The day of Forbes Travel Guide’s interview with A’ja Wilson, the Las Vegas Aces star is stressed. If you think her worries are about the upcoming WNBA season, no, the two-time league MVP and leader on the back-to-back champs isn’t concerned about what’s coming next on the court.
Maybe she’s a little nervous about how the world will react to the early-February release of her straight-shooting book debut, Dear Black Girls: How to Be True to You? Nope, that’s not it, either. The work is a conversational, funny and deeply personal look that’s sure to be a hit with fans of the smooth center.
What has Wilson bothered at the moment is the fact that her former school (and university she led to the 2017 national title), South Carolina, is playing rival LSU in a huge SEC match-up just a few hours after our chat.
“My nerves are on a hundred when South Carolina plays,” Wilson says. “Sometimes, I think, when I watch they don’t play well. So, I don’t watch it until like fourth quarter, last like five minutes. That’s when I can really dial in.”
Of course, Wilson’s Lady Gamecocks would win. But that’s no surprise. It seems like everything she’s connected with of late has gone according to plan. Be it with winning, writing or working her way around Vegas’ dining scene, Wilson is always on her game.
Why was now the right time for this book?
I think now is the right time because I was comfortable enough to speak, be vulnerable and have that self-accountability to allow a lot of people in. But also, I think we’re in this time now — and I even said this in my book — where we don’t want to just be the hashtag and the culture that everyone steals. We’re here and we’re here to stay. We’re starting to make strides in our lives and in this society where we’re like, “No, we deserve to be here. We deserve a seat at the table.”
I think now just kind of felt good. And it was just perfect timing with me and my team doing so well [in the WNBA]. There’s a lot of eyes on our game and on us as Black women right now, especially athletes. I just felt like it was just a perfect time to kind of let people in on the human side. Let’s not forget that yes, we’re great on the court, but let’s dive a little deeper into Black women as a whole.
Readers are going to find the book very conversational. What has the early response been like?
Just like you said, how conversational it is and just how it’s uplifting. I feel like when we talk about Black people or particularly Black women, it’s like we have to go through the trauma of it. But now, we kinda hit you in the face with the good and be like, “This one is for the ones that get swept underneath the rug.” This is for you.
And I love the fact that people can relate to it. It’s hard, obviously, to sell this book because people are like, “Okay, well, I’m not Black or I’m not a girl. I don’t want it.” But if you read it, you see the different gems that you can connect with. The most feedback that I received was that people felt seen, people felt heard, and they understood it on a personal level. And that’s what I love the most.
South Carolina plays a big role in the book. What does the state mean to you?
That’s home. South Carolina is going to always mean the world to me. They have built me up. They have watched me grow literally from a young girl that’s running around the church pulpit to now having a statue outside of Colonial Life Arena. Home is literally where the heart is. They’ve embraced me so much since I was just a young’un.
And I think the biggest memory would have to be just watching the shift of people pour into University of South Carolina women’s basketball. I remember going to games where it was like literally 100 people [in the stands]. You could talk to people in the next section.
The book comes out February 6. The Super Bowl comes to your new home, Vegas, on February 11. Early February is going to be busy for you.
Oh my gosh! My next couple of weeks looks hectic, but a lot of fun. I’m going to be everywhere and anywhere. I definitely will be at the Super Bowl and also starting my book tour. I’m going to be pulled in a lot of different ways. As I always say, “If you could see her, you could be her.” So, you have to put yourself out there so people can see you. People can see that I’m real, see I’m here and see that I’m not going anywhere.
But at the same time, I love to enjoy the festivities of everything around me. This is a big opportunity for me to be in different spaces in different ways. I’m excited.
Vegas hosts big events regularly. Do you try to be a part of the action or do you typically escape the city?
I’m in between. A little bit of everything. I normally try to stay around. I’m away from the city now, so it kind of feels good to return. When F1 [racing] came, I could never! I was in the city and I’m like, “They’re tearing up our streets!” I was getting annoyed with traffic. I had to escape that one.
I’m ready [for the Super Bowl]. I’m excited. I think that’s the beautiful thing about Vegas — you can still take a break from it, but then also still be in the mix. I try to find that perfect balance, so I don’t get bored of it. I can’t even imagine what Super Bowl is about to be.
Let’s say someone is visiting you on a non-Super Bowl weekend. Paint the perfect A’ja Wilson day in Vegas.
We’re going to have to see a show. I recently saw David Copperfield [at MGM Grand Las Vegas], which was pretty cool. I kind of think those [magic shows] are a little corny, but he had me. I was a little shook.
Then, we’d have to check out a restaurant. I love Catch at ARIA. I’m a Catch girl. I love the ambiance of it. It’s got a good feel. You don’t have to get too dressy for it. Other than that, we’re probably shopping. I have to take you to the mall. I’m probably going to hit up Fashion Show. They have good churros there, too. I’m low-key a foodie.
We’re pretty much chilling the rest of the way. I feel like the city takes care of a lot of things, a lot on the entertainment side. Just trying to hit all the big, key pieces. I’m an adventurous girl, so I’ve had dinner at Stratosphere’s Top of the World once. Definitely went on New York, New York’s roller coaster a couple of times.
Are there any restaurants or attractions you like away from the glitz of the Strip?
