The Aces not only became the first back-to-back champions in 21 seasons, but also established themselves as one of the best teams in WNBA history. Let’s celebrate the Aces’ outstanding 2023.
A dominant title defense
As head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s, Pat Riley conceptualized the “disease of more,” describing how players’ desire for more opportunities, accolades and attention detrimentally can degrade a team’s togetherness and, in turn, success. The Aces, in contrast, appeared inoculated from the disease, only infected with the desire for more—more talent, more wins and more dominance.
The unexpected addition of a pair a high-profile free agents—Candace Parker and Alysha Clark—indicated Vegas’ commitment to chasing championships. While a foot injury prevented Parker from having the intended impact, Clark proved the perfect complement, evidenced by her Sixth Player of the Year honor.
However, much of the Aces’ overwhelming excellence to begin to the 2023 season came from their existing core. The continued growth of Jackie Young, in particular, elevated Vegas above already-high preseason expectations. Young would go on to earn her first All-WNBA nod.
As the Aces showed themselves superior to the W’s other top teams, Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum and, of course, A’ja Wilson joined Young in turning in tremendous performances. All four were All-Stars, with Wilson, as the league’s leading vote-getter, serving as captain and selecting her three teammates. At midseason, the Aces were, unquestionably, the best team in the league.
The second half of the 2023 was not as smooth for the Aces, with the defending champions looking vulnerable in several upsets. Losses to the New York Liberty, including in the Commissioner’s Cup Championship, raised questions about Vegas’ favored status.
The trajectory of the Aces’ season resembled that of the last WNBA team to repeat as champions—the 2002 Los Angeles Sparks. After a strong first half of the season, the Sparks experienced stumbles down the stretch before regaining their form and finishing the postseason undefeated.
The amazing A’ja
Through (relative) struggles, the Aces and their fans had reason for continued confidence. That reason? A’ja Wilson. Her 2023 high point—a 53-point performance that tied the most points scored in a single game in WNBA history—should not overshadow her season-long excellence.
Coming off her first Defensive Player of the Year honor, second MVP award and first WNBA championship, Wilson could have approached the 2023 season with complacency. Instead, she was better and hungrier. Named Defensive Player of the Year for the second-straight season, in addition to All-Star and unanimous All-WNBA selections, she also would have been a deserving MVP. That perceived snub seemed to add extra motivation in the postseason, culminating in a Finals MVP performance.
The championship drive
As soon as the playoffs began, the Aces played with a smoldering desire and determination for a second-consecutive championship.
A domination of the Chicago Sky in the first round and the authoritative elimination of the Dallas Wings in the second round set the stage for a superteam showdown against the Liberty in the Finals. In the first two games in Vegas, the Aces outclassed their Eastern Conference counterparts, putting themselves on the precipice of an undefeated postseason run.
However, more than a close loss in Game 3, the loss of Gray and Kiah Stokes to injury suddenly put the Aces’ repeat bid on shaky ground. The super team had become underdogs. Yet, the adversity appeared only to embolden the Aces. Fearless performances from Cayla George and Sydney Colson, combined with the unrelenting excellence of Wilson, resulted in a Vegas victory—and back-to-back titles.