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A’ja Wilson talks shop on ‘The Shop’

The Las Vegas Aces star speaks truth to power on UNINTERRUPTED’s show “The Shop”.

Phoenix Mercury v Las Vegas Aces - Game Five Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Las Vegas Aces star A’ja Wilson is one of the most exciting and iconic players in the WNBA.

An NCAA champion with South Carolina in 2017, a three-time WNBA all star, the 2020 league MVP, and 2021 Olympic gold medalist, Wilson has already cemented herself among the best of the best in not just women’s basketball, but basketball period.

At only 25 years old, she has accomplished what many take years to attain. and some would argue her best is still to come.

Ever since she came into the WNBA in 2018, she has found a home within a league that prioritizes authenticity and camaraderie in addition to playing at the highest level. With that she, has constantly used her platform to advocate for long overdue social change.

Wilson is a critical part of the WNBA Social Justice Council which was created in 2020 in response to that summer’s notorious acts of racial injustice and is composed of players, educators, and activists advocating for systemic and sustainable remedies both on and off the court. She has also been a leading voice for equal pay within the WNBA and sounded the alarm back in 2019 when she called out the discrepancies in revenue sharing between NBA players and WNBA players.

Since then, the league has made strides with a landmark eight-year CBA agreement in 2020 that improved salaries, increased benefits, and upgraded marketing and travel.

Even with that, there is still certainly more work that needs to be done, and Wilson is continuing to lead the charge. Due to her superb talent and visibility, she has found a coveted spot in the barber’s chair on UNINTERRUPTED’s show “The Shop”. She will be feature in the newest episode alongside LeBron James this Friday.

This exclusive clip was obtained by Swish Appeal.

“The Shop” has always been a platform for athletes to speak their mind on issues important to them and particularly a safe space for WNBA players to be seen, heard, and validated. Among the players that have been on include Liz Cambage, Chiney Ogwumike, Nneka Ogwumike, Candace Parker, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, and Elena Delle Donne.

The newest episode featuring Wilson airs this Friday, April 8 at 12 p.m. ET on UNINTERRUPTED’s YouTube channel.

Prior to the show’s airing, I had the great honor to talk to Wilson to get her thoughts on what being on “The Shop” meant to her, support from NBA players, her continued advocacy for women’s basketball, the detention of Brittney Griner, and her hopes for the upcoming WNBA season.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Zachary Draves: What did it feel to be on a show like that and to be able to express yourself as you did?

A’ja Wilson: It is super dope. I feel like I didn’t even get a chance to talk and I like that because I was learning so much from Rick (Ross) and Gunna and that was just pretty amazing. When you have an opportunity to speak your truth and say everything that you probably wouldn’t say on a normal media stream, I think that is the beauty of “The Shop” and Uninterrupted. They allow athletes to have a voice that they may not necessarily have anywhere else. I had a lot of fun, it was so dope.

ZD: When you have guys like LeBron, Mav (Maverick Carter), Gunna, and Rick Ross that were hearing you out and validating what you had to say, what did it mean to you to have those guys in your corner?

AW: It meant a lot. I think a lot of people, especially being a female athlete, we kind of get swept underneath the rug and counted out because we may not get the viewings that others get. But to have others that are high in their own profession and their own industry have a glimpse and a peak into your world and they can see what you go through and understand, it is just a great feeling. To have people behind your back that understand that we work hard to get to where we are, that’s why we are so good at what we do.

ZD: A lot of times when the discussion is brought up about pay inequity in professional basketball between the NBA and WNBA, there tends to be that desire to divide the NBA players from the WNBA players, but when you see LeBron and when you see others within the NBA who have come out and shown support for you all and to have a platform like “The Shop”, what does that say about where they stand on this issue of pay inequity?

AW: It is just a sense of respect. It honestly is in the sense that they got our back. When it comes to talking about pay equity and things like that, a lot of people act like it’s just one league vs, another, but we are all playing a game of love and they understand where we are coming from. But at the same time, it is always good to have people like a LeBron and others in the NBA just kind of respect us because we get hit with a lot of different stuff all the time because we are women who just want to play the game. But when your favorite player knows who I am, it is pretty dope to say that, so it is cool to have LeBron behind us 100 percent.

