Dear Black Women,
I need you to hear me for a minute. I need you to feel this.
If you’re here for smiling A’ja, or perfect A’ja, or curated A’ja, just click away now. I’m just warning everybody from the jump.
You know what? I’ll even give you an easy way out: Treat yourself to this incredible puppy content, and then go about your business.
But for everybody who wants the real A’ja today, let me be honest with you for a minute.
I’ve had a hell of a couple months, y’all.
And I know how that probably sounds, from the outside. I mean, what do I have to feel down about, really? I made it to my first WNBA finals. I got the MVP trophy. They even gave your girl a statue on the University of South Carolina campus.
In bronze. On that campus. Forever. The same campus that my own grandmother couldn’t even set foot on during segregation. Had to walk around it, when she was running her errands around town.
I mean, I’m 24 years old and I got a statue on that campus. That’s not lost on me, at all.
But I have to be honest with you. It was a rough couple months before that. On the outside, it looked like I was on top of the world. On the inside, I was not O.K.
Everything started after we lost in the finals and I ventured outside the WNBA bubble for the first time in three months. Inside the Wubble, I’d had basketball to focus on. Trying to get that title, trying to prove the doubters wrong about our team’s potential ... it was just all-consuming. It was like being sealed off in an alternate reality. And what made it so surreal was that there was so much trauma and emotion and energy going on in the outside world over the summer, while we were inside this literal bubble of sunshine and hotel rooms and basketball. I kind of made myself numb to everything that was going on. I guess that was my way to compartmentalize basketball versus the anguish of the news that I was seeing on my phone. It was like I wasn’t fully processing the grief of it all.
I was just … empty.
Then, when I finally got out of that bubble and I was back in the real world, it was like something broke.
The decompression led straight into depression.
I just felt so angry with myself. I felt like I’d let my team down in the finals. There were a lot of days when I couldn’t get myself out of bed. It was like I genuinely couldn't even control my movements. I was outside my body, floating up in my own head.
You didn’t do enough. You let everybody down.
You didn’t do enough. You didn’t do enough. You didn’t do enough.
You know how that cycle goes, right?
That anxiety gets up on you.
But I didn’t tell a soul. I kept everything from my family, even my parents, because I didn’t want them to worry about me. As Black women, how many of us put on that mask every morning? Gotta be perfect! Gotta be smiling! Gotta be strong!
As Black women, it’s like ... weakness?
We don’t got time for that!!!
I witnessed it with my own mother when I was a kid. She could’ve had the hardest day at work, but when she came home at night, it was all smiles. You would never catch her slipping. Never see her sweat.
How many of us fall into that same pattern? I mean, I have this vision for myself that I feel like I have to meet — not as a basketball player, but as a Black woman in America. As A’ja. I feel like I need to handle every situation with grace and poise and positivity. I can’t let them catch me losing my cool, right?
You know A’ja is gonna handle her business.
Don’t worry about A’ja.
(Meanwhile, when the cameras are all gone and I’m in bed by myself, I’m crying my eyes out.)
As Black women, it’s like ... weakness? Weakness? We don’t got time for that!!!- A'ja Wilson
For me, everything boiled over while I was on a vacation with my family a few months ago. We were supposed to be having fun and relaxing after an amazing year, but my anxiety was just through the roof. I couldn’t stop getting myself worked up. I started to really spiral. It’s hard to explain, but my body felt kind of numb. And then all of a sudden, it was like my world got really, really small.
I could barely breathe.
Everything was blurry.
I couldn’t hear anything.
The worst part about a panic attack is that the first time you experience it, you don’t even understand what’s happening to you — which makes everything 10 times scarier. You start digging yourself deeper and deeper into the hole because you can’t comprehend what’s going on.
The only thing that I could hear was my mom’s voice. That was like the little ball of warmth in the darkness that I was gravitating toward.
My mom just kept saying, “I just need you to come on back, O.K.?”
It was like I was spinning off somewhere in deep space and the sound of her voice was pulling me back to earth.
“It’s gonna be fine. Just come on back. Just come on back.”
I mean, all love in the world to my dad, but there’s just something about your mother’s voice, you know? That was my anchor.
The warmth of her voice brought me back, and I was able to calm down.
After that day, I couldn’t pretend like nothing was wrong. Obviously, it wasn’t just basketball. It wasn’t just about the finals. I started to realize that I had been burying this pain and grief for a long time. And I think a big part of it was me not fully coming to terms with the death of my grandmother a few years ago. The last few years of my life have been a really wild ride — going to South Carolina, winning the national championship, getting drafted into the W, the bubble season. When you’re on that roller coaster, it can be hard to process real life. Let alone real loss.
I can’t really sum up what my grandmother meant to me. It’s impossible. This is such a random memory, but I’ll never forget being at a funeral for a family friend, when my grandmother was probably 80 years old. It was one of those long services, and as we’re all standing around, you couldn’t help but notice this young girl who was really struggling. She was rocking back and forth. Her shoes were just killing her feet. You know that struggle.
Anyway, a couple of minutes later, I look over and see my grandmother standing there rocking a pair of the most uncomfortable clogs you’ve ever seen in your life. I don’t even know where these things came from. Like 1800s Switzerland.
I’m like, “Grandma, what?”
She’s like, “Well, the girl needed some new shoes. We traded.”
