At last year’s WNBA All-Star Game in Chicago, which I attended, Brittney Griner‘s absence cast a pall over the game. All the players were first introduced wearing her jersey but given her detention in Russia and the uncertainty of her future, it felt like Griner was being mourned as much as missed.
This year, the feeling was much different as she made a triumphant return to the game, held this year in Las Vegas. After a 10-month detention in Russia, Griner was swapped in a trade for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout. In one of the first statements after her release, she said she was returning to the Phoenix Mercury where she’s played for all 10 of her seasons in the WNBA.
Griner was applauded on her return with celebrities like Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade (a part-owner of the Chicago Sky WNBA team) and fellow ballers Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis in attendance. She electrified the crowd with two dunks, helping lead Team (Brianna) Stewart to the 143-127 victory over Team (A’ja) Wilson.
Jewell Loyd of the Seattle Storm was named the game’s MVP after scoring a record 31 points on 10 3-pointers.
“I’m just happy to be here in this building,” Griner said. “Being here with them after everything that they did to support me through one of the toughest times, it just means everything to be right here.”
Though Griner scored 18 points in the game, her Mercury team has the second-worst record in the WNBA and is in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in her career. Their coach has been replaced and they’re without All-Star Skylar Diggins, who has yet to return to the Mercury since taking maternity leave to have her second child.
But Griner enjoyed her All-Star return, having a little fun while doing an in-game interview via an earpiece with the commentators on the ESPN/ABC podcast.
Griner says that the support from the public and the league during her detention kept her going.
“It meant everything to me,” she told the crowd after the game. “I didn’t think that I would be here today, honestly but everybody sending letters, sending love, posting. I’m still seeing it to this day everything that everybody did. It really meant a lot to me, it gave me hope it made me not want to just give it up for anything, so it was this league that helped me out.”
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