NEW YORK — A’ja Wilson wants everyone to hold up and take a breath on the super-team declarations. Two hours before the second of five meetings with similarly anointed super-team New York, Wilson denounced the use of the phrase for her Las Vegas Aces.
“We win nine [championships], then label me as a super-team,” Wilson said. “Put it there, yes, I am the super-team if we win nine in a row.”
No biggie. Only eight more to go.
The probability of any team in any sport winning nine consecutive championships is practically zero. The U.S. women’s national soccer team showcased how difficult it is to maintain such a high standard less than 12 hours earlier and halfway across the world.
In the WNBA, there hasn’t been a repeat champion in two decades. Let alone anything more than the four consecutive won in the league’s first seasons by the powerhouse Houston Comets. In the 1960s Boston Celtics didn’t even reach nine. Their streak stopped at eight.
Which was exactly Wilson’s point. It’s as incredulous as a certain other group with “super” in the title smashing through Barclays Center in Brooklyn. And until that happens, she isn’t interested in the name. Even if everyone else is leaning deep into the WNBA’s super-team era that will see a peak this month.
“That’s what I think a super-team is, is like superheroes, like if Superman came down and was like, ‘I’m here,’ then I’m like, ‘OK, a super-team,’” Wilson said in the two-time MVP’s classic mic-drop style. “But no, we don’t wear leotards, so no, we’re not.”
Leotards are not actually in the definition of a super-team, a term that barreled its way into the national consciousness in 2010 when NBA free agents LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in Miami. If James had Wilson’s definition, his iconic “not one, not two, not three” title claim would have gone on slightly longer.
A super-team is typically defined as one formed when two or more established All-Star players join a team that already has an established All-Star. Some believe all it takes is one All-Star added. It is different than a Big 3. A super-team is a Big 3; a Big 3 is not a super-team.
Confusing? Sure. But at its core, a super-team is far and away more talented than the rest whether that be on paper with accolades or in history with championships. They have rivals, they embolden fan bases, and they draw hate. And because of all that, they pull great attendance and TV viewership.
It’s why the WNBA league office and commissioner Cathy Engelbert are leaning into it.
“It’s really important to build rivalries because then you have games of consequence. You have games people want to watch,” Engelbert told reporters 30 minutes before tipoff.
The fans proved the point. A record 11,418 attended Sunday with more watching on the national ABC showcase TV broadcast.
The Liberty, who crushed the Aces 91-66 at home Sunday to even the season series, is a true super-team by definition, adding Breanna Stewart (then a four-time All-Star) and Courtney Vandersloot (four-time) to Sabrina Ionescu (one). They traded for Jonquel Jones (four). Stewart, a two-time champion, and Jones are former MVPs, and all could have more All-Star nods if the league had held the annual event during Olympic years (which it now does)
The Aces, who won the first meeting 98-81 in June, are more of a super-team in the sense they are expected to dominate and win again with their additional All-Star. They signed Candace Parker (seven-time All-Star) and Alysha Clark, who have each won two championships. Clark has also made All-Defensive Teams.
Unlike the Liberty forming a team through free agency, the Aces are adding two key assets to an almost purely homegrown squad. Wilson, Kelsey Plum, and Jackie Young are all former No. 1 picks of the Aces franchise. Chelsea Gray joined in free agency ahead of 2021.
“We’re the same core that we were last year and no one was talking about or saying we were a super-team last year,” Wilson said. “I don’t think we’ve won enough for people to even claim that.”
But they’re on their way. They won both the Finals and Commissioner’s Cup championship last season, a signal to their status as an after-the-fact super-team. Wilson doesn’t base a super-team definition on individual accolades, but they swept what they could of those last year, too. Wilson won another MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. Young was Most Improved. Plum was an All-WNBA first-teamer and All-Star MVP. Gray won the Cup MVP.
The decimating loss to New York took a little shine off their record-chasing season and proved a healthy and chemistry-emboldened New York team is one of the biggest challenges standing in their path. Much like the Liberty was to the Comets in the league’s inaugural seasons and initial rivalry.
Lucky for the WNBA, Engelbert, and fans, it won’t be a long wait to see the two meet again.
The Commissioner’s Cup in-season tournament was formed in part for another income opportunity for players and to create rivalries since the postseason is no longer seeded by conference. Fittingly, New York (7-3) won the East, thanks to the 2-0 head-to-head tiebreaker against the Sun. Las Vegas (9-1) cruised into the West title at 9-1 with the Dallas Wings (6-4) as its main competitor.
And because of timing, the Aces and Liberty will meet in Las Vegas on Aug. 15 for the Cup title and again two days later in their third regular-season game. It will be the truest test of what a postseason series would look like between the two with each coach making adjustments and likely no significant lineup-changing injuries or player performance surges as there were between the first meetings.
New York players noted there was an extra level of focus and intensity because they were facing the best team in the league in a national ABC showcase on their home floor after the Aces “kicked our butts last time,” Vandersloot said.
“Unfortunately, it does work that way,” the Liberty point guard said.
Expect the same from the Aces next week, with the added luster from each side of $500,000 on the line in a league where the top earners make a supermax of $234,936. The Cup has had somewhat of a quiet start since its debut in 2021, and this pairing could help create the intensity the league hoped to see out of it for the summer’s longest days.
The sides will meet a fifth and final time in Barclays on Aug. 28, making for a month of potentially record attendance and TV numbers Engelbert yearns to see as she and the league work toward a bigger and more fair media rights deal in 2025.
But don’t call it a meeting of the super-teams to Wilson.
“I don’t believe in super-teams. I don’t believe in ring chasing,” Wilson said. “All of that is BS to me because at the end of the day, we love what we do and we’re professionals at it.”
Unless her leg sleeve magically turns into a full leotard by next week, she’ll leave any super-team declaration for a decade from now.