The Evolution of Brittney Griner

·7 min read
Photo:  Tim Clayton/Corbis (Getty Images)
Photo: Tim Clayton/Corbis (Getty Images)

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.

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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.

Dunking Champ

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

Brittney Griner #42 of the Baylor University Bears runs down court after a made basket against the Oral Roberts University Golden Eagles on December 12, 2012 at the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas
Brittney Griner #42 of the Baylor University Bears runs down court after a made basket against the Oral Roberts University Golden Eagles on December 12, 2012 at the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas

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

Brittney Griner #42 and Jordan Madden #3 of the Baylor Bears celebrate after they won 80-61 against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the National Final game of the 2012 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship at Pepsi Center on April 3, 2012 in Denver, Colorado.
Brittney Griner #42 and Jordan Madden #3 of the Baylor Bears celebrate after they won 80-61 against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the National Final game of the 2012 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship at Pepsi Center on April 3, 2012 in Denver, Colorado.

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

Brittney Griner (C) of the Phoenix Mercury poses with head coach Corey Gaines (L) and President/COO Amber Cox (R) during a press conference after being selected as the first pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft at US Airways Center on April 20, 2013 in Phoenix, Arizona.
Brittney Griner (C) of the Phoenix Mercury poses with head coach Corey Gaines (L) and President/COO Amber Cox (R) during a press conference after being selected as the first pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft at US Airways Center on April 20, 2013 in Phoenix, Arizona.

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.

Coming Out

Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury durring pregame warmups at Footprint Center on October 10, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury durring pregame warmups at Footprint Center on October 10, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.

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

Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury high fives fans following the WNBA game against the Chicago Sky at the Footprint Center on August 31, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Mercury defeated the Sky 103-83.
Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury high fives fans following the WNBA game against the Chicago Sky at the Footprint Center on August 31, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Mercury defeated the Sky 103-83.

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

Brittney Griner (R) of UMMC Ekaterinburg in action during FIBA Euroleague Women’s semi-final first match between Fenerbahce Oznur Kablo and UMMC Ekaterinburg at Volkswagen Arena in Istanbul, Turkey on April 16, 2021.
Brittney Griner (R) of UMMC Ekaterinburg in action during FIBA Euroleague Women’s semi-final first match between Fenerbahce Oznur Kablo and UMMC Ekaterinburg at Volkswagen Arena in Istanbul, Turkey on April 16, 2021.

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

Brittney Griner of UMMC Ekaterinburg, Satou Sabally of Fenerbahce Oznur Kablo during the Euroleague Women Final Four match between Fenerbahce Oznur Kablo and UMMC Ekaterinburg at Volkswagen Arena on April 16, 2021 in Istanbul, Turkey
Brittney Griner of UMMC Ekaterinburg, Satou Sabally of Fenerbahce Oznur Kablo during the Euroleague Women Final Four match between Fenerbahce Oznur Kablo and UMMC Ekaterinburg at Volkswagen Arena on April 16, 2021 in Istanbul, Turkey

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

Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury is guarded by Glory Johnson #0 of the Atlanta Dream during the second half of a game at Feld Entertainment Center on August 14, 2020 in Palmetto, Florida.
Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury is guarded by Glory Johnson #0 of the Atlanta Dream during the second half of a game at Feld Entertainment Center on August 14, 2020 in Palmetto, Florida.

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

USA’s centre Brittney Griner (C) scores past France’s guard Marine Johannes during a Women’s semifinal basketball match between France and USA at the Carioca Arena 1 in Rio de Janeiro on August 18, 2016 during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
USA’s centre Brittney Griner (C) scores past France’s guard Marine Johannes during a Women’s semifinal basketball match between France and USA at the Carioca Arena 1 in Rio de Janeiro on August 18, 2016 during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

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

Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury contests a shot by Diamond DeShields #1 of the Chicago Sky in the second half at Footprint Center on October 10, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona.
Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury contests a shot by Diamond DeShields #1 of the Chicago Sky in the second half at Footprint Center on October 10, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona.

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

 Brittney Griner (L) of USA in action against Sasa Cado (R) of Serbia during the FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament 2020 Group A match between USA and Serbia at Aleksandar Nikolic Hall on February 6, 2020 in Belgrade, Serbia.
Brittney Griner (L) of USA in action against Sasa Cado (R) of Serbia during the FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament 2020 Group A match between USA and Serbia at Aleksandar Nikolic Hall on February 6, 2020 in Belgrade, Serbia.

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.

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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

Brittney Griner #15 of the United States and A’ja Wilson (left) #9 of the United States with their gold medals at the medal presentation after the Japan V USA basketball final for women at the Saitama Super Arena during the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games on August 8, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.
Brittney Griner #15 of the United States and A’ja Wilson (left) #9 of the United States with their gold medals at the medal presentation after the Japan V USA basketball final for women at the Saitama Super Arena during the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games on August 8, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.

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

Screenshot:  ABC News (Fair Use)
Screenshot: ABC News (Fair Use)

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.

Guilty Verdict

Photo:  EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA / POOL / AFP (Getty Images)
Photo: EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA / POOL / AFP (Getty Images)

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.