Brittney Griner, WNBA champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist, has been landing dunks, blocking shots and scoring record high points per game since she was in high school. Griner was destined to succeed, using her skills on the court to lead her high school, college and professional basketball teams.
Her recent detainment in Russia comes at the height of Russian-American tensions. However, it’s easy to let the situation outshine all her achievements. Well, just for you, we’ve compiled a glimpse into her journey to becoming a women’s basketball star.
After every challenge, she came back and she came back BETTER.
The Birth of a Star
Brittney Yevette Griner was born October 18,1990 in Houston Texas as the youngest of three siblings to Raymon and Sandra Griner.
Griner began playing basketball at Nimitz High School in Houston. She practiced with the boy’s team by her sophomore year and also worked out with one of the school football coaches to help build her leg strength to master a slam dunk, per ESPN. The YouTube video of her dunk compilation has gathered over 2.7 million views, one of them being Shaquille O’Neal who agreed to meet with her, reported the Houston Chronicle.
“Brittney Griner Day”
By senior year, Griner had lead the Nimitz Cougars to the state girls basketball championship. Though the Cougars lost, Griner still set an overall record of seven dunks in a single game and had a day named after her by the mayor: May 7, 2009 “Brittney Griner Day,” per CNN. The same year she was named a Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s All-American, leading the corresponding game with 20 points, per the WBCA website.
Shooting Baskets at Baylor
There was no way Griner was going to have the impeccable high school record she did without getting recruited by a top college. Former Baylor University women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey told Houston Chronicle it was a blessing Griner joined Baylor’s program the following season. Griner established herself becoming the greatest shot blocker (with 223 blocked shots), landing the school’s first triple-double with 34 points and becoming the seventh player to dunk during a women’s college basketball game, via Baylor’s website. Iconic. Griner also set a National Collegiate Athlete Association tournament record blocking 14 shots from the Georgetown Hoyas, per EPSN.
That was just her first year.
AP Player of the Year
Sophomore year of college, she was given First Team All-American honors and junior year she was named AP Player of the Year. She was also a candidate for a roster spot on the 2012 US Olympics women’s basketball team. However, she decided to withdraw after winning the D1 women’s basketball championship against Notre Dame, reported USA Today.
WNBA Draft’s 1st Pick
Griner was the first Phoenix Mercury pick in the 2013 WNBA draft. In her rookie season, she was named WNBA all-star, blocked up to three shots per game and became the third WNBA player to dunk twice in one game, per WNBA.
Griner came out as lesbian the same year through an interview with Sports Illustrated. She also spoke on her experiences being bullied as a child for being different than other kids. Griner ended up going on to serve as a grand marshal for the 2014 Phoenix Pride Parade, reported Visit Phoenix.
A Memoir and More Wins
2014 was another successful season for Griner, becoming the first WNBA player to dunk during a playoff game. However, aside from basketball she also wrote a memoir, “In My Skin: My Life on and Off the Basketball Court,” giving fans a view into her life. She wrote about her struggles with her sexuality with family, classmates and the often intolerant space of sports. She also became the first openly gay athlete to be endorsed by Nike, reported The Wrap. At the end of the season, she carried the Mecury to their third championship win against the Chicago Sky, per the Chicago Tribune.
FIBA World Cup
Griner also entered the 2014 FIBA World Cup basketball tournament, becoming the first dunk in the game and leading the team to win gold, reports said.
Griner Gone Global
In the 2013-2014 Griner stayed busy playing for the Zhejiang Golden Bulls in China. She also played for Russia’s UMMC Ekaterinburg team in the off seasons between 2014 and 2016, winning back to back championships, per ESPN. She renewed her contract with Russia to play in the off seasons between 2016 and 2019.
Divorce and Children
Griner and her ex-wife Glory Johnson were both arrested on assault and disorderly conduct charges following a domestic dispute at their home in 2015. Griner had been suspended for seven games after pleading guilty to the charges and was required to complete 26 weeks of domestic violence counseling, reported The New York Times. The same year, Johnson gave birth to their twin daughters, however, they filed for divorce the following year.
Back for Olympic Gold
Sitting seven games out didn’t keep Griner from achieving greatness. She came back swinging, playing for the US Olympics women’s basketball team earning her first Olympic gold medal at the Summer Olympics.
A Historic Season
The following WNBA season was arguably her best. In 2017, she re-signed to the Mercury. Griner’s record consisted of a career-high 38 points, lead the league scoring over 20 points a game and helped the Mercury defeat the Connecticut Sun bringing them to the semi-finals, per AP News. In 2018, Griner kept the heat on scoring a seasons-high record of 33 points, 18 rebounds and seven blocks as well as leading the league in the blocks back to the semi-finals.
FIBA World Cup
Griner lead the US in the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup with 15 points to win against Latvia. Griner was recovering from an ankle injury prior to the game however, she still managed to pull through scoring six points straight in the second quarter, reported Hartford Courant.
Tying the Knot
Griner was voted into the WNBA All-Star game in 2019, making her sixth appearance. She had been voted in since 2013 but was unable to make the first game because of an injury. The same year she got married to her new hubby, Cherelle Griner.
Griner was not only outspoken about her sexuality but also in her support of the Black community during the 2020 protests against police brutality. Her and other players peacefully protested by walking off the court before the playing of the national anthem.
“I’m going to protest regardless,” she said. “I’m not going to be out there for the National Anthem. If the league continues to want to play it, that’s fine. It will be all season long, I’ll not be out there. I feel like more are going to probably do the same thing. I can only speak for myself.” she told the Arizona Republic.
The season was short because of the pandemic, however, after 12 games Griner decided to take a leave of absence.
“Another One” 2nd Olympic Gold
Griner made a triumphant return playing for the US Olympics women’s basketball team at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games. She won another gold medal with Team USA since her first in 2016.
Detainment in Russia
At the height of tensions between the US and Russia during the Russian-Ukrainian War, Griner was detained at a Russian airport for the possession of cannabis oil cartridges. She could have faced up to 10 years in prison if convicted of a charge, reported The Associated Press. Griner had been returning from the Russian League. The US embassy in Moscow met with Griner and said she was in “good condition,” reported CNN. Her detention has been extended to May 19 and the investigation on the situation continues.
After being detained in Russia for five months, on August 3, Brittney Griner was found guilty of drug possession and smuggling. The two-time Olympic gold medalist was sentenced to nine years in prison. This is a sad, yet expected, conclusion to her case. While the United States continues negotiations for a possible prisoner exchange, we hope Brittney doesn’t become a political pawn between two countries that seemingly have no interest in the basketball star’s best interest.
Hopefully we can welcome back Brittney sooner than later.