A’ja Wilson returns to South Carolina on book tour for ‘Dear Black Girls’

Photo Credit: Akiem Bailum

While two-time WNBA champion A’ja Wilson may call her WNBA city – Las Vegas – her current home, she always takes time to remember that it was Columbia, South Carolina that planted the seeds for her to become the household name she is today. 

In late February, Wilson returned to the Palmetto State for an event to promote her new book “Dear Black Girls.” It was one of five stops on her recently completed book tour that also included New York City, St. Louis, New Orleans and Miami (which Ari Chambers was also in attendance to take part in that event’s discussion). 

Also in attendance was her teammate from her South Carolina days – and current Atlanta Dream star Allisha Gray. The two got into many topics and shared many laughs with those in attendance. One of those topics was coach Dawn Staley. Wilson mentioned how she appreciated her because of how honest she was with her while coaching Wilson with the Gamecocks. 

Right now to this day, I will run through a brick wall for Dawn Staley because of her honesty.

–A’ja Wilson (Feb. 25 “Dear Black Girls” event in Columbia)

Before she was under the tutelage of coach Staley at UofSC, she believed she had something to prove to her parents as she was rising through the ranks of the Palmetto State’s uber-competitive high school girls basketball scene. 

Wilson recalls when her parents would let her know when she was – not exactly the superstar she is today. 

It was a lot of character building, it was a lot of participation trophies because I was awful. I was trash and my parents let me know that every single day. And I am so grateful that they let me know that because it humbled me, but it also gave me fuel to be better. It gave me the fuel to be great, to want to strive for something – to prove to them I’m not trash. And every single day.

–A’ja Wilson (Feb. 25 “Dear Black Girls” event in Columbia)

Wilson displayed that she was anything but trash when she won a state championship at Heathwood Hall – then a national championship at South Carolina. 

Then came her first Finals appearance with the Las Vegas Aces in the 2020 bubble against the Seattle Storm. Seattle swept Las Vegas en route to that championship. Being in the confines of that Florida bubble during the pandemic was hard enough. Add on the heartbreak of losing in one’s first Finals and the pressure can feel unbearable. 

It was at that point, Wilson says, that she began to re-evaluate a lot – both in terms of basketball and in terms of who she wanted to be as a young woman. 

And it was just a point where I really had to, kind of, look within myself and say is this what I want to do? Is this who I want to be? Do I want to live for someone else or do I want to live for me? What is my purpose? And once I found my purpose is to be real and be true to me, I started changing my whole outlook on life.

–A’ja Wilson (Feb. 25 “Dear Black Girls” event in Columbia)

I started to really connect with my parents and just my family and everyone in between because these are days that we don’t get back. And I didn’t want to just be in this … world of just trying to people-please because I lose myself. So in that moment after the bubble, I was like, you know what, I have so much more to give. Just for the sake of me. Like I want to do more for myself so I can then do more for others.

–A’ja Wilson (Feb. 25 “Dear Black Girls” event in Columbia)

Of course the rest is history. Two years later, Wilson captured her first WNBA championship with the Aces after a 3-1 Finals victory over the Connecticut Sun. She also was a part of a USA Basketball team that claimed a FIBA gold medal in Australia shortly after the Finals triumph.

The 2023 season was particularly a roller coaster for Wilson and her Aces given how her team looked dominant in the first half of the season then encountered second-half struggles. That second half of the season did include Wilson tying the all-time single-game scoring record (Liz Cambage) with 53 points in a 112-100 win over Gray’s Dream. 

It also included Breanna Stewart being named MVP instead of Wilson – and her infamously receiving a fourth-place vote from a yet unknown member of the media. Wilson remarked at the Columbia event that she felt she had a better season in 2023 than when she was named regular season MVP. 

Wilson has won two regular season MVP awards – in 2020 and in 2022. She then recalled that the MVP snub was only a bump in the road – and allowed herself to get grounded in her faith again that something bigger was on the horizon. 

Something bigger was – a second championship and a Finals MVP in a 3-1 series win over the New York Liberty where Wilson led a shorthanded Aces squad with 24 points and 16 rebounds in the hostile environment that was a sold-out Barclays Center.

One had to know that when Columbia was announced as one of the stops on her “Dear Black Girls” book tour that Soda City would indeed show out for its native daughter. It did. It was said that around 800 packed the R2i2 Conference Center on Columbia’s northeast side to show love for its hometown hero. 

You guys have really helped me in so many ways. The support, the system that you guys hold…the way ya’ll hold it down on social or in real life, there is no A’ja Wilson without each and every last one of you in this room.

–A’ja Wilson (Feb. 25 “Dear Black Girls” event in Columbia)

Wilson summed it all up simply saying…

My license may say Nevada on it but I’m a South Carolina girl through and through.

–A’ja Wilson (Feb. 25 “Dear Black Girls” event in Columbia)