All In: A’ja Wilson’s ‘Dear Black Girls’ a pep talk for all women

WNBA star’s first book ‘feels like a pep talk from an old friend’

All In: A'ja Wilson's 'Dear Black Girls' a pep talk for all women– Las Vegas Aces’ A’ja Wilson (22) looks to pass during the first half in Game 3 of a WNBA basketball final playoff series against the New York Liberty Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023, in New York. Wilson, Breanna Stewart and Brittney Griner will be back on the courts chasing another WNBA title when camps open on Sunday, April 28. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

I have a lucky towel, handed to me as I entered the University of South Carolina women’s basketball game against UConn during the Gamecocks’ march to an undefeated season and a national championship.

A golf cart attendant recently saw my towel and gleefully said “I’m a Gamecock!” She showed me pictures of the championship celebration that erupted on campus when Dawn Staley’s team won the NCAA women’s basketball national title. When I told her I got the towel as a giveaway at a basketball game, I didn’t have to clarify to her I was talking about South Carolina’s women’s team.

One visit to that campus and you feel the impact of Black women.

This week, I listened to A’ja Wilson’s audiobook “Dear Black Girls, How to Be True to You.” During segregation, Wilson’s grandmother, Hattie Wade Rakes, couldn’t walk through the University of South Carolina campus to take the direct route to a grocery store. Today, an 11-foot bronze statue of her granddaughter is in front of the school’s basketball venue, Colonial Life Arena. And another bronze statue of Staley will be installed this summer in downtown Columbia.

Only six percent of statues in the United States depict women, according to University of Wisconsin at La Crosse art professor Sierra Rooney, in a report by Yahoo sports.

A Columbia native, Wilson helped lead the Gamecocks to their first national championship in 2017. She and her teammates literally built the foundation of the trophy case at South Carolina. Wilson has won two WNBA championships, a WNBA Finals MVP award, two league MVP awards and two Defensive Player of the Year awards with the Las Vegas Aces. And Staley, who she calls her second mom, keeps adding league and national championships to the school’s athletic walls of fame.

Last season, Wilson should have won the MVP award for the third time. An analysis showed Wilson lost because one of the 60 journalists who cover the W put Wilson in fourth place on the MVP voting sheet. She ended up third, behind MVP Breanna Stewart of the Liberty and second-place vote-getter Alyssa Thomas of the Connecticut Sun.

All 59 of the other voters had Wilson, Stewart and Thomas in their top three picks. Wilson was the only one of the three to receive a vote of fourth-place or lower. The voter sabotaged her chances.

“So I’m thankful for it because I got Finals MVP and we won us another one. But it was definitely a moment where I was like, ‘Oh, OK. Cool. Politics,” Wilson said after the season.

Looking back on the 2023 season, Wilson had one bad game statistically, it was on the road against the Liberty. She was 2-of-14 from the field with nine points.

Her one bad night might have led to that fourth-place vote. It shouldn’t have. She was tops in the league in overall stats if voters considered her playing time averages on a team with the luxury to rest her at the end of blowout games.

That story of Wilson rising up amidst setbacks is just one of many. It started during her childhood.

I recommend listening to Wilson’s story in her own voice. Chapter two included overcoming dyslexia and related disorders, including being unable to speak in class. She praised her grandmother in one of the book’s most influential chapters.

“One of the best ways you can find inspiration in your life is to look to your elders,” Wilson wrote.

Wilson’s mom, her dad and Staley also are themes in their own chapters.

Helping to build up young Black girls is part of her mission. The A’ja Wilson Foundation advocates for those with learning disabilities and to counter bullying in schools.

But her messages in her first book are for all women and girls.

“This one is for all the girls who are labeled too loud and too emotional.” We are all that girl, especially in these times.

Wilson teamed with Vice President Kamala Harris in the preseason to educate her many social media followers on what’s at stake in the upcoming elections. She’s no longer the shy young girl who was told she would have to sleep outside at a friend’s fourth sleepover birthday party because the birthday girl’s father “didn’t like Black people.”

Wilson is a superhero evolving before our eyes. She’s earned her own Nike logo with a signature shoe on the way. Do not underestimate this woman even with the Las Vegas Aces off to a slow start.

Listening to the book provided me with inspiration in what was a gloomy week. Politicians can learn a lot from athletes: one bad night does not define a season, a career or a lifetime of doing good in service to others.

Adversity is like fertilizer for greatness, Wilson tells her fans.

Wilson’s book is published by Melinda French Gates through Moment of Life Books, dedicated to publishing original nonfiction by visionaries “working to unlock a more equal world for women and girls.”

“Wilson’s first book is a love letter to Black girls — a testament to their histories, a tribute to their triumphs, and a celebration of their potential. ‘Dear Black Girls’ tackles serious subjects with humor and warmth in a voice so wise and relatable that it feels like a pep talk from an old friend,” wrote Gates.

For sharing her life’s amazing highs and sometimes embarrassing (and laugh-out-loud entertaining) lows on the way to greatness and her gift of hope, Wilson gets my vote for penning the best book by an athlete I’ve read this year.