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A’ja Wilson: Statuesque and bronze

South Carolina Athletics installed on Thursday the bronze statue, more than a year in the making, of the women’s basketball program’s most famous Gamecock: A’ja Wilson. It is a rare tribute to the greatness of any woman anywhere, let alone a Black woman in the Deep South.

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A’ja Wilson is immortalized on the Colonial Life Arena grounds — the house that she and Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame head coach Dawn Staley built at South Carolina.
Photo courtesy of South Carolina Athletics

Shooting out of the water and into the sun, A’ja Wilson is immortalized in bronze-sculpted form on the grounds of Colonial Life Arena in Downtown Columbia, S.C. — the house that she and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame head coach Dawn Staley built at the University of South Carolina.

Sculpted by artist Julie Rotblatt-Amrany of The Fine Art Studio of Rotblatt-Amrany in Highwood, Ill., whose prior athletic commissions include depictions of Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Scottie Pippen, the 11-foot statue sitting on a four-foot base was installed on Thursday, Jan. 14, to honor Wilson’s achievements and allow future generations to be inspired by them.

“Wilson’s statue is one of just three on the University of South Carolina campus that represents a specific individual,” South Carolina Athletics stated via press release. Moreover, she is the first woman of the group, and joins Richard T. Greener, the university’s first African-American faculty member, and George Rogers, Heisman Trophy winner.

The sculpture was brought into existence through private donations from Staley, philanthropist Dodie Anderson (who passed away in July) and Darius Rucker (of Hootie and the Blowfish fame).

The formal unveiling, an invitation-only affair amid the ongoing and worsening COVID-19 crisis, will take place on Monday, Jan. 18. It will be live-streamed for fans to watch at: https://youtu.be/dW8_dtWWRZ8.

Wilson’s career highlights as a South Carolina Gamecock

A native of Hopkins, S.C., Wilson entered Staley’s program out of Heathwood Hall, and in four years, tallied impressive individual achievements, highlighted by being named National Player of the Year, a first in Gamecocks women’s basketball history.

Her other individual awards include:

  • Four-time All-American, a first for a player in the South Carolina women’s basketball program
  • Three First Team designations (2016, 2017, 2018)
  • Four First-Team All-SEC designations, another first
  • Three-time SEC Player of the Year (2016, 2017, 2018), the most for a single player in the conference’s history
  • Inaugural winner of the NCAA Lisa Leslie Award (2018)
  • NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player (2017)

Yet, individual awards do not guarantee team success. It is the contributions towards the Gamecocks’ team achievements — one left-handed layup at a time — that resulted in her immortalization in bronze. It is the team’s accomplishments that allowed the program to surge to national powerhouse credibility.

This “we over me” ethos, cored in humility, is why Wilson rocks the important “HE > i” tattoo: an indelible reminder of whom she serves.

2018 WNBA Draft Photo by Michelle Farsi/NBAE via Getty Images

South Carolina’s achievements during Wilson’s 2015-18 collegiate career include:

  • 2017 NCAA National Championship
  • 2015 NCAA Final Four
  • Three SEC regular-season championships
  • Four SEC Tournament titles

Wilson’s accomplishments in the WNBA

Wilson was selected No. 1 overall in the 2018 WNBA Draft by the Las Vegas Aces and immediately demonstrated that her game translates to the pros just fine.

Before making her first WNBA Finals appearance in 2020, Wilson was named:

  • 2020 WNBA MVP
  • 2018 WNBA Rookie of the Year (unanimous vote)
  • Two-time WNBA All-Star (2018, 2019)
2020 WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson
BreakingT

In 2020, Wilson played the league’s season of social justice in the Bradenton, Fla., bubble and used her platform as the MVP representative of the WNBA Social Justice Council to fight for racial justice.

Words from the luminaries

A’ja was a powerful force in our program, our campus and our community through everything that she accomplished on the court and the person she was off it. This statue in front of this arena is an equally powerful force. Every young person, and especially young black girls, can see what is possible through hard work, passion and dedication.

—Dawn Staley, South Carolina women’s basketball head coach

A’ja Wilson’s accomplishments, on and off the basketball court, make this statue so deserving. She is an outstanding representative of Gamecock Athletics and our University. I am delighted that we can celebrate her in this manner. Thank you to everyone who helped get this done, including our great donors.

—Ray Tanner, South Carolina athletics director

Other ballers celebrate

Final thoughts

from “Dear Black Girls,” A’ja Wilson’s July 2020 essay in The Players’ Tribune:

I hate it that we have to become a hashtag in order for society to be like, “Oh, we love our Black queens! Yaasss!”

No.

No. It’s not good enough. We don’t want to be some meme or whatever. We don’t want to be the Angry Black Woman or the Aggressive Black Woman. We just want to be seen as human beings in this world. We just want to be heard when we speak. We just want to be respected.

I don’t want to have to be UNAPOLOGETIC for you to hear me.

I want to be able to whisper, if I want to.

I don’t have all the answers. But I just want to tell you that I feel you. I’ve been through it, too. I’ve been angry and humiliated and belittled and unheard. I’ve been really down and lost, at certain points in my life.

But you know what?

Didn’t stop me.

I made myself heard.

I even made the ESPN camera crew come to my high school on signing day so I could put on my GAMECOCKS hat just like the boys do and still got pushback.

“We’re not sure if we can get a crew out there on short notice. It might be complicated.”

Nah. Y’all got Google Maps.