Las Vegas Aces wins 2022 WNBA Championship, Chelsea Gray named Finals MVP
The Las Vegas Aces wins the first professional championship for Las Vegas, wrapping up a remarkable season.
As forward A’ja Wilson secured the final rebound and the clock ran out in the Mohegan Sun Arena, in Connecticut, the Las Vegas Aces captured their first franchise title in the Women’s National Basketball Association after falling short in previous seasons. This is also the first professional championship for Las Vegas, a city known for its prominent gambling industry. Aces guard Chelsea Gray won the Finals Most Valuable Player with an average of 18.3 points, six assists, a stellar 58.5 field-goal percentage, and a 45 percent three-point shooting percentage. Gray contributed twenty points in the championship-clinching game and has been the go-to option for the Aces during clutch times throughout the postseason.
The Aces’ 2022 season was beyond successful. Four of their players, A’ja Wilson, Dearica Hamby, Jackie Young, and Kelsey Plum, were selected as All-Stars, with Plum named as the All-Star MVP as she contributed 30 points in the game. Both Wilson and Plum were also honored in the 2022 All-WNBA team. In addition, Wilson claimed the regular season MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. Head coach Becky Hammon, who was a legendary WNBA player in her own right, was recognized as Coach of the Year, becoming the first rookie-coach to top the category. The Aces franchise finally put all their pieces together and won it all, bringing the city of Las Vegas its first professional championship.
However, the title could bear even more significance. As Nancy Lough, an education professor of University of Nevada, Las Vegas studying gender equity and diversity in sport, pointed out in an interview, children of all genders in Las Vegas can look up to these WNBA stars as they develop their game, and those who are learning about leadership can study the examples of coach Hammon and Aces’ President Nikki Fargas. The Aces’ success has already inspired the Lady Coyotes basketball team of the College of Southern Nevada, who watch and model their game after the championship victors. Since it is now the Aces who brought home the first professional title for Las Vegas, Lough states in another interview with FOX5, “the [Golden] Knights and Raiders and every other team are kind of on alert like, ‘hey, they won a championship, now it’s time to step up.’”
By looking at what the franchise has done, anyone could tell that a trophy was on the horizon. After Mark Davis, also the owner of Las Vegas Raiders, purchased the team in 2018 and moved it to Las Vegas, he has made constant investments into women’s sports. He announced the establishment of a 80,000-square-foot training and administrative complex soon after the purchase and hired two successful Black female front-office executives: President Fargas and General Manager Natalie Williams, and the first WNBA coach with a million-dollar salary, Coach Hammon. He also voices support for raising stream revenues and elevating the salary structure to keep the players home during the offseason. With the championship on the line, Davis decided to attend game four of the WNBA finals instead of the Raiders’ game that night to show his support. The Aces made his decision well worth it.
The 2022 season marks a year of incredible accomplishments for the WNBA, as well. WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert has made pivotal decisions to “prioritize marketing and merchandising, while looking hard at expansion, sports gambling and partnerships.” The league also adjusted its postseason schedule to accommodate the World Cup’s schedule for women’s basketball, resulting in a smaller overlap with the National Football League’s season. While the finals’ viewership took a little hit due to the overlap, the postseason’s viewership has grown a significant 22 percent compared to last year and has become the most-viewed playoffs since 2007. Even though the denser schedule had led to some backlash surrounding the increase of players’ injuries and lack of days off, the introduction of charter flights in this year’s finals did compensate the players in some way. The WNBA has recently announced plans to expand its regular season into 40 games with rumors of adding new franchises to the league. The future of the league looks bright, as both examples from Davis and Engelbert have shown that success will follow with investments in women's sports.