Aces forward A’ja Wilson has seen the social media posts, the tributes and the pre-game ceremonies. She’s witnessed parts of the legend of Sue Bird in-person.
On June 16, Bird announced she will retire at the end of the season. Wednesday was just the latest milestone in her storied career. The Aces 88-78 loss to the Seattle Storm made Bird the winningest player in league history with 324 career victories.
“She’s a winner,” Wilson said.
However, it’s the things Wilson hasn’t seen which stick out to her the most.
The Aces continue their road trip at 5 p.m. Friday when play the first of two games at the Minnesota Lynx in Minneapolis. Similar to the Storm, the Lynx are sending off a legendary player of their own at the end of the season: two-time champion and four-time gold medalist Sylvia Fowles.
“Syl and Sue deserve their flowers, 100 percent,” Wilson said. “They’ve given so much to this league.”
Fowles has been one of the most impactful figures in the WNBA for more than a decade. She’s an eight-time All-Star, the 2017 league MVP and a seven-time All-WNBA selection. Wilson considers Fowles a mentor and an inspiration.
Fowles’ on-court accolades haven’t translated to the same level of recognition as some of the other famous players of her generation. She has just below 65,000 followers on Instagram, significantly less than Bird’s 661,000 or University of Connecticut star Paige Bueckers’ one million. Fowles, who also was the MVP of the 2015 and 2017 WNBA Finals, has 300,000 less followers than former Fresno State wing Haley Cavinder, now at Miami.
During the 2021 season, Fowles didn’t even crack the WNBA’s top-10 most purchased jerseys list, even though she led the Lynx to the No. 3 seed. She averaged 16 points, 10.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks while winning her fourth defensive player of the year award that year, all during her age-35 season.
Fowles announced her intention to retire ahead of the season, and the league named her a co-captain for the July 10 All-Star game. She missed several games with an injury, including her last regular-season game in Las Vegas, but Wilson thinks more can be done to recognize Fowles’ career and impact on the WNBA.
“I’m not the one on WNBA social posting,” she said. “I’m not the one going up to Syl and asking her about an article.”
Wilson believes the league’s diversity means there are plenty of opportunities to share more unique stories, especially ones which feature Black women. Watching Fowles succeed helped Wilson believe she could ascend to similar heights, and the Aces All-Star thinks it’s important for Black women to be seen as visible leaders in the WNBA community.
“It’s always good to let those young girls dream,” Wilson said. “If you can see her, you can be her.”
Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at [email protected]. Follow @ANYamshita on Twitter.