The Las Vegas Aces are laying the foundation for a basketball dynasty by crafting the ideal mix of players, coaches, and management. The franchise is riding a euphoric high following their second consecutive WNBA championship over the New York Liberty in Game 4 of the Finals last week.
The Aces have reveled in a stellar season, clinching the WNBA championship title with style and panache. Their journey to success was nothing short of spectacular, and at the core of this radiant victory stands A’ja Wilson.
“Being able to win back to back, something that hasn’t been done in over 20 years, is a testimony to the leadership in the locker room, and that starts with A’ja Wilson,” Aces President Nikki Fargas tells ESSENCE.
The Aces hold the distinction of being the first reigning champions to achieve a repeat victory since 2002 when the Los Angeles Sparks, led by Lisa Leslie, swept the Liberty with her impressive performances.
“When you go back to 1997 and the Houston Comets won four, and then the [Los Angeles] Sparks won three, and now we’ve been the third team to have back-to-back championships. There’s been so many great teams that have won championships; Seattle, Minnesota, but to do it back-to-back, the focus and the stamina and the energy—mental and physical—to be able to do so, puts us into a category that we all have been talking about: we want to build a dynasty here,” Fargas says candidly. She orchestrated a full-court diamond press strategy within the organization, rendering the team a juggernaut not only on the hardwood, but also within the team’s dynamic.
Wilson’s electrifying performance on the court serves as a brush stroke on the canvas of this superteam’s legendary story. Fargas says that Wilson is “built differently,” and “she’s one of those rare individuals who plays on both sides of the basketball.”
Nonetheless, Wilson couldn’t do it alone. Led by majority owner Mark Davis, Fargas, and Head Coach Becky Hammon, were able to build around Wilson with key players. “Chelsea Gray, Jackie Young, Kelsey Plum, and then obviously, the addition of Kiah Stokes as our starting center. We were able to really do a nice job in free agency with Candace Parker, Alysha Clark, and Cayla George.”
Adding a layer of sweetness to this championship triumph is the fact that the Aces achieved it in the face of adversity—injuries. Key starters, Chelsea Gray and Kiah Stokes, both hobbled by foot injuries sustained in Game 3, found themselves watching from the sidelines. And, as if to compound the challenge, the Aces were also deprived of the seasoned Candace Parker, who had foot surgery in late July.
“We were set with a very deep roster at the beginning of the season,” Fargas says. “We had Candace Parker go out with an injury. We didn’t have Riquna Williams who was a huge part of winning our first world championship. Towards the end of the season, we had only eight able bodies.”
The Aces’ growing dynasty reveals a significant shift in the landscape of the WNBA. Under the visionary leadership of Fargas, the organization is not merely focused on short-term success but is strategically building a legacy that is designed to thrive over the long haul, likened to other notable dynasties such as the 1980s Lakers.
Although Fargas leads the front office for the Aces, she is a veteran in basketball, and brought her love of winning to Vegas. Prior to joining the franchise, she was head coach for women’s basketball programs at UCLA and LSU. It was at LSU where she was named the second-winningest coach in school history. She took over as the president of the Aces in 2021, and under her leadership, the team became known for their strong work ethic, training, and a unique focus on unity both as a collective force on the court and as a family off the hardwood.
“This team, they really enjoy each other. I mean really love each other and love spending time off the court, but that wasn’t always the case,” Fargas said of the team. Assembling a group of talented women was just the first step. The true investment lies in fostering team chemistry, a quality that is vividly displayed on the court with the Aces. “They’ve learned to work towards that and they realize that this is something bigger than themselves, and that’s how they compete and that’s how they play,” she continues.
At the Aces parade, it’s impossible not to get caught up by the sheer magnificence of the moment. The franchise has gifted Nevada with its first professional sports championship. To be led by the Aces makes it all the more special, and it’s by design—majority owner Mark Davis believes in the power of women.
“It’s really special too, because Mark was very intentional about putting women in leadership roles; myself as the president, Becky Hammon as our head coach, and then Natalie Williams as our general manager. I also hired Jennifer Azzi as our chief of business development. Now three of those young ladies that I mentioned, not including myself, all played for the franchise,” Fargas explains. “And so even in our hiring practices, we wanted to be intentional on not only hiring great women, but they also were part of our family. I think that’s something that’s a little different, a little unique. Jennifer and Natalie on the business side are both Olympic gold medal winners. Both were standouts at their respective colleges. And I think that says a lot about the narrative that we’re trying to create here,” Fargas adds.
However, this winning culture isn’t just in the people, it’s embedded into the structure of their home stadium, too. The atmosphere in the Michelob Ultra Arena, affectionately referred to as “The House,” is centered around a love for basketball. According to Fargas, the acoustics in the gym can be heard all the way in the front office, adding to the palpable excitement and energy that echoes throughout “The House” during every game.
“Our headquarters are state of the art. The other thing I will say is the atmosphere that is created in our arena is second to none. We’re able to hear the ball bounce, and we’re able to hear the whistles blowing, while also conducting meetings. And I think it gives us a different level of connectivity to the basketball side,” Fargas explains. “So it motivates my staff to go out and sell the building out.” The Aces led the league in average attendance after increasing their year-over-year total by more than any other franchise. “It’s a tribute to our ticketing and sales team, our marketing team, and partnerships. Every department is just stepping up big time. They don’t want to let these players down and they definitely don’t want to let this community down,” Fargas continues.
The Aces’ story isn’t confined to their dazzling dynasty in the making. It’s a cultural revolution in the world of women’s professional sports. The chasm of WNBA salaries, dimmed in comparison to their male counterparts, is an imbalance felt deeply. Both Fargas and Davis share a single, profound goal: to architect a franchise where women athletes can pursue their dreams on home soil, where overseas voyages are born of choice rather than necessity. “We have a great league and we’ve seen the growth of that league. We want these women to become household names and build the brands so they don’t have to go overseas,” Fargas says.
Davis is working to change the landscape in how we value women and women’s basketball, because quite frankly, it holds some of the nation’s most remarkable records. The United States Women’s Basketball team boasts nine Olympic gold medals, along with one silver and one bronze. The U.S. has a streak of seven consecutive gold medals, which hasn’t been done in any other sport.
The Las Vegas Aces have written their chapter of triumph, and their success is not only measured in trophies, but also in a culture that’s changing the game for women in professional sports. As the Aces stand on the podium, the echoes of their victories in “The House” reverberate far beyond the court. Fargas and her team are not just shaping a basketball dynasty; they’re shaping the future, where women athletes are valued and celebrated. When the Aces’ story is told and retold it won’t just be about winning games; it’ll be about rewriting the narrative of women in sports, and as we applaud their achievements, we look forward to the chapters they’ll continue to pen in the years to come.
“We’re glad to say that Las Vegas Aces are being creative, innovative, pushing the narrative wanting to be disruptive. We’re trying to do all those things,” Fargas says. “More championships, that’s what I envision.”