Yes, away from the Strip, they have this drive-in movie theater West Wind. They have different screens, you change your radio station to it and then you can hear the movie inside your car. I popped the hood off of my Jeep, and I’m just sitting there. It was just so nostalgic.
And then also there is Soul Food Cafe. It’s a little ways off the Strip. But that’s how you know it’s fire because you gotta make that trip. Soul Food Cafe has my heart.
During my rookie year, my parents always talked about me needing vegetables. I was like, “I’m not a cook. I’m not a chef. I don’t do that.” I was eating garbage. And then I had a taste of [Soul Food Cafe’s] collard greens, and I was like, “Oh my God!” When I tell you, they’re fire — 10 out of 10. I’m not even trying to sound like [popular social media restaurant critic] Keith Lee. That’s my spot. Any time people come by or even when people come back, they’re like, “We’re going to Soul Food Cafe, right?”
With interviews, commercials, the upcoming book tour and the WNBA season, your calendar is always full. How do you take care of yourself with so much going on?
I found a way of just escaping it all by dedicating time to myself. It’s hard to step away from the phone. It’s hard to tell people, “No, I’m good.” But I have to just train my mind to say, “I need this [personal] time to just gather myself.” Whether that’s time to pray, whether that’s time to sleep or whether it’s time just to talk to my parents. They’re getting older.
Those are the moments that I need the most. These are the moments that I hold on the most. It allows me to take a step back and not be the person on the book cover. Just to be A’ja Wilson, the 12-year-old. I’m not 27 in their eyes. So, just dedicating that little head space to just kind of be within myself. It probably came around COVID when I could do that because I had no choice.
When you’re traveling during the season, how do you acclimate your body and mind when you get to that new spot?
My biggest thing is making sure that I don’t fall asleep right away. It’s kind of like when you travel overseas. Just make sure you don’t have jet lag. I stay up. I see what my teammates are doing, go bother them or I get [medical] treatment because I try to still keep my routine. I don’t want to fall into [something new] because I know, when we go East Coast, I’m like, “Oh my God, it’s just too early. It’s 5 a.m. and I’m about to go to shootaround?” I try to make sure that I can keep my same game plan, which sometimes means staying up a little later just so I can be at peace and go to bed at this time.
Now my body understands and, as you go, your body adjusts to it a little bit more. We stay in cities a little longer, so it allows our bodies to adjust. But my biggest thing is just making sure that I don’t lose my routine in life and [forget] how I go about things.
When you look at the WNBA calendar, which are the foodie cities that you circle?
Dallas was a sleeper. During the playoffs last year, we were there for a little while and I was like, “Okay, let me try this city out.” I have this ongoing joke with one of my coaches, Tyler Marsh. Every time we go to eat, we take a picture of the plate and then we send our review. Dallas had some good catfish. That was fire. Definitely gotta circle Dallas.
Atlanta, Atlanta, Atlanta. I guess because growing up in the South, I really be wanting a lot more out of Atlanta. But it’s growing on me. Seattle — and this is going to be a little cheesy — has this Cheesecake Factory that’s not like any other Cheesecake Factory. They have this [Korean fried] cauliflower appetizer that only tastes great there. Any other Cheesecake Factory and I’m like, “No, this is not it.” I cannot wait to get this cauliflower. It literally brings me to life every time. And no one does that cauliflower like they do.
The WNBA season is going to be on pause during the Paris Olympics, right?
We play our regular season, then we go into all-star break, then we go into Olympic break, then we return and resume the rest of the season. It’s a pause for some. Fingers crossed, is not a pause for me. [Editor’s note: a few days after the interview, Wilson was named to the U.S. Women’s National Team training camp roster, as expected.] It’s kind of like a long all-star break for us.
I’m going out on a very short limb and say you’ll make the team. What are you most looking forward to in France?
The food. Also, I would have to say just the experience. I feel like we were kind of robbed of the experience, obviously, because of COVID [at the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo]. We couldn’t go see other events. We walked around the Olympic Village, but it wasn’t the same. I think in Paris we’re going to get that feel of the Olympics. We can go see other sports. It’s going to be incredible. I’m going to be a total Parisian with the beret. I’m gonna go full out. I gotta be dripped down. They’re gonna be like, “Yeah, she’s new to this.” I’m gonna let it fly. I’m going to be a total tourist. I didn’t get that chance in Tokyo.
Any other trips planned before the summer?
My trainer was telling me that I need to at least give myself a week to decompress and not touch a weight or basketball, so my body can just relax. I have a couple places in mind. I’m thinking Turks and Caicos. I think that’s where I’m leaning. We’ll see. My mind probably will find 10 other places.
But yeah, getting some vacation time in, which could just be going to see my parents. Sometimes that’s a vacation in of itself. Might even be a staycation just because I get lazy, and I don’t want to go through airports.
Have you been anywhere in the last year that was memorable?
I had an opportunity to go to Cabo for my all-star break last year. That was my first time there, and it was just amazing. The food there was just fresh. It was a lot of fun. Being stuck in the desert, I never get the smell of the ocean. When I got there, I was instantly like, “Oh my gosh, I smell water!” It brought me new life.
Stay tuned for our 2024 Star Awards announcement on February 7.
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