A’ja Wilson knew she’d gotten away with something. It was Game 1 of the 2020 WNBA Finals, and the Las Vegas Aces star had just fouled Seattle Storm’s Breanna Stewart when he came off a screen.
“Wooo … I tagged them and they didn’t name it,” Wilson recalled with a laugh. “And she said, ‘You definitely got me dirty.’ I said, “I know Stewie my bad. I’m pretty sure they’ll get you one too, so we’ll be good.” “
Not exactly the kind of heated banter some would expect from the top two players in the WNBA bubble last year.
“I don’t think we talk about trash much,” said Stewart. “We let our games speak for themselves. I don’t have to say anything, you know? I’ll just show you.”
There is no drama between the two biggest superstars in the league under the age of 30. Both are 6-foot-4 strikers and celebrate August birthdays. Stewart (19.9 PPG, 8.7 RPG in her WNBA career) goes into her fifth season in the league and Wilson (19.3 PPG, 7.6 RPG) her fourth.
As the WNBA’s 25th anniversary season kicks off on Friday, they’re once again favorites for the WNBA’s MVP award, won by Wilson last year and Stewart in 2018. Their teams met for last year’s championship, which the Storm won in one go, with Stewart winning the WNBA Final MVP. It is likely that they will fight for more titles later.
Still, they really like each other, respect each other’s games, and admire the extrajudicial positions that each has taken for reasons important to them. Both feel very responsible to the WNBA, US basketball, and the advancement of women’s sports.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t have to attack each other. Seattle and Las Vegas play twice in the first five days of the 2021 season, first on Saturday (3 p.m. ET, ABC) in the season opener for both teams and in the quick rematch on Tuesday (10 p.m. ET, ESPN2).
“These are super important games,” said Stewart, who announced on Tuesday that she would get a signature shoe from Puma. “I’m looking forward to seeing what pieces A’ja has added to their repertoire for this season.”
Whoever talks about the WNBA has to talk about Wilson, 24, and Stewart, 26. But what does A’ja think of Stewie and Stewie of A’ja? We asked them.
What do you admire most about their game?
Wilson: How smooth it is. Stewie’s game doesn’t seem to have a kink. I have to give her flowers; I’m not going to sit here and be a hater. It’s just so smooth, and that’s what makes it so difficult to guard. “
Stewart: When she gets to her seats, it’s automatic. With the center post, with the one-dribble pull-up to the left. It’s so hard to defend. And as she continues to play in the league, she sees her leadership and growth on and off the pitch. “
What’s the hardest part about facing it?
Stewart: “It’s really hard for me to deny her shot. I feel like I have a hand in my face and somehow where she’s going to shoot, but she can still do it. Anytime you’re protecting those types of players, where you are.” I have to give up something, it just makes them do something hard. It makes them hit really hard. And she does. “
According to A’ja Wilson, the length of Breanna Stewart is one of the biggest challenges when playing the Seattle Storm star. Ethan Miller / Getty Images
Wilson: Stewie’s length. It’s long and she can block shots if you think she’s not in the game, but she’s still at it.She sees something, at least a hand. She can still do it … that’s what good players do. “
What will you take with you after the WNBA finals?
Wilson: It felt like Stewie had been here before. The way the Seattle Storm just rocked and rolled, it was like, “We’ve done this before.”
“For us it was our first rodeo. I hate that we got swept, absolutely can’t stand it. I never want to be swept again. But I think it was a good lesson. It was tough, but when it comes to Stewie went, it was, “Hey, she’s on a reel.” Once you have a great player in this mode, he’s unguarded. “
Stewart: “The development of the 3 really makes the position ‘positional’. Because you’re able to do so many things. People have to guard me at the 3-point line. I’ve seen some videos where A “Yes, her reach expands. If she can continue to add tools to her toolbox, so will it be. It is even harder to protect her. It is encouraging to see what people in our position can do and how we continue to oppose the odds.” what contributions can make to a game, what athletes can do. “
What part of their game would you most like to emulate?
Stewart: “Just being the attacker on the offensive and really on the defensive too. When you see someone who is at such a high level and who is at their best, I want to get better. It.” It goes without saying that we both want to be the best. It’s really cool for A’ja and me to push each other to get better. And I think it’s great that she has a statue right in front of her [South Carolina’s] Arena. Well deserved. “
A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart, far right, are expected to be Olympic teammates at the Tokyo Games. Ned Dishman / NBAE via Getty Images
Wilson: “Your footwork. No matter where Stewie is, she’s got those two feet set and she’s ready. That’s the mark of a great marksman, and it’s very, very hard to do. Because no matter if you come off screens, When you’re desperate, if things aren’t going your way, you’re still ready. Your feet are still there. Damn it, that’s pretty nice to have. “
They are both advocates on deeply personal issues. How important is your ability to be so influential outside of the courtroom?
Stewart: A’ja and I could be vulnerable. That’s the hardest part of letting the rest of the world see you. The point is not to focus attention on ourselves, but to keep helping other people who are having problems. To help children. To make sure that someone going through the situations we’ve been through can look and see, “Well, A’ja Wilson has some mental health issues. And Stewie has been through sexual abuse.” Because we’re not in a perfect world and we see things happen every day that shouldn’t happen, but unfortunately they are. If we can continue to be the light in some people’s lives, that’s why we’re doing it. “
Wilson: “I think we’re just so confident about who we are as women and we want to keep sharing our voices. Especially with the platforms we have. Stewie has a huge following from UConn and Seattle. I have a huge one Fan base from South Carolina and Vegas, we want to reach our communities as best we can.
“I think it’s hard to do in the beginning because you’re like, ‘Oh, how are people going to take that?’ At the same time you understand that you are a young gamer with this big voice, with this big platform that you can reach so many different people with, and I think that’s why this makes us feel comfortable enough to share our stories with everyone. “
How similar are your personalities?
Stewart: I think we can both keep things easy. We know we play in big games and there are big moments. It’s like we’re in the final, all possession is important … and something bubble-related comes to mind and we just tell ourselves. “
Wilson: We have a nice friendship. Stewie is just a good person, her attitude is always positive. I seldom see Stewie get angry. I’m pretty sure our personalities are different there. I snap on the square.
“Especially someone of her caliber, you might think she’s big headed or cocky. But she really is exactly what she is. I love that about her. Because it’s just like that, ‘We’re both good at what we do … and we have fun doing it. ‘So I really appreciate the years I’ve played alongside Stewie and also played against her. “
They are both expected to be on the upcoming U.S. Olympic team in Tokyo. What is it like to be USA basketball teammate?
Wilson: Oh, it’s so stupid because I’m just saying, ‘I don’t have to protect her!’ I’ve spent all these years protecting her. Now we’re finally teammates. Now my life can be a lot easier. It’s always fun playing with sizes in general, but especially with Stewie because we’ve been fighting this thing since college. “
Stewart: “Team USA is very important to us. There will be exciting moments for A’ja at their first Olympics. And I hope we continue to have these opportunities as we try to put the WNBA in the spotlight.” and Team USA. Hopefully we will both be at the next Olympics and continue to win gold medals. “