When Brittney Griner stepped foot in the United States earlier this month after spending nearly 10 months in Russian detainment, no one was thinking about what this means for her professional basketball career – we were all just happy to see her home. And not just home, but safe, healthy, and in good spirits.
On December 16, Brittney Griner addressed the public for the first time since making her return to the US. In a lengthy post on Instagram, Griner expressed how good it felt to finally be home. I dug deep to keep my faith and it was the love from so many of you that helped keep me going,” she wrote in the caption.
“I also want to make one thing very clear: I intend to play basketball for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury this season, and in doing so, I look forward to being able to say ‘thank you’ to those of you who advocated, wrote, and posted for me in person soon,” she continued – confirming her return to the WNBA in 2023.
15 Moments That Remind Us How Great Brittney Griner Is
Brittney Griner has already had one of the greatest careers in women’s basketball history. It all started at Baylor University, where she played four years of college basketball. In 148 collegiate games, Griner averaged 22.2 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.5 steals, and 5.1 blocks in 32.0 minutes per game.
She was eventually drafted into the WNBA in 2013 and spent the next nine seasons with the Phoenix Mercury before her detainment in Russia. She’ll enter the 2023 season with 17.7 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.5 steals, and 2.8 blocks in 30.9 minutes per game throughout her 254-game career.
Her career is filled with incredible moments, unbelievable performances, amazing plays, and precious memories that remind us just how great Brittney Griner has been for the WNBA. Not only that, but it gets us excited for what’s to come. For now, here are some of the best moments of her career thus far.
15. 2012 NCAA Champion
2012 was nothing short of an incredible season for Brittney Griner, who was a junior at Baylor University at the time. She played in 40 games that year and averaged 23.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.6 steals, and 5.2 blocks per game – she finished the season with more blocks (206) than any other TEAM.
Not only was she the AP Player of the Year and Premier Player of Women’s College Basketball, but she put up 26 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 blocks in an 80-61 win over Notre Dame in the NCAA Women’s Championship game. It was a season we may never see from another college player ever again.
14. No. 1 Pick in 2013 WNBA Draft
The 2013 WNBA Draft was held on April 15, 2013 in Bristol, Connecticut – at the ESPN studios – and the Phoenix Mercury had the No. 1 overall pick after going 7-27 the season prior (the second-worst record in the WNBA that year). They were looking for a cornerstone piece to their franchise and they found her.
The Mercury selected Brittney Griner with the first pick in the draft, despite Elene Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins-Smith available. Delle Donne would go No. 2 and Diggins went No. 3 – interestingly enough, Diggins was traded to the Mercury in 2020, officially joining forces with Griner. The two are electric.
13. Sets Record for Most Blocks in Single Game
On June 29, 2014, Brittney Griner recorded 11 blocks in an 80-77 victory over the Tulsa Shock – a game that featured Skylar Diggins-Smith as an opponent, not a teammate. Griner also finished the game with 21 points, 8 rebounds, and 1 steal in what was an improbable double-double and near-triple-double.
Griner would end up accomplishing this feat again on September 17, 2015 – against the same team, the Tulsa Shock, and in the playoffs. She also put up 18 points, 8 rebounds, and 1 assists in what was, yet again, an improbable double-double and near-triple-double. No other WNBA player has ever had more.
12. Sets Record for Most Blocks in Single Season
Brittney Griner has always been known for her ability to block and can only be compared to some of the greats – like Margo Dydek and Lisa Leslie. With that said, they only had as much as 10 blocks in a single game, which doesn’t beat Griner’s mark of 11, like we mentioned above. That’s not the only thing, though.
Griner also has another record over those two ladies – most blocks in a single season. She accomplished it during the 2014 season (the same season from above) with 129 blocks in 34 games played. The most Dydek ever had in a single season was 114 blocks in 1998, while Leslie put up a career-high 98 in 2004.
11. 2014 Defensive Player of the Year
Despite it being just her second year in the league, Brittney Griner already made her mark on the WNBA and was named 2014 Defensive Player of the Year. All in all, she averaged 0.6 steals and 3.8 blocks per game – 22 steals and 129 blocks in total. She was a player the Mercury could rely on defensively.
In addition to her record-breaking 11-block game, Griner also recorded a 9-block game in the 2014 season – it occurred against the Atlanta Dream on August 5. She finished the season with 6 games of at least 6 blocks, 10 games of at least 5 blocks, and 16 games with at least 4 blocks. She was consistent.
10. 2014 WNBA Champion
But wait, that’s not all the 2014 season had in store for Brittney Griner. Above all else, Brittney Griner helped lead her team to a WNBA championship at just 23 years old. In 7 playoff games, the Mercury went 6-1 – sweeping the Los Angeles Sparks and Chicago Sky, while defeating the Minnesota Lynx in Game 3.
Despite putting up just 6 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 3 blocks in the first playoff game, Griner went on to average 18.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.3 steals, and 3.5 blocks per game over the next six playoff games en route to a championship win. She only has one, but it might not be her last..
9. Gold Medal at 2014 World Cup
The 2014 FIBA World Cup was Brittney Griner’s first major appearance with the United States’ national team – having skipped the 2012 Olympics due to family illness and school. To no one’s surprise, the women’s team went 3-0 in the group stage, giving them a bye in the first round of the knockout stage.
The US went 3-0 in the knockout stage, too. Griner led the way for the United States with 17 points in the first game and helped her team win by at least 12 points in the final two games – including a 77-64 win against Spain in the final. This gave Griner her first gold medal at the World Cup – a worthy milestone.
