Brittney Griner makes emotional return as Team Stewart prevails in WNBA All-Star Game

Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner acknowledges the crowd while being introduced at the WNBA All-Star Game.
Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner acknowledges the crowd while being introduced before the start of the WNBA All-Star Game on Saturday.
(John Locher / Associated Press)
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Brittney Griner made an emphatic and emotional return to the WNBA’s mid-season showcase event.

She scored her team’s first six points, put down two dunks and finished with 18 points in the league’s All-Star Game on Saturday night.

The sold-out crowd roared when Griner was introduced, and clearly moved by the ovation, she tapped her heart with her right hand. There was no doubt, a year after being absent from this event while imprisoned in Russia, that Griner was the star of the show.


“I didn’t think I’d be here today,” Griner said. “Everyone sending the letters and the love meant a lot to me.”

The Sparks head into the All-Star break with six straight loses and ninth in the WNBA standings. Here are four things to come after the break for the Sparks.

July 14, 2023

Griner led Team Stewart, captained by the New York Liberty’s Breanna Stewart, to a 143-127 over Team Wilson, led by the Aces’ A’ja Wilson.

Team Stewart’s Jewell Loyd of the Seattle Storm broke the All-Star Game scoring record with 31 points, setting the mark on a pass from Griner. Loyd earned MVP honors.

Kelsey Plum, who shared the previous record of 30, actually tied it, one of four Aces competing for Team Wilson who received loud ovations from the home crowd in introductions.

Griner at this time last year was imprisoned in Russia on drug charges, sparking international outrage that she was being wrongfully detained. The WNBA named her an honorary starter, with every player wearing her No. 42 jersey in the second half of last year’s game.

This time Griner was in the starting lineup — the only one with that jersey number — overshadowing almost everything that happened on the court.

Team Stewart made Griner the focal point from the beginning. She delivered a dunk with 3:50 remaining in the first quarter off an outlet pass from Stewart. Griner 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,” the 32-year-old Griner said of her dunks.

Griner at one point in the first quarter challenged Team Wilson point guard Chelsea Gray of the Aces, but Gray drove past the nine-time All-Star from the Phoenix Mercury and dropped in a reverse layup high off the glass.

At the first media timeout, Griner was shown on the video board as she sat on the bench with the words, “WELCOME BACK BRITTNEY GRINER” on the screen below her face.

Griner was among the players who wore microphones during the game, joking after missing a three-pointer that she “got something in my eye.”

Nneka Ogwumike scored 20 points, but the Sparks limped into the All-Star break with a sixth consecutive loss as the Las Vegas Aces dominated 97-78.

July 12, 2023

The game was played with a 20-second shot clock rather than the usual 24, two four-point spots on each side of the court were added and there were no free throws. The teams combined to hit 12 four-point shots.

New York’s Sabrina Ionescu, representing Team Stewart, made all three of her attempts from four-range in the first half, carrying over her extraordinary shooting from the previous day. Ionescu set a WNBA and NBA record with 37 of a possible 40 points in the three-point contest. She finished the game with 18 points.


Sue Bird, Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles were among the former players in attendance, with Fowles wearing Napheesa Collier’s Minnesota Lynx jersey.

Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis and Dwyane Wade were among the NBA greats watching. Wade is buying an ownership stake in the Chicago Sky.

Phoenix to host 2024 game

The 2024 All-Star Game is headed to Phoenix, setting up as a home game for Griner and Diana Taurasi and a sendoff to the U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team.

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced the event would be hosted by the Mercury.