Ross D. Franklin / AP
Friday, July 14, 2023 | 2:16 p.m.
Brittney Griner didn’t know what to expect when the WNBA season began, how she would respond after the trauma she experienced of being incarcerated in Russia that also forced her off the court for many months.
Griner surprised herself, playing well enough to become a starter in Saturday’s All-Star Game.
“I just wanted to get out there and try my best not to get hurt, give it the best I’ve got,” Griner said. “I was a little shocked, actually, how it was once I got on the court, so I’m happy with it.
“It was definitely a tough road. A lot of long, hard hours in the gym and in the weight room to get back into it.”
Griner spent nearly 300 days in Russian custody after being arrested Feb. 17, 2022, on drug charges at an airport near Moscow. She was released Dec. 8 after the U.S. government agreed to a prisoner swap.
The WNBA kept Griner top of mind while she was being held in Russia, putting her initials and jersey No. 42 on each court. She also was made an honorary starter at last year’s All-Star Game.
This year, she’s an actual starter after averaging 19.5 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocked shots for the Phoenix Mercury.
“My stats definitely are going to be better this year than last year,” Griner said laughing. “You got to use humor in life.”
Griner will play for Team Stewart.
“It’s really inspiring to see what she’s doing and the way that she carries herself,” said team captain Breanna Stewart of the New York Liberty. “It’s like she was gone for ten months, but she’s still acts and carries herself the same way. The strength she has to do that is something that I definitely admire. And the way that she’s able to to be a force on the court, she’s one of one, and we’re happy that she’s back with us.”
Griner said she not only didn’t think she would be at this year’s All-Star Game, but that she would still be stuck in Russia.
Her return to the U.S. hasn’t been completely joyous, however. Griner was harassed at a Dallas airport last month by someone the WNBA called a “social media figure” that caused the league to re-examine its policies regarding how she travels.
She is interested in playing in the new “Unrivaled” three-on-three and one-on-one league the players are creating so they don’t have to supplement their incomes overseas.
Stewart and Napheesa Collier, an All-Star from the Minnesota Lynx, are the co-founders and hope to schedule a January-March season.
For now, though, Griner’s focus is on the All-Star festivities, and she has a great appreciation for being able to take part. She also was blown away from the tributes at last year’s game.
“Still seeing pictures from things that I didn’t see that were done at last All-Star, so I’m still getting caught up on everything,” Griner said. “But definitely it feels great actually being able to be here physically now.”