Few sports personalities have been able to inflict punishment upon their opponents with unflappable conviction and send shockwaves throughout the industry like prime Stone Cold Steve Austin, but Liz Cambage of the Las Vegas Aces may be one of them.
Since the mid-90s, the sound of shattering glass and subsequent distorted riffage has meant only one thing to millions of people – a can of whoopass is close to being opened. In the illogical, surreal trip that is professional wrestling, the return of a larger-than-life performer temporarily restores a sense of balance in the constant fight against the bad guys.
Following a nine-month absence to receive neck surgery, Austin’s entrance theme sounded at the MCI Center in Washington D.C, as he intervened in the main event of Backlash 2000. With fellow face superstar The Rock being savagely beaten by Triple H and his goons – including his actual official employer Vince McMahon – it seemed as though special guest referee Shane McMahon was about to execute the three-count. Alas, the toughest SOB in the business emerged, steel chair in hand and proceeded to take out the aforementioned bullyboys, as well as geriatric duo Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco, before leaving without a scratch, as the crowd reached fever pitch. In limited time, he completely cleared house and left the industry abuzz.
Australian center Liz Cambage brings a similar appetite for physical destruction to the world of basketball. She too has spent extended periods of time recovering in Texas, preparing to make a seismic return to the top of the game. She too is capable of stomping proverbial mudholes into her opponents. She too can change the game by offering her presence alone.
Cambage was a major acquisition for Vegas, who traded a generous package in order to bring her on board. However, head coach Bill Laimbeer has chosen to err on the side of caution thus far, limiting her playing time and easing her back into action. The Aces have gotten off to a 1-2 start to the 2019 season. Looks like they need some chair shots.
There can be no doubt that the 27-year-old is capable of transforming the team into a #1 contender. She had spells last year that proved she was one of the toughest in the game. Against the New York Liberty in July, she scored 53 points from just 22 shots, while smashing some glass of her own, gathering 12 rebounds. How about that for clearing house in limited time, leaving the crowd abuzz?
Despite Cambage’s arrival in Nevada, the Aces’ season hasn’t begun in anticipated fashion. After an unbelievably successful offseason, they were prematurely crowned WNBA champions before a ball had even bounced, yet in their first three contests, they have underwhelmed. Cambage has laced up for only two of the games and been limited to a mere 14 minutes by head coach Bill Laimbeer. It became clear early on that while the likes of A’ja Wilson and Dearica Hamby are crucial contributors, and the team boasts a wealth of high-ceiling talent, they need a fully-fit Cambage to burst from the titantron sooner rather than later.
See, the London-born star’s value to a team transcends her numbers, which is what makes her presence on the court so valuable and is exactly why Las Vegas traded for her. Her 6’8 frame and versatile skillset makes her difficult to guard from basically everywhere on the court and the length poses problems for those that dare to enter the key. Defences are forced to pay extra attention to her inside, making it easier for the floor to stretch around her. If not marshalled effectively enough by help defenders, Cambage will punish opponents by ruthlessly banging or pulling up with a virtually un-guardable jumper.
Last year, she averaged 23 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, at an efficient clip of 59% from the field and 32% from beyond the arc. As a Dallas Wing, she spent 29 minutes on court each game night, showing what she can do when at her physical peak, free from the shackles of rehabilitation. Dallas finished with a 15-19 record last year, which was widely expected but now Cambage is expected to win.
In Thursday night’s win over Atlanta, the Aces began to look like the formidable outfit we saw coming. With an uplift in playing time, Cambage came off the top rope and led the team in scoring and blocks, as they pounded the Dream by 23 points. She finished +30 in an improved 19 minutes.
Plus. Thirty. In. Nineteen. Give me a hell yeah.
I’ll be the first to admit that this entire exercise has been an excuse to make nostalgic wrestling references. I’ve been desperately comparing two professional athletes of different generations, looking for common threads in their careers, mostly so that I can talk about both of them and partially so that I can spark the creation of the above-doctored image. That said, there is one key similarity that cannot be overlooked.
Austin enjoyed a lengthy career, in which he held the WWF Title six times, the Tag Team Championship on four occasions, won four Royal Rumbles, and an array of honours in various other organisations. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame of 2009 and continues to make a living from a brand that truly transcends the business in which it was born.
A similar legacy sits within Cambage’s reach. She has shown at times that she can be remembered as one of the most iconic stars in the history of the WNBA. With a clean bill of health, surrounded by a promising roster, watch as she stuns those that stand in her way and fights for a championship belt of her own. Meanwhile, the Aces are hoping for their very own Backlash 2000.
That’s the bottom line.
Feature photo – WWE / WNBA / Double Clutch illustration – Oliver Primus