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Las Vegas Aces, champion and trend-setter: Our Team of the Year

(Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

It was a year of firsts for the Las Vegas Aces: their first Commissioner’s Cup, Kelsey Plum’s first All-Star appearance and MVP award, Becky Hammon’s first season coaching in the WNBA and, of course, their first WNBA title — which was also the first professional championship won by a Las Vegas professional sports franchise.

They added to their success on the basketball court by pushing the envelope off the court as well. From Hammon’s history-making contract, to their biggest stars speaking out on issues that affect the league, the Aces were front and center of the basketball world in 2022.

A team worthy of celebrating, the Aces are taking home another honor as our Team of the Year.

Las Vegas finished the season as the WNBA’s No. 1 overall team at 26-10 and cruised through the first round of playoffs, with two dominant victories over the Phoenix Mercury. Then, after dropping their first game in the semifinals to the Storm — the team thought to be their biggest challenger in the postseason — the Aces won three in a row, including a 110-98 overtime win in Game 3 where A’ja Wison finished with 34 points and 11 rebounds.

The Aces clinched their first championship on Sept. 18 with a 78-71 road victory over the Connecticut Sun. Chelsea Gray was named Finals MVP after leading the Aces in assists in eight of 10 playoff games and averaging 18.2 points, six assists, three rebounds and 1.2 steals during the season. It was vindication for Gray, who was snubbed for the WNBA All-Star Game earlier in the season.

The title was also further proof of Hammon’s coaching prowess — though she didn’t need it. Afterward, Hammon said winning a championship wasn’t about proving doubters wrong; it was about proving herself right.

Hammon served as an assistant coach on the San Antonio Spurs staff from 2014-22 and was passed over for several head coaching jobs along the way. But the NBA’s loss was the Aces’ gain.

“When I took the job in December, I thought when I started kind of breaking down their rosters that I could do something with it,” Hammon said of her decision to take the job.

“I felt they had the talent to do it, and I felt that I could build the relationships and build the culture in the right way for us to put ourselves in a position to be able to win a championship.”

It was also a testament to the organization’s years of work toward building a contender, from the early years in Utah, to the relocation in San Antonio, and finally to their home in Las Vegas.

“Las Vegas, we are world champions,” Aces (and Raiders) owner Mark Davis said during the parade. “It wasn’t an overnight journey. The WNBA and this franchise has been around for 26 years. Over the years, we’ve had alumni, fans, staff, coaches that helped build this organization to where it is today.”

Davis was serious about turning the Aces into a successful franchise when he purchased the team in January 2021. With every high-profile signing (Gray in 2021) and contract extension (Wilson in 2022), Davis and his front office sent a message to the WNBA and women’s sports world about the power of investment. He made his biggest statement yet last December, when Hammon joined the Aces on a five-year contract worth over $1 million per year that made her the highest-paid coach in the WNBA.

Las Vegas’ management is dedicated to the future of their team. With the success that came along with their investment in 2022, the Aces built a platform, and they are using it.

Wilson and Plum have been particularly vocal about growing the game through increases in player compensation, improvements in travel, and other means that affect their peers on a regular basis. Plum recently went on the Residency Podcast to discuss the WNBA’s fight for equal pay, while Wilson spoke with Bleacher Report’s Taylor Rooks about visibility in women’s sports.

In 2022, when the Aces played, people watched. And when they talked, people listened.

Here’s to the JWS Team of the Year, and more Aces world domination in 2023.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.