April 28, 2023 

Jovial Griner ready to return to the court

Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner spoke to the media on Thursday for the first time since returning home from wrongful detention

Brittney Griner shed tears, shared laughs and talked ball in her first press conference since returning from wrongful detainment in Russia.

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A packed Footprint Center lobby filled with media members, team personnel and Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs awaited the Phoenix Mercury center as she took the podium to answer questions about why she decided to return to the floor after spending the majority of 2022 in Russian prison.

Griner, 32, spoke on how she was able to overcome what she went through last year to be able to return to the podium talking to the media ahead of a WNBA season.

“I’m no stranger to hard times,” an emotional Griner said. “…. Just digging deep, honestly. You’re going to be faced with adversities throughout your life. This was a pretty big one. But I just kind of relied on my hard work, getting through it. I know this sounds so small but dying in practice and just hard workouts; you find a way to just grind it out. Just put your head down and just keep going. Just keep moving forward. You can never stand still. And that was my thing. Just never be still. Never get too focused on the now and just looking forward to what’s to come.”

Griner discussed the first time she touched a basketball in San Antonio after coming back. She explained how she felt like she was 16 years old again because she was outside. She also said she dunked on her wife just to see if she could still dunk. However, she said her ankles did not feel great due to her wearing low top Converse Chuck Taylor shoes.

Griner said there was “no question” she would come back to play in the WNBA. However, she was candid when discussing the difficulties of coming back to play a high-level professional sport after such a long time away, mentioning how even basic exercises were a struggle when she first returned to the United States.

“Coming back from basically doing nothing, not having any gym or anything to be at — getting back into it was hard,” Griner said. “It’s still a process. You know, just the little things. I mean, doing a plank, you know, was so simple before and [when I returned I] couldn’t even stay up very long. And just the regular plank when I first came back. Because as an athlete, you always want to be where you left off and I left off — playoffs, finals in Chicago.

“And I wanted to be back to that player when I started back and just everybody telling me to give myself grace and it’s going to take time, but that’s the hardest thing to do to a pro athlete. Because we always want to be right back at our tip top shape. So it’s been a struggle but like I said, it’s liberating as well, at the same time, just as a release just getting back to my craft. And then being here in Phoenix with my coaches and my teammates really supporting me at every step of the way on the court.”

Coming into the 2023 Mercury season, Griner’s outlook is different than it has been in the past. She said after being detained in Russia, the cliché of not taking anything for granted means more. She said she will be taking in all the moments that come with a WNBA season. She mentioned walking into the arena for the first home game and the “grind” of the season among other examples of everyday WNBA life she will be cherishing.

Despite turning 41 in June, Griner’s longtime teammate, Diana Taurasi, has re-signed with Phoenix to continue her playing career. Griner and Taurasi have been one of the best duos in league history, leading the Mercury to a championship in 2014 and a Finals appearance in 2021. Together they set the league record for wins in season with 29 in 2014.

Griner said she was worried Taurasi would retire but said she is grateful Taurasi decided to lace up the kicks this season. She took a playful jab at Taurasi’s age by asking, “who wouldn’t want to play with a walking fossil?”

Griner discusses playing overseas

Griner was asked about WNBA players playing in other countries in the offseason. She started her answer by saying she will not be playing overseas unless she is playing for the United States in an international competition. She continued by discussing why players play overseas and how she hopes less and less players travel abroad to play.

“The whole reason a lot of us go over is the pay gap,” Griner said. “A lot of us go over there to make an income and support our families, to support ourselves. So I don’t knock a player who wants to go overseas and make a little bit extra money. I’m hoping that our league continues to grow, with as many people in here right now covering this. I hope you continue, like I said, to cover our league, bring exposure to us. I hope these companies start to invest in our craft because as you’ll see this season, if you haven’t watched before, we have a really good craft… It’s a shame that we have to leave our families for holidays. You’re missing everything being away. But at the same time as much as I would love to pay my light bill for the love of the game, [I] can’t. So I think that’s probably one of the big reasons people are still going overseas. And that’s why I was there. So, hopefully that changes.”

Mercury, Bring Our Families Home announce partnership

The Mercury, Griner and Bring Our Families Home announced a partnership on Thursday. According to a release sent out by the team, Bring Our Families Home is a campaign started last year by families of wrongful detainees that “urges the White House to take immediate and decisive action to bring detainees home and provide resources for detainees’ families.”

The release explained that the Mercury are “pledging resources and it’s platform to Bring Our Families Home in an effort to help raise awareness around the plight of wrongful detainees.”

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A mural was unveiled on the west side of Phoenix’s arena, the Footprint Center, on Thursday. In the mural, Griner is surrounded by current wrongful detainees. There is a QR code on the mural that takes one to the Bring Our Families Home website.

“Brittney Griner’s wrongful detention educated our organization, fan base and the Valley about the plight of hostages around the world and their families here at home,” said Mercury President Vince Zozar in the release. “We learned that — outside [of] personal safety — the biggest fear is being forgotten, and we know those currently being held do not automatically have the same public platform or receive the same media attention Brittney’s case did.  While we can’t fix that on our own, we intend to be a part of the solution, using the platform that we have to bring attention to these individuals throughout the 2023 WNBA season and beyond. We are grateful to [Neda Shargi, chair of the steering committee at Bring Our Families Home] and Bring Our Families Home for their willingness to partner with us.”

Written by Jesse Morrison

Jesse Morrison covers the Phoenix Mercury for The Next. A native of Roanoke, Va., Jesse moved to Arizona in 2017 to attend the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, graduating in 2021 with a degree in sports journalism. Outside of The Next, Jesse works for Arizona Sports, co-hosting an Arizona State podcast, producing a radio show and writing for their website.

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