They don’t get any more real than A’ja Wilson. On or off the court, she doesn’t compromise her principles or mince her words as she looks to create a new legacy for the next generation.
We sat down with the power forward to hear how she first fell in love with the game—and why she’s using it as a platform to inspire other Black women to aim high.
When was the first time you touched a basketball and why did you choose this game?
A’JA: I was a late bloomer. I started at like 13 and I sucked, warming the bench every game. Then it clicked when I was about 15 and my dad bought my first hoop and put it outside. I started to fall in love with the team, the bonds, and then the winning. I would hoop until late night, using the headlights of my mom’s car, oftentimes draining the battery. Yeah, she wasn’t happy, but I was hooping.
Did you ever think being an athlete would give you this much influence? What do you aim to accomplish when you speak out?
A’JA: It’s crazy that it literally just took the last year for me to really see the influence the women of the WNBA have. People were sitting on the edge of their chairs, waiting to see what we were going to say or do, and that’s so powerful. My purpose is to brighten the life of every young Black girl and inspire them to aim high. I felt like basketball at the pro level gave me the confidence to be about my business on and off the court as well. If it wasn’t for basketball, I don’t think I would have found my voice, ignited my flame, and become who I really am. Basketball helped open that door, but I added my own little razzle-dazzle.
How did you feel about having a leadership role when people are looking up to the W?
A’JA: The W is always at the forefront of the movement. At the end of the day, I don’t care what people think because I’m standing up for something I believe in. Since I was just a young girl, my mom was always like, “Don’t take slack from nobody.” When you have a platform like we’re on, you could touch so many people, and that’s a great feeling to have. When you’re standing up for what you believe in, nobody can knock you down.
“I’m unapologetic. Like it or not, I’m me. One hundred percent. I’m A’ja Wilson.”
— A’ja Wilson
What is some advice that you want to give to the younger generation about individuality?
A’JA: You don’t have to be vice president. You don’t have to be a professional athlete. You don’t have to be a doctor. You can just be yourself. And as long as you’re doing that in life and you’re true to who you are, you will live your power. Be unapologetically true to who you are, and the world will be yours. This next generation is so bold, so tough, so real, and so strong. Get in your bag with this one and take over. My courage and confidence grow every time a young Black girl looks up to or wants to be the next A’ja Wilson.
Now that your voice is being amplified, how has that influenced the player you are today?
A’JA: Basketball is my stage. No one can do what I do the moment I touch the court. I love it. I’m breaking out of my shell, I’m getting my wings, and I just feel like I’m flying and soaring. I play so we can get the respect we deserve. I’m not backing down from anyone on the court and I’m damn sure not backing down from anyone off the court.
What is it about your legacy that will pave a way for athletes who come after you?
A’JA: I never would have thought at the age of 24 that I would even talk about leaving a legacy. I honestly struggle with even wrapping my head around thinking that young girls even want to be like me. Legacy isn’t about me. It’s about those who follow me. I'm here to speak on what I believe in. Can't please everybody. If I did, that wouldn't be me. I’m not this token Black girl. I’m a Black woman and I love everything that I am. And I won’t apologize for that. This is my platform to help the next young Black girl, so she doesn’t get swept under the rug.
Director: Rashad Floyd, @rashadfloyd
Photographer: Stephanie Mei-Ling, @stephaniemeiling
Photographer: Ghost, @54ghosts