Phoenix Mercury superstar Brittney Griner had a triumphant return to the WNBA All-Star Game on Saturday, marking her first appearance since being released from a Russian penal colony in December. Griner, a nine-time WNBA All-Star, showcased her skills by scoring 18 points, including the team’s first six points and two dunks, leading Team Stewart to a 143-127 victory over Team Wilson at the 2023 All-Star Game in Las Vegas.
Reflecting on her return, Griner expressed her gratitude to the fans for their support during her difficult time. She stated, “It meant everything to me. I didn’t think that I would be here today, honestly, but everybody sending letters, sending love, posting. I’m still seeing it to this day, everything that everybody did. It really meant a lot to me, it gave me hope, it made me not want to just give it up for anything, so it was this league that helped me out.”
Griner’s arrest in Russia had sparked diplomatic tensions between the US and Russia, coinciding with the conflict in Ukraine. She was sentenced to nine years in prison in August and was subsequently transferred to a penal colony. However, she was released in a prisoner swap last December.
Expressing her love for the game and the fans, Griner said, “I just love being here, I love competing, I love just doing everything for the fans. They do everything for us. We wouldn’t be here without them. I’m just honored to be on this court.”
Team Stewart, led by New York Liberty’s Breanna Stewart, emerged victorious in the game. Stewart contributed nine points and nine assists to her team’s success. On the opposing side, Team Wilson was captained by A’ja Wilson, the reigning league MVP from the Las Vegas Aces, who finished with 20 points.
Last year, Team Wilson had triumphed over the Stewart-captained team at the All-Star Game in Chicago. However, this year, with the help of Jewell Loyd of the Seattle Storm, Team Stewart secured a decisive win. Loyd, the leading scorer in the WNBA this season, was named the game’s MVP after scoring a record-breaking 31 points, including 10 three-pointers. She also contributed four rebounds and six assists to her team’s performance. Loyd’s 31 points surpassed the previous record of 30 points held by Maya Moore and last year’s All-Star Game MVP, Kelsey Plum.
Speaking about her achievement, Loyd shared, “Threes are more than twos, I think I told Sabrina [Ionescu] that I’m going to put a lot of threes up. It’s a special moment, honestly. It’s beautiful for the league, and I’m happy I was able to do it for my family.”
On a separate note, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert made the announcement during the All-Star Game that Phoenix will host the 2024 WNBA All-Star Game, adding excitement for the future of the league.