It was just so matter-of-fact. And I get chills thinking about such a simple memory like that because ... phew. I don’t know how to make you understand, except to say that my grandmother’s main mission in life was, “How can I help?”
I mean, this was a woman who grew up in the segregated South. She was a single mother of four children. Two jobs. Couldn’t walk through the South Carolina campus to go to the grocery store. Had to walk around. And despite all that, her whole purpose was, How can I help?
Now, she wasn’t a softie!! Let me be clear. She was hard-core, a lot of times. She had to be. But her main thing was still, “Are you good? You want to trade, honey? I’m alright. You take mine. No, no, no, you take mine.”
She was like a living lesson. For me. For our family. For our community.
I mean … losing a woman like that in my life … what can I say? I just wasn’t able to process it. I buried the grief for years. And then this fall, when the bubble finally popped, and I felt like I had failed, and the world seemed to be going crazy all around us, all those emotions just came flooding out.
Yes, I battled depression.
After an MVP season.
Yes, I had panic attacks.
After an MVP season.
That’s not weakness. It’s not a sob story. It’s just real.
This fall, when the bubble finally popped, and I felt like I had failed, and the world seemed to be going crazy all around us, all those emotions just came flooding out.- A'ja Wilson
In the end, I needed to go through that. I had to come to terms with the complicated emotions that I had buried for so long, so that I could grow as a person. And that’s thanks to my psychiatrist, Dr. Casey.
I had to accept — no, no, no, I had to embrace — the fact that the real A’ja that I am on certain days isn’t the same A’ja that a commentator sees, or that a teammate sees, or that even my best friend sees.
And that’s O.K.
My emotions are my emotions. My pain is my pain. My story is my story.
Listen, I love Kobe. I used to get myself all worked up watching his interviews on YouTube — driving myself crazy like, You better get up at 5 a.m. and be in that gym before everybody else, A!!! MAMBA MENTALITY!!! THEY’RE SLEEPING, YOU’RE GRINDING!!!
But you know what? Some mornings I don’t want to be that person. Some mornings I want to sit in bed and maybe cry my heart out a little bit, and feel all the feelings. That’s not weakness. That’s honesty.
At the end of the day, there are different paths to greatness. And I feel like we don’t hear that message enough, especially as Black women.
You can be vulnerable and still be the MVP.
You can be vulnerable and still be the CEO.
You can be vulnerable and still be in the White House.
You don’t have to put the mask on every morning.
And listen, I get it if you choose to put that mask on some days. As Black women, there’s so much pressure on us to be everything to everyone. We’re expected to wear so many different hats, and to juggle so many different roles — and to do it all with a smile. (’Cause you know what they’re gonna label us if we don’t, right??)
I get it.
You can be vulnerable and still be the MVP. You can be vulnerable and still be the CEO. You can be vulnerable and still be in the White House.- A'ja Wilson
I swear, it’s like we’re always thinking so much about everybody else that we forget about ourselves.
Well, let me just say it loud, for anybody in the back who needs to hear it today….
You are enough.
No, no no ... more than enough.
As a matter of fact, the best is yet to come.
Those are the exact words that my grandmother used to tell me when I was a little girl. So simple. So powerful.
The best is yet to come.
I thought about those words when they unveiled my statue last month, and they took on a much deeper meaning. After such a difficult couple of months, seeing that statue was a turning point for me. It was a little ray of sunshine. But maybe not in the way you think I mean.
To be honest, I’m almost embarrassed that it’s me up there. I’m so, so honored, don’t get me wrong. But it’s just a lot, and a part of me felt undeserving. I was so nervous to give my speech — kind of overwhelmed by the moment. But then I just kept thinking about what my grandmother would say if she’d been there to see it. And then everything clicked.
The statue ... it’s not about me.
It’s about us.
It’s about all the little girls who are going to walk across that campus over the next 10 years, 50 years, 100 years. Before long, they’re probably not even going to remember the name A’ja Wilson. But they’ll definitely remember the feeling of seeing a young Black woman immortalized for the blood, sweat and tears she gave to her school, her fans, her community. And that’s such an important image for those girls to see — especially in the South.
I hope we do a good job of teaching those little girls their history. In 100 years, who knows what they’ll think about the times that we’re living through. Who knows what they will remember?
But the truth is….
That young Black woman immortalized in bronze, in the year 2021?
Her own grandmother wasn’t allowed to step on that same campus when she was her age.
Her own father wasn’t allowed to play basketball for that same university when he was her age.
And she herself walked to middle school on streets named after slave owners, past houses that proudly flew the Confederate flag.
When I saw my statue, that’s the wave that came crashing over me. Those were the memories that came flooding back. Not my games, not my buckets, not my career. No, no, no. My history.
I cried happy tears, for the first time in a long time. It was like a voice came to me from the heavens. I could hear my grandmother telling me, “Honey, stop crying. What are you crying about, anyway? You know the best is yet to come, right?”
It was like I took a long, deep breath. And then the weight came off.
So, that’s my story. That’s my truth.
It feels good just to say it.
Dang, it feels good!!
And before I get up out of here — my only advice for you, if you’re feeling like I was feeling? Let it out. Drop the mask for a minute and talk to somebody. A therapist, a friend, a family member, somebody.
Let the weight come off your shoulders. Lean on somebody else for a minute.
We got you.
Hey, we got you.
In the words of a legend: “Let’s trade. No, no, no, honey. You take mine.”