continue to grow in your confidence and in your own power?
For sure. I think I’ve developed an understanding of how big my platform really is. And I’ve just always became a firm believer in, “if you can see her, you can be her.” Representation really matters. And I’m so keyed in on that because every young girl should have an opportunity to be successful in whatever field she wants to do. And yes, there may be bumps in the road, but I think if they see someone like me or someone Candace or ‘Bron, it’s like, “I have bad days.” I think it then registers with them like, “Okay, I’m not crazy.”
I can have a bad day.
With social media and everything in life, you feel like you have to live someone else’s life when it’s not always like that. So for me, I’ve always just been big on, “if you can see me, you could be me.” You could be better than me. And I think that hopefully, over time, we can plant seeds and make this world a better place.
I know your dad named you after a Steely Dan album, it’s one of my favorite albums of all time, I’ve got it on vinyl.
Have you gotten into them at all?
The only song I listen to of theirs is “Aja.” It’s always in my phone. It’s always like the first on my Apple music, because it’s Aja, but it was my dad’s warmup song, every time he played in Europe. And he said if I ever had a daughter, I would name her Aj’a. So they’ve actually had a residency in Vegas [before], so hopefully I can get a chance to kind of go and see them eventually and see what’s going on over there.