8. 2015 Defensive Player of the Year
After her accolade-filled campaign in 2014, Brittney Griner put together one of the most dominant defensive seasons in WNBA history. She won Defensive Player of the Year after averaging 4.0 blocks per game in 26 games – setting yet another WNBA record previously held by Margo Dydek (3.8 blocks).
Griner recorded her blocks in bunches, including a season-high 9 blocks against the Minnesota Lynx on August 30. She went on to have at least 7 blocks in 4 games, at least 6 blocks in 7 games, and at least 5 blocks in 11 games. This is also the same season she recorded 11 blocks during the 2015 playoffs.
7. Records Sixth Triple-Double in WNBA History
On July 3, 2016, Brittney Griner put up an unreal stat line – one that has only been done by just 5 other players in WNBA history. She recorded the league’s sixth ever triple-double in a 95-87 win over the Atlanta Dream – putting up an impressive 27 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, and 10 blocks in the process.
It’s the only triple-double of her career, but she has come close on several other occasions. While triple-doubles are starting to become more and more common in the WNBA, doing so with points, rebounds, and blocks is much more rare – it’s not everyday someone records 10 blocks in a game.
6. Gold Medal at 2016 Olympics
After missing the 2012 Olympics due to family issues and school, Brittney Griner finally made her Olympic debut at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. The women’s basketball tournament ran from August 6 until August 20 with the US going 5-0 in the group stage – Griner led the US with 18 points and 13 rebounds in Game 5.
A 110-64 win over Japan in the knockout stage set the tone, which was followed by an 86-67 win over France to advance to the final. It was a rematch from the 2014 World Cup, with the US and Spain fighting for gold once again. The US went on to win 101-72, leaving absolutely no doubt to who the better team is.
5. Scores a Career-High 38 Points in 2017
During the first four years of her career, Brittney Griner was averaging 14.5 points per game. In 2017, something happened that resulted in her scoring averages going way up – she put up a career-high 21.9 points per game that season, including six games with at least 30 points. She was as dominant as ever.
Less than a month after putting up 32 points against the Indiana Fever, Griner scored a career-high 38 points against the same team on June 7, 2017. She also had 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocks in the 98-90 victory. She was 13 points away from outscoring the entire Fever starting lineup (50 points combined).
4. 2017 Community Assist Award
Brittney Griner has made a name for herself on the basketball court, but it’s what she does off the court that really makes a difference in the community. It’s something she was recognized for on July 27, 2017 when she received the June WNBA Cares Community Assist Award for her efforts in the community.
It came after Griner helped collect more than 650 pairs of shoes for homeless individuals in need through her ‘BG’s Heart & Sole Shoe Drive.’ She has also been a very big voice in the LGBTQ+ community, which she’s a part of – she came out as lesbian in 2013 and married her wife, Cherelle Griner, in June 2019.
3. Gold Medal at 2018 World Cup
In 2018, Brittney Griner appeared in her second World Cup with the United States after winning a gold medal in 2014. She helped lead the team to a 3-0 record in the group stage, yet again, with a point differential of +58 through those three games. As a result, they received a bye into the quarterfinals.
In the knockout stage, the US defeated Nigeria 71-40 in the quarterfinals and then defeated Belgium 93-77 in the semifinals to advance to the final – where they were met by Australia. Improving to 6-0 in the tournament, the US won 73-65, ending the knockout stage with a point differential of +64 in three games.
2. Gold Medal at 2020 Olympics
In 2020, Brittney Griner appeared in her second Olympics with the United States after winning a gold medal in 2016. They started the tournament out like any other tournament, going 3-0 in the group stage after beating Nigeria 81-72, beating Japan 86-69, and beating France 93-82 to start things off.
Despite entering the quarterfinals as the No. 2 seed, the United States picked up the pace and started playing their style of basketball. They beat Australia 79-55 and Serbia 79-59 before routing Japan 90-75 in the final. Griner won her second Olympic gold medal and fourth gold medal overall with Team USA.
1. Named to W25 List in 2021
In 2021, the WNBA celebrated their 25th anniversary since being founded in 1996. To commemorate the progress the league has seen over the past 2.5 decades, the WNBA decided to announce their W25 list – which consists of the top-25 WNBA players of all-time. Of course, the list included Brittney Griner.
She joined Lisa Leslie, Lauren Jackson, Tina Charles, Sylvia Fowles, and Yolanda Griffith as the other centers to make the list. She was also just one of three players to represent the Phoenix Mercury – including Cappie Pondexter (with team between 2006 and 2009) and Griner’s teammate Diana Taurasi (with team since 2004).
What to Expect From Brittney Griner in 2023
Brittney Griner announcing her return to the WNBA is more than just good news for the Phoenix Mercury – it’s good news for the entire league. Despite all the talent in the WNBA today, Griner remains one of the most dominant and valuable. Something tells me she’s going to put that on full display in 2023.
With that said, it’s important to understand that she hasn’t played basketball in nearly one year and after missing the entire season last year, it may take some time for her to re-adjust to the physical and mental demands of the WNBA season. Don’t worry, she’ll still make an immediate impact for the Mercury.
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She’ll be reunited with a squad that includes Skylar Diggins-Smith, Brianna Turner, Kia Nurse, Sophie Cunningham, Diana Taurasi, and Diamond DeShields. When you add Griner to that list, it creates one of the most dynamic and versatile teams in the entire league. They’ll be a championship favorite, for sure.
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