When someone suffers a traumatic experience, many people will express sympathy and lend emotional support. That's just what one does. Though, no one outside of the individual in question really knows how truly agonizing it is to assimilate back into society. Going through all of that as a professional athlete presents its own unique obstacles to clear, as Brittney Griner has learned this season.
The Phoenix Mercury star mentally and physically willed herself to an emotional WNBA return in May after being detained in Russia for drug possession for nearly 10 months in 2022. Griner remains one of the top centers in the league and earned her ninth career All-Star selection. The quick turnaround has deeply amazed Sam Goodwin, an American who spent two months being held captive in Syria in 2019.
“It’s one thing to come back and be healthy. It’s another thing to get back and be an athlete competing at the highest level,” Goodwin told The Athletic's Ben Pickman. “I was like, I wonder how long that took?”
Through treatment in San Antonio, Texas and ramped-up training sessions, Brittney Griner got herself back into form ahead of the 2023 season. Aside from a hip injury in June and a dip in rebounding, the 2014 champion remains an undeniable force on the court. She is second in blocks per game (2.0) and top five in points per game (19.9).
Griner recorded her first dunk of the season in a 78-72 Mercury win Sunday against the Los Angeles Sparks. It was likely as euphoric for her as it was exciting for those watching. Only Goodwin and others who have gone through the horror of being detained can probably understand the joy the 32-year-old felt in that moment.
Unfortunately, Phoenix is tied for the worst record at 4-14, but Griner's grand comeback will not be any less extolled because of that fact. Expect an emotional scene when everyone gathers Saturday for the 2023 WNBA All-Star Game.