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The Aces Are Just a Heck of a Lot of Fun

Las Vegas keeps rolling ahead of the WNBA playoffs—and their bond off the court is one reason why.
The Las Vegas Aces celebrate after winning the 2022 Commissioner’s Cup.

Practical jokes, prank wars and dancing have all played a part in keeping the atmosphere loose for the Aces this season. 

After winning the Commissioner’s Cup on the road in Chicago, Aces coach Becky Hammon waltzed into the locker room, White Claw in hand, ready to celebrate. A champagne fountain showered her as she dropped low, dancing with the team circled around her and cheering her on.

When Las Vegas is good, it’s good.

The Aces started the season 9–1, as scorching as the desert heat. Then they hit a lull, at least by their standards, around the All-Star break, giving up four of 10 matchups (constituting half of their losses on the season so far). But after picking up an impressive victory and the Cup trophy, the Aces are headed for a possible deep—and fun—playoff run.

“This team is never short on laughter,” guard Kelsey Plum says. “We have a great time. Everyone makes fun of each other.”

The fondness is proven with the friendly jabs and laughs in press conferences, like when star forward A’ja Wilson couldn’t keep a straight face as Plum detailed how she barked at Tom Brady

It’s proven on the court when the team celebrates wins with dedicated dances for each type of score.

It’s proven when they slap one another with tortillas as “team bonding” or have nothing to do in Mohegan, Conn., but jump out of bed and post a dance on social media. 

Self-described as the fun “ringleader,” Wilson posted two videos of the team’s shenanigans over the road trip following the All-Star break. The first is a more structured dance routine, appearing as in sync as Hammon would want them on every defensive possession. The next is a far more chaotic and amusing music video style: hotel room lights off, phone flashlights on, everybody jumping to “I Think I Love Her” by Gucci Mane. Wilson is centerstage as the lead singer, using a massage gun as her microphone.

“When are you ever later in life gonna be stuck in Mohegan with some people that you’re bonded with and just have fun outside of the court?” guard Chelsea Gray says.

The next night, with their dancing legs still warm, they beat the competitive Sun 91–83.

Earlier in the season they had a little too much fun with a prank war that resulted in the police showing up at practice.

Forward Dearica Hamby and Plum waged a battle of practical jokes. Plum ambushed Hamby at a restaurant, pelting water balloons at her teammate.

To get revenge Hamby painted her teammate’s car neon purple and green, leaving behind a crisp $20 bill on the windshield. She said in the video, “Go get your car cleaned, Kelsey. Love you!” A bystander called the cops before it was cleared up, Hamby says.

As much fun as they’ve had off the court, on the court they’re just as exciting to watch. The Aces rank first in offensive efficiency and three-point percentage. They run up the score at 90.6 points per contest, most in the league. With the offense clicking, the Aces look primed for another Finals run with first-year coach Hammon.

Las Vegas Aces guard Kelsey Plum (10) shoots against Chicago Sky forward Emma Meesseman (33) during the second half of a WNBA basketball game Tuesday, June 21, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Plum waged a prank war against Hamby earlier this season, which resulted in a new paint color for the guard’s car. 

There’s a dark side to the Aces, though, too. It’s all fluid, according to Gray. Sometimes the elements align and create a homogeneous compound, other times the chemistry explodes destroying itself. When the reigning champion Sky came to town in June, Las Vegas notched a league-record 41 points in the first quarter, only to relinquish the largest lead for a historic Sky comeback.

Practice one day in July started late after the Aces dropped a dud at home against the Dream. A long film review delayed the day. They needed to rewatch that loss in detail, securitizing every play they made to give up 35 points in the first quarter. Then the team gathered on the court in a circle for several minutes. Hammon did the talking, imploring her squad to get back to playing their style starting on the defensive end.

Hammon surveyed her team from the bench as they shot around, scoffing at the Aces’ effort the previous night. Her eyes shift quickly to where the ball is caught, to the point of the release as it either falls straight through the net or bounces off the rim. She expects more from them looking at the talent on paper, wondering, Why haven’t they won a championship yet?

“So far we’ve proven that we like each other,” Hammon says. “But I don’t know if we trust each other yet.”

Wilson adds: “It’s just like a household when kids are fighting when the sisters are fighting. You bicker, you go back and forth, whatever you may call it, but at the end of the day, you’re sisters, you're gonna ride for each other no matter what.”

Hamby noted that nobody wanted to play selfishly, but egos and passive aggressiveness were getting in the way of staying connected on the floor.

This core group has known one another for a while. Hamby and Plum date back to the San Antonio Stars days, like their coach, before the team moved to Vegas. Wilson was drafted No. 1 in 2018, and Young followed suit in ’19. Gray signed as a free agent from the Sparks last offseason, citing the culture as one of the deciding factors.

Wilson says because they know one another so well there are times when they’re assuming movement on the court rather than communicating, particularly on the defensive end, where talking is key.

The Aces rank sixth in WNBA in defensive rating. They allow opponents to score 43.2% from the field and 36% from the perimeter, both at the bottom of the league. But Hammon knows they have the skills; she just wants to see them become a respectable, cohesive force on the defensive end.

“You have to work as a unit; you have to have resiliency,” Hammon says. “That’s how you build trust; you go to battle with somebody and that person shows up for you. When it’s been hard in the battles, we haven’t shown up for each other yet.”

After the Dream loss, they got a crack at the league-worst Fever, a team ripe to get right against. Despite the Fever keeping it close early, the Aces asserted their usual offensive prowess, outscoring Indiana 52–32 in the first half. But it was about more than offense. The defensive looked alive, hungry at the prospect of locking down a lesser opponent.

“I just wanted them to see them play defense, and they did that,” Hammon says. It was something to build off.

Next they took care of the Sparks, blowing out another struggling team, ending with a clinched playoff berth. After the Sky, they were the second team in the league to seal a postseason spot.

That brings us back to the Commissioner’s Cup. The Aces got another chance to beat the Sky.

Las Vegas Aces’ Chelsea Gray shoots during the first half of the WNBA Commissioner’s Cup.

Gray says the team’s chemistry doesn’t always align perfectly, but she and her teammates try to remember to have fun. 

The Aces held the Sky to 27.8% shooting from the field. This time they didn’t let Chicago turn the tide to make a significant comeback.

With money from the Cup and pride of beating a possible Finals opponent on the line, the Aces stuck together by rallying around their defensive intensity.

Wilson, who led the effort with 17 rebounds and a career-high six blocks took responsibility in being the defensive anchor.

“It’s a trust factor, and if [my teammates] can trust me to be there, I tried to let them know that I’m there,” she says.

Just as important, everything looks fun again, too.

Before embarking on a six-game road trip, practice was noticeably lighter. Jokes echoed through the empty Michelob Ultra Arena.

“I was smiling. We were having fun,” Gray says. “We’re being paid to play basketball, and when you simplify it like that you have fun with it. And we remember those hard times, but we also have to remember to have fun.”

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