Aces Overcome Storm Looming Over Opening Night


As the Las Vegas Aces took the court Saturday afternoon in a rematch of last year’s semi-final matchup with the Seattle Storm, their head coach Becky Hammon wasn’t there. 

Her absence is the result of a suspension handed down by the WNBA following a lengthy investigation into claims made by Dearica Hamby, the former Aces sixth woman of the year. 

The Conflict

After being traded by the Aces to the Los Angeles Sparks on Jan. 21, Hamby claimed that individuals within the Aces organization had made “disgusting comments” revolving around her pregnancy last year. She claimed that she was accused of signing a contract extension while knowingly being pregnant. 

Almost immediately, the league launched an investigation — that much we know. But we don’t know much else. 

Like the severity of the comments made about Hamby, or whether this was a recurring issue or an isolated instance.

The ambiguity of the investigation is truly startling. That’s why there were mixed reactions when the league announced on Tuesday last week that Hammon would serve a two-game suspension without pay to start the 2023 season. Additionally, the Aces lost their 2025 first-round pick.

Aces guard and WNBPA First Vice President Kelsey Plum expressed the frustration of both the players and the Aces this week: “It’s amazing when the verdict comes back and no one is happy, and I think that just shows a poor level of leadership and a poor process of the investigation.”

The Monstars

The defending champions don’t usually have such a dark cloud hanging over the start of their season, especially not one as good as Las Vegas. The roster that already boasted reigning league MVP A’ja Wilson and fellow first team All-WNBA selection Plum, added a third member from the 2022 first team All-WNBA team: Candace Parker

If that wasn’t enough, Las Vegas brought back Jackie Young, a 2022 All-Star and the league’s Most Improved Player. And still, none of those players were able to outplay the “point gawd” Chelsea Gray during last season’s playoff run, as Gray took home Finals MVP. 

Simply put, the Aces starting lineup resembles the Monstars from “Space Jam”. On paper, it seems to be a nearly unbeatable unit, but in the past, the most talented team has not always been the champion in September. 

The New York Liberty will surely present an admirable challenge to the Aces’ back-to-back effort. The signing of former MVPs Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones could make the Liberty the main challenger to Las Vegas in 2023. 

But before any of that can become the focus of the discussion around the Aces, they have to make it out from under the cloud of ambiguity. 

The Coach

Each of their award winning players were in Seattle on Saturday, but the 2022 WNBA Coach of the Year Hammon was not. It’s difficult to see such a prominent and well-respected figure in women’s basketball like Hammon be the subject of a suspension, especially when the reason for said suspension are potentially disrespectful comments made toward a pregnant player. 

It’s even more difficult to see Hammon suffer this punishment when we don’t know precisely what she did, or how the investigation unfolded. 

It took nearly four months from the time the league began the investigation, to the moment it lackadaisically handed down a punishment last Tuesday, with an explanation that left much to be desired. 

“The team violation involved promises of impermissible benefits in connection with negotiations for an extension of then Aces player Dearica Hamby’s player contract,” the league said in a news release. “The Respect in the Workplace violation was related to comments made by Hammon to Hamby in connection with Hamby’s recent pregnancy.”

The question we are left with is if Hammon truly did make those comments — and the suspension seems to indicate that something was said — was the punishment enough? If Hammon and the Aces truly did disparage Hamby in the manner she claims, a two-game suspension seems belittling.

And, was the solution really to take a pick? There has to be a better way to punish an organization than taking one of the 36 draft picks available each year. It’s not as much of a punishment for Las Vegas as it is to the young woman who won’t be drafted in 2025 as a result of this decision. 

The Storm

Right now, we don’t have too many answers. The Aces started their season in a storm of ambiguity, but even without Hammon, they proved that talent could break down a storm.

Las Vegas was dominant in their season opener. 

The Aces claimed an emphatic 41-point, 105-64, win. Plum and Young led the team in scoring with 23 points each. Wilson set a new franchise record with her 55th double-double as she put up 13 points and 13 rebounds. Gray put up 14 points, and Parker scored 12 in her Aces debut.

The Monstars.

So, even as the untidy resolution of a confusing scandal loomed over the Aces opening day, the defending champions overcame the Storm and made it known that it will not be easy to distract or defeat these women.

The Aces will play the Los Angeles Sparks and Hamby in their next game on Thursday May 25 on the road, and then again on Saturday May 27 for their home opener.

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About Ben McCormick

Ben McCormick is a sports writer from North Carolina. He has run independent blogs and begun writing for The Lead in 2023. He writes for The Daily Tar Heel as well, where he has worked since September of 2022.

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