Last night, the Las Vegas Aces became the first team in more than 20 years to win consecutive WNBA championships, narrowly defeating Breanna Stewart and the New York Liberty to prove their dominance with a 3-1 series victory. They did it without starter Kiah Stokes or 2022 MVP Chelsea Gray, but were led to the win by the clutch performance of A’ja Wilson, who posted 24 points and 16 rebounds in 39 minutes on the floor. Wilson scored a well-deserved Finals MVP trophy for her heroic efforts. (She’s also, as it happens, a finalist for our Most Stylish WNBA Player crown.)
But anybody watching the Aces walk into the Barclays Center on Wednesday night could have told you that Wilson meant business. All you had to do was take a look at what she was wearing on her feet: a pair of jet-black Air Force 1s. You might as well have given them the chip and Wilson the MVP trophy right there and then.
Both teams had sneaker cred to go around on Wednesday night. Sydney Colson showed how to make the now-ubiquitous Panda dunk fresh with eye-catching cow-print pants, while the Liberty’s Sabrina Ionescu demonstrated her sneakerhead bona fides with a clean pair of Sean Wotherspoon Air Max 97s. But it was Wilson, locked in and on a mission, who best understood the assignment. With the championship on the line and in enemy territory, this was not necessarily the time to go flashy or show off the rarest kicks in the collection. Wilson was ready to get serious. And when it’s time to get serious, only one sneaker will do.
Although a long-time staple of the sneaker world, the classic AF1 in all-black has become a full-blown internet meme over the last few years, transitioning from dressed-down casual basic to recognized signifier of an indomitable attitude and take-no-shit behavior. It’s become a kind of social media shorthand for the wearer’s intensity: Throw on a pair of these sneakers, and you’re telling everyone who sees you that you’re prepared to do anything.
It’s a safe bet that Wilson knew exactly what she was doing wearing these now infamous shoes to the Finals on Wednesday. Call it a subtle intimidation tactic: It signaled straight away that Wilson was ready to do what it takes to walk out of the Clays with the W, an unspoken boast she more than saw through with her MVP-winning performance. Of course, she rounded the whole thing out by putting the AF1s back on for the celebration—a choice that’s now made for some of the most bad-ass trophy pics in basketball history.