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The Las Vegas Aces, LSU and how sports fans can learn from women’s basketball

Be consistent. Be authentic. Be petty.

Two weeks ago, after the Las Vegas Aces had clinched consecutive WNBA titles, forward A’ja Wilson sat at the Game 4 postgame news conference as a conquering heroine. She was the face of both revelry and rivalry, with a gold bottle in one hand and the mic in another.

Her swagger was never in doubt, even before she donned a shirt to complement her Finals MVP status that read “MV’Periodt.” But there was a gravity to Wilson not seen during her previous championship postgame Q&A session, a legendary performance.

And then the Aces guard Kelsey Plum, in true team fashion, repeated history with an impression of Radio Raheem from Do the Right Thing.

“Wait, y’all! I’m being serious! I’m being serious!” Wilson declared before she momentarily conceded to her teammates’ rendition of rap group Crime Mob’s “Knuck If You Buck.” The championship vibes and the petty competitiveness continued over the next few days. Wilson wore a shirt at the team’s victory parade with the number of first, second and third place regular-season MVP votes she received printed on the back, a celebration that preceded the Aces being the superstar guests of another celebrity Vegas resident – R&B singer Usher.

The last two weeks have been outlandish and over the top, including Wilson calling out the music icon – and it has been absolutely beautiful and free. This is women’s basketball and it deserves these moments.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Top photo, from left to right: Las Vegas Aces coach Becky Hammon, forwards Alysha Clark, A’ja Wilson and center Kiah Stokes react as Stokes rises to speak during the team’s WNBA championship victory parade and rally at Toshiba Plaza on Oct. 23 in Las Vegas. Bottom photo: Las Vegas Aces center A’ja Wilson, wearing a shirt that displays her WNBA Finals MVP voting numbers, dances onstage as rapper 2 Chainz performs on Oct. 23.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Last year was tough on the WNBA and the sport in general because of the trials and detention of Brittney Griner in Russia, who was released in December 2022. A record-setting NCAA Women’s Final Four also displayed the growth of women’s basketball before separate incidents of taunting between Iowa guard Caitlin Clark and LSU forward Angel Reese displayed a race-based double standard.

Near the end of LSU’s 102-85 title game win, Reese pointed at her ring finger and made the “you can’t see me” gesture near Clark, an unspoken dialogue that both players said didn’t warrant the criticism leveled at Reese. Throughout the season and in the NCAA tournament, Clark, who is white, had made the same gesture but was celebrated instead of being vilified like Reese.

“The world is always going to have a good girl and a bad girl,” Reese said at LSU’s media day. “I’ll take that I’m going to be the bad guy because I know I’ve grown women’s basketball and inspired people.”

A similar dynamic occurred during the WNBA Finals, when New York guard Sabrina Ionescu made the “night night” gesture after a fourth-quarter three in Game 3, which led to a response from Las Vegas guard Sydney Colson after the Aces clinched Game 4.

Personally, I love trash talk in sports. What I don’t like is the energy Finesse2Tymes described on his hit record “Back End”: “It’s cool when they do it, it’s a problem when I do it.”

Some people can’t deal with Black women being confident – or better yet, brash. There are folks who bristle at Reese’s unrelenting cockiness, or Colson’s twerking on stage in Vegas. Who cares? You do what you want when you win.

I love the sport’s commitment to authenticity, bots and trolls be damned. Sports has largely transcended on-court competition and has become more of an entertainment property, as evidenced by partnerships with celebrities like media personality Kim Kardashian. Folks can say one thing in the comment section, but media returns and overall clicks suggest something else entirely – people love drama and messiness.

I know Clark is in the lab right now plotting her revenge, and people want to see that. She was already celebrated by Iowa fans after their championship game loss – 9,000 people showed up when the Hawkeyes returned to Iowa City.
Iowa coach Lisa Bruder parlayed that into breaking the women’s college basketball single-game attendance record.

LSU forward Angel Reese (left) points to her ring finger as Iowa guard Caitlin Clark (right) walks off the court during the 2023 NCAA championship game at American Airlines Center on April 2 in Dallas.

Ben Solomon/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Women’s college hoops is full of questions that will follow with compelling live-action answers. Can LSU repeat? Can guard Paige Bueckers return UConn to its former glory? How will coach Dawn Staley and South Carolina rebound from last season’s heartbreaking loss, with a relatively new team?

I couldn’t help but see the glum face of New York forward Breanna Stewart after a subpar postseason performance and wonder how she might respond next season. It was only a year ago when Stewart, then a member of the Seattle Storm, scored 42 points as her team was eliminated by these same Aces, every game going tit-for-tat. How might she respond next year, twice thwarted by the Aces, with new motivation and another year of chemistry with her Liberty teammates?

This is the rivalry people want to see. I’m always hesitant to compare men’s and women’s sports, but I can’t help but mention how the rivalry between Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers and Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics not only captivated college basketball, but profoundly translated to the pros as well. Of course, Johnson and Bird were otherworldly talented, but there was no denying the pettiness – and racial angst – between the Lakers and Celtics of those times. We were rewarded with championship battles for the next decade, and that duel represents the league’s gold standard.

I want to see the Aces and Liberty again next year. I hope both teams are at full strength, that Plum’s comments about the Liberty’s cohesiveness resonate, that the kings and queens of sport still see fit to sit courtside. I hope the Lady Tigers of LSU and Iowa’s women’s basketball team meet again when it matters most, at the Final Four.

More than that, I want sports fans to take a page from women’s basketball. Be consistent. Be authentic. And be petty. In the world of sports, it brings the best out of everyone.

Ken J. Makin is a freelance writer and the host of the Makin’ A Difference podcast. Before and after commentating, he’s thinking about his wife and his sons.