Aces honored with rings, raise 2nd WNBA championship banner

They got championship rings and a banner, a pregame talk from Tom Brady and a WNBA season-opening win. It was quite a night for the two-time defending champion Las Vegas Aces.

Las Vegas celebrated its back-to-back crowns ahead of its 89-80 victory over the Phoenix Mercury behind 30 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists from forward A’ja Wilson.

“We’re back,” team owner Mark Davis told the sellout crowd at Michelob Ultra Arena on Tuesday night. “Not only are we back, we’re back-to-back world champions. All I can say is let’s three-peat.”

However, seven-time Super Bowl champion Brady, a minority owner of the Aces, told the team in a locker room visit before the game not to get too caught up in focusing on a three-peat.

“He was saying, ‘The banners are always going to be there, so you don’t have to try to defend that. Just go do what you’ve been doing,'” Wilson said. “That message made the night for me. Because I feel like we get so caught up in, ‘Oh, my God, we’ve got to three-peat.’ But that banner is going to be there forever. My ring is going to be in the trophy case forever. Let me focus on getting better, and then that’s when everything else flows.”

Aces coach Becky Hammon said she didn’t tell the players beforehand that Brady was visiting, so it was a nice surprise for them.

“I thought it would be cool to bring a sports figure in who’s not only invested in our team, but also knows a few things about winning,” Hammon said, smiling. “Just let him have the floor. He’s somebody who has sat where they’ve sat — chasing history and trying to be the greatest.

“Those things don’t just happen. You really have to be intentional about your work, your approach … And about winning the moments. We’re certainly happy that he came and shared some of his knowledge and passion and really love for women’s sports.”

Las Vegas brings its roster back for another run at the title, but point guard Chelsea Gray remains out with a lower left leg injury suffered in last season’s Game 3 of the WNBA Finals against the New York Liberty.

The Aces debuted their new silver and black uniforms, more closely mirroring those of Davis’ other Las Vegas team, the Raiders.

Davis, who sat next to Brady and WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert, greeted Hammon and the Las Vegas players when they were introduced to the crowd.

Finals MVP Wilson was showered with chants of “MVP” from the sellout crowd.

“We’re so grateful to have a fan base that is supportive of us,” Wilson told the fans. “We’re blessed to be in this situation. We worked our butts off to get to this point, so we just want to say thank you.”

Engelbert could have been in Connecticut for Caitlin Clark’s debut with the Indiana Fever, but instead took center stage in Las Vegas.

“The favorite part of my job is handing out the trophy and then the following year helping hand out the rings,” Engelbert said before the ceremony. “So, this is important — back-to-back champions.”

“The ring is nice … It’s huge,” Wilson said. “I was not expecting that. It’s like diamonds all the way around — bling, bling, bling, bling, bling.”

The Aces are hoping to become the first team since the Houston Comets from 1997 to 2000 to win at least three titles in a row and the second to ever accomplish the feat.

Las Vegas became the first team since the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001 and 2002 to repeat as champions when the Aces beat the Liberty in four games of the Finals last year.

“It’s going to be a lot of grinding out games,” Wilson said of the teams who will challenge the Aces this year. “We do have something that people want. We have to try to continue to get better and better.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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