With head coach Becky Hammon on the sideline for the first time this season, the Las Vegas Aces received their 2022 WNBA championship rings Saturday night. So did former Aces player Dearica Hamby, who was traded in January to the Los Angeles Sparks, Las Vegas' opponent for the evening.
Hamby criticized the Aces after the trade, accusing them of treating her in an "unprofessional and unethical way" due to her pregnancy and not following through on promises that were made to her when she signed a contract extension during the 2022 season. The Aces have denied mistreating Hamby.
But after an investigation, the WNBA on May 16 imposed penalties on Hammon and the Aces for violating the league's Respect in the Workplace policy and impermissible player benefits regarding Hamby. Hammon was suspended two games, and the Aces were stripped of a 2025 first-round draft pick.
On Saturday, the crowd at Las Vegas' Michelob Ultra Arena gave a warm ovation to Hamby when she was presented her ring and received a hug from both WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert and Aces owner Mark Davis. Hamby played for Las Vegas from 2018 to 2022 -- and the three years before that, she was with the San Antonio Stars, who became the Aces when they moved to Las Vegas.
"I feel like it was a great moment for her to have, a great moment for us to share with her," Aces star A'ja Wilson said of Hamby being presented the ring. "We don't win the ring without [Dearica]. So it's very great she could have that moment and share it with her two children and her mom and her sister there. And it was really good to see her."
The Aces had faced Hamby and the Sparks on Thursday in Los Angeles. In that game, assistant Natalie Nakase filled in for Hammon as head coach, while Aces assistant Tyler Marsh did the same on May 20 in the Aces' season opener at the Seattle Storm.
With Hammon back from her suspension, the Aces routed the short-handed Sparks 93-65 to move to 3-0 on the young season. Afterward, Hammon was asked about the emotions of the past two weeks.
"This is my 25th year in either the WNBA or the NBA," said Hammon, who began her 16-season WNBA playing career in 1999 then was a Spurs assistant for eight seasons before taking over the Aces last year. "This is just my home space. So it was definitely nice to get out there, be with my team.
"But honestly, they've been so awesome through this whole thing. They know how to make me smile, for sure. It was nice to have this moment with them and be out there and be in the battle with them."
Wilson, the 2022 WNBA MVP, said of Hammon, "We tried our best to support her. We know it wasn't easy for her not being on the sideline. It was our job to make sure we didn't have any drop-off and continue to be us."
The Aces also unveiled the 2022 championship banner in the arena, next to the No. 25 banner the franchise retired in 2021 in honor of Hammon. She played eight seasons with the San Antonio franchise before it relocated to Las Vegas.
"I didn't know they were going to hang it right there," Hammon said. "But I will say it looks very lovely next to it. I'm happy for the 2022 team, all the members. It was nice to enjoy it."