UNINTERRUPTED

ZD: Given the situation that has been going on with Brittney Griner it has obviously raised a lot of different issues and one of which is the salary discrepancy among WNBA players. Do you think that her case may be a catalyst for additional change that has been long overdue?

AW: Yeah I hope it is. I hate that it has to take something like this to really shine a light on what some of us in the W do just to provide for our families, and I hate that it has to be in such a bad situation when someone’s freedom is at cost. But I think it is going to be something that shines that light on that and say hey what can we do to keep our players on US soil and let them live a comfortable life and the lifestyles they want. I don’t go overseas so I try to find different strings of income so that I don’t do that because it is tough. Then you think about relevancy so that people can see you and we can put people in the seats. It all plays a part of it and so I credit everyone in the W who goes to play overseas because it is not easy, and I hope that everyone is doing what they need to do wholeheartedly to bring Brittney Griner back home safely.

ZD: What would you like people to know because you hear all these rumblings and people say “nobody watches the WNBA” and “ratings continue to sink”. You have been on the frontlines, you have a lot of accomplishments and a big name, what would you say to those who try to cast dispersions on the W?

AW: I think the biggest thing is you got to give it a chance. I am sorry we don’t dunk every possession but we can’t help that, but you just got to give it a chance. I wish I could pinpoint why we are where we are, but on our end, it comes down to just digging down deep in a player because we are so much more than basketball. You would be amazed at who you may connect within the W because we are that diverse. Once you get there you can say “oh I support her because she has dyslexia”. Little things like that are key.

So my thing is just giving it a chance because we worked so hard to get to where we are and we put in the work. It is a good game and I am not just saying that because I play it but even when I am watching it I am saying that this is good basketball. I am not going to force people to do it so — it is either one of those things where you give it a chance with an open mind and enjoy it or you don’t. It is kind of hard to get people to buy in, but at the same time once you give it a chance you are like, “this is pretty good”.

ZD: Going back to “The Shop” for a minute, when you look at the lineage of players that have been on “The Shop”, the Ogwumike sisters, Liz Cambage, Sue Bird, and others, to be a part of that group on that particular platform, how does that make you feel?

AW: It is dope. I think “The Shop” is a family within a family. It is pretty cool to just have an opportunity to speak your truth in a barber shop setting. Especially growing in the South, the barber shop is where the most gossip happens. It is pretty cool to have it in that setting where we get to talk about anything and everything. My episode, the amount of music that was discussed was just incredible, and I probably never would have had that opportunity if “The Shop” didn’t bring us together. I would look at it that way, it is pretty cool to be a part of that list of greats that have been through it.

A’ja Wilson joins a crew of WNBA greats who have appeared on “The Shop” including Sue Bird, Liz Cambage, Elena Delle Donne, Nneka Ogwumike, Candace Parker, and Diana Taurasi.
UNINTERRRUPTED

ZD: What do you hope people will take away from your appearance on “The Shop”?

AW: Honestly just the life of a WNBA player. That we are so much more than basketball players and we have so much more to give. We have stories to tell and hopefully just digging deeper into our world and welcoming people into our world. There are a lot of different things than just dribbling a basketball that makes us us.

ZD: Given the growth of the league over the last several years and creating space for others to speak their truth and be themselves, this new generation of women’s basketball players coming up, what would your advice be to them when it comes to sustainability within the league and to be who you are at the same time?

AW: I think the biggest thing is being true to them. I think people act like, oh I got to the pros, I got to do this. It’s like, no, just be true to yourself and be the same person that they drafted you to be and you’ll fit right in. Don’t lose yourself because you think you have to impress something. Just to be true to your authentic self because that is how you are gonna get far in life.

ZD: With the season just around the corner, what are you looking forward to?

AW: Oh man, I am looking forward to being coached by Becky Hammon. I think it is going to be a game changer for our league and especially for us here in Vegas. I am excited to just get out onto the court. Our offseason is so long so when we get a chance to start training camp I’m always excited because I am like, yes, finally 5-on-5 basketball. I am really excited to get things going.