LAS VEGAS (AP) — Brittney Griner made a powerful and emotional return to the WNBA’s mid-season showcase event.
She scored her team’s first six points, threw two dunks, and finished Saturday night’s league All-Star Game with 18 points.
The sold-out crowd roared as Griner was introduced, and, visibly moved by the ovation, she tapped her heart with her right hand. There was no doubt that a year after his violent absence from that event, Griner was the star of the show.
“I didn’t think I would be here today,” Griner said. “Everyone who sent the letters and the love meant a lot to me.”
Griner led Team Stewart, led by the New York Liberty’s Breanna Stewart, to a 143-127 victory over Team Wilson, led by the Aces’ A’ja Wilson.
Team Stewart’s Seattle Storm’s Jewell Loyd broke the all-star game scoring record with 31 points and set the new record with a pass from Griner. Maya Moore and Kelsey Plum had the previous record with 30 points each. Loyd received the MVP award for the game.
Plum even equaled her own record with 30 points, becoming one of four aces to line up for Team Wilson, who received a loud ovation from the home crowd at the pregame introduction.
Griner was there this time last year held in Russia for drug-related offences, sparking international outrage that she was being wrongly detained. The WNBA named her an honor starter, with each player wearing her number 42 jersey in the second half of the previous year’s game.
This time Griner was actually in the starting XI – the only one with that jersey number – overshadowed almost everything that happened on the pitch.
Team Stewart focused on Griner from the start. She delivered a dunk 3:50 remaining in the first quarter after a run-out pass from Stewart. grinner also had a dunk Just 25 seconds into the second half.
“I called my knees and talked to them and gave them a little pep talk,” Griner, 32, said of her dunks.
At one point in the first quarter, Griner challenged point guard Chelsea Gray of Team Wilson’s Aces, but Gray drove past the Phoenix Mercury nine-time All-Star and dropped from the height of the glass in an inverted layup.
At the first media break, Griner was shown on the video board sitting on the bench with the words “WELCOME BACK BRITTNEY GRINER” written on the screen under her face.
Griner was among the players who wore microphones throughout the game and joked after missing a three-pointer “I have my eye on something.”
The game was played with a 20-second shot clock instead of the usual 24, two four-pointers were added on each side of the field, and there were no free throws. The teams scored twelve four-point throws together.
New Yorker Sabrina Ionescu, representing Team Stewart, shot all three attempts from four distances in the first half, repeating her exceptional shooting from the previous day. Ionescu set a WNBA and NBA record with 37 out of 40 possible points in the 3-point competition. She finished the race with 18 points.
Sue Bird, Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles were among the ex-WNBA players in attendance, with Fowles wearing Napheesa Collier’s Minnesota Lynx jersey.
Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis and Dwyane Wade were among those who watched the NBA games. Wade acquires an ownership interest in Chicago heaven.
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