The great Las Vegas pro sports experiment is now in its seventh year. And with the Raiders moving in 2020 and a baseball team potentially on the way, it’s showing no signs of slowing down. When the NHL’s Golden Knights played their first game in 2017, many people were skeptical that a city known for debauchery and tourism could become a true sports town. But, thanks in large part to A’ja Wilson—who has won two championships and two MVP awards as a member of the WNBA’s powerhouse Aces, a franchise that moved from San Antonio to Vegas in 2018—Sin City now has some bona fide winners to call their own.
Wilson and the Aces won the city’s first professional championship in 2022, and the Knights quickly followed up by raising the Stanley Cup in 2023. During the madhouse that is Vegas’ first ever Super Bowl week, GQ caught up with Wilson. As a proud Gatorade athlete, she rhapsodized about her favorite flavors, enthusiastically discussed loving life in one of America’s most divisive locations, and revealed which artist she’d like to see take over The Sphere.
What’s your go-to Gatorade flavor?
I like the orange. That’s just my classic flavor. Or fruit punch berry. Those are like neck-and-neck for me.
At the end of the Super Bowl the winning team is going to dump Gatorade on their coach, as is tradition. What color do you think it’ll be?
I think it’ll be fruit punch. Both teams are red, it can really soak into the clothes a little bit more.
Do you drink Gatorade recreationally as well as during games?
Yes, and I always double check [during games]. If I have my bottle and I’m like “Huh, this feels off” I usually realize it’s because it’s not Gatorade. I gotta put my Gatorade in. I like a Propel but I have to do that for recovery, after I play. I can’t do that for sport. Gatorade got me my MVP, for sure.
A lot of people practice a 72-hour rule for Vegas, but you live here! What was your perception of the city when you got drafted by the Aces, before you actually arrived?
I was really, really nervous because I was a small town girl coming from South Carolina to the big city lights of Las Vegas. At the same time, I took the challenge head-on and enjoyed every minute of it. The experience of it—how many people are here, how many people are tourists here—it’s pretty cool to walk around and be like, “Are you from here?” No, I’m new here just like you! I was super excited to move to the big city and have the entertainment around me.
I’ll be honest with you, I low-key hate it here. How do you become a Vegas girlie?
[laughing] There’s some really good restaurants here! You have to be a foodie. You have to be a really, really, really big foodie. That’s what gets you out and into the nightlife. I’m not a clubber, but I’m a foodie. I can go to a lounge, go to different places, and just enjoy the food. It’s a great atmosphere. I feel like we have a great, healthy balance between food and culture. I love STK and Catch. Those are in the Cosmo and the Aria [hotels]. Sometimes they have live music. It’s a great vibe.
Had you been here before moving?
I’d been when I was like, 10? I came with my parents and they left me in the hotel room with my babysitter because there was nothing for me to do!
Do you like it now that you’ve gotten used to it?
Yes, one hundred percent. I really enjoy Las Vegas. I got my license switched over so I feel like I’m a Nevadan now! They really embraced me. It’s a home away from home, and I never knew that off the strip, it’s actually a really cool space! It reminds me so much of home, and that makes me comfortable. I really like Vegas, for sure.
What’s it like living out in the desert?
It’s quiet! It’s really low-key. Not a lot of clouds, you wake up and it feels like you’re in a cartoon. Sometimes the sun is just shining, bing! The dryness messes me up a lot. My lotion, my hair, my skincare, everything. It keeps me hydrated at the same time though! The first time coming here it was, woo, a lot. There’s a difference between here and Phoenix, too. The difference in air is crazy. And then, when you get used to triple-digit [heat], I’m freezing when it gets down to 65. I will take triple digits over cold, for sure. The heat messes up my shoes sometimes, but it’s okay.
When a free agent is interested in joining the Aces, what do you tell them about living in Vegas?
I definitely say ease your way into the Strip. I wouldn’t just dive right into it, because it’s overwhelming, and I don’t gamble. For someone who wants to try [Vegas], I definitely take them to my little spots outside the Strip so they can see that life. You don’t feel like there’s a million people on top of you.
You’ve been here for the whole evolution of Vegas as a sports town. What have you seen as far as the fan support and the city embracing the Aces, Golden Knights, and now the Raiders?
It’s been amazing. The growth of the fan base has been incredible to watch. I feel like it’s just the beginning, and I feel like Vegas needed some sports teams. We crush it in entertainment, but something was missing, and that was sports. Sports bring a whole other flow of people, and I love that. Now when kids come to Vegas and they’re young, I feel like they have something to do. I was trapped in the hotel room because I couldn’t go to a sporting event! It’s super cool to be a part of and also bring back its first professional championship. We’re becoming household names. More than half of us stay here during the offseason. People see me in the grocery store and they’re like, Oh my god! You play for the Aces!
We’re definitely a sports city now. We’re generating a lot more sports fans. We’re starting a wave. We’re bringing people here outside of tourism, on a sports level. We have the Super Bowl! That brings a melting pot of people who might have never been here before, but their favorite football team is playing in Vegas [snaps fingers] they’re flying out.
When did you feel things start to flip? Because your first year with the Aces y’all were below .500 and missed the playoffs.
It would have to be in the bubble when we made it to our first WNBA Finals. That was game changing for us because we understood what it took to get to that point, and from then on I wanted to make sure my teammates never felt that pain and sorrow that I felt when we lost. We grinded it out, and now we’re two-time champions! It’s been fun.