Brittney Griner’s press conference could only be described as a watershed moment

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

We all have seen plenty of press conferences within sports – the WNBA included.

Sometimes, they are “state of the league” pressers with commissioner Cathy Engelbert. Sometimes they are postgame press conferences with a coach after her, their or his team wins or loses a game. Sometimes they are to introduce a new player or coach being brought into the fold. Sometimes they are postgame pressers with a player after their team wins or loses. 

But there was something special about the press conference that took place at Footprint Arena on April 27 and the presser that took place where Brittney Griner fielded questions from the media. 

According to reports, there were a lot of media that were in attendance. Supposedly, over 500 media credentials were made for the Phoenix Mercury to accommodate the journalists, videographers and photojournalists that were in attendance. Also attending the presser was Arizona’s newly elected Democratic governor – Katie Hobbs.

There were two primary criteria for the presser – Griner would not answer questions regarding her ordeal in Russia (she will detail those in an upcoming memoir due for a 2024 release) and it would be an all in-person conference. 

Ever since she was freed from that ordeal in Russia, she has taken the time (with her wife Cherelle by her side every step of the way) to get re-acclimated to life back in her home country. 

Those who saw the press conference either in-person, online or on NBA TV (who also carried the presser) got to see every side of BG. They saw the side of her that is thankful to be back in her home country and with another opportunity to play the game she loves – basketball. They also saw the side of her that is remaining in high spirits as she cheekily referred to her longtime Mercury teammate Diana Taurasi as a “walking fossil.” 

Griner did make a bit of news. She declared that she will never travel overseas to play basketball unless it is for Team USA. That is an eye-opening quote given next year’s Olympics are in Paris. That will almost certainly be the last time BG would hypothetically compete in an overseas Games given the 2028 rendition will emanate from Los Angeles. 

For those who watched that presser either in-person, online or via NBA TV, one could not help but shed tears with every word she spoke – even if one was there as credentialed press. Throw journalistic norms out the window – BG is more than one of the greatest basketball players of all time. She is a human being who is strong, resilient and down to earth. 

Griner’s strength and resilience has been the one thing that has been a constant as she has transitioned out of a situation that she did not deserve and that was certainly present from the beginning to the end of the press conference. Anyone still peddling the “she knew what she was getting into” basura has their heads far up their you-know-wheres and likely would not have had the same reaction if BG were a bleach-blonde white woman.

One thing was also apparent – her presence was exactly what the Mercury were missing last season. The issues the team was having and how the locker room seemed to come apart at the seams last season can be attributed to simply how trying 2022 was for everyone on that Phoenix roster, coaching staff and front office. Their minds may have been on the games they were playing, but their hearts – as were the hearts of decent-minded Americans – were with BG.

A ”Bring Our Families Home” mural was also unveiled on the 1st Street side of Footprint Center. Since the Biden-Harris administration successfully executed the prisoner exchange that brought BG back onto American soil, the Griners have used their elevated platform to advocate for the release of other imprisoned Americans. 

These include Paul Whelan, the U.S. Marine who many speculated would be involved in a 2-for-2 prisoner exchange and Evan Gershkovich, a 31-year-old reporter for the Wall Street Journal who was recently detained by the Russian government and accused by espionage by the Kremlin. 

The ”Bring Our Families Home” logo will also replace the BG42 logo that was on the Mercury’s home court at Footprint Center. Hopefully that will be the case at all 12 WNBA arenas and its logo will be right alongside the Black Lives Matter logo. 

For those who have yearned for BG’s return to basketball, no one wants more for her to return to the game than BG herself. While she and Cherelle now have their elevated standing to advocate for the freeing of imprisoned Americans, Griner herself wants to get back to the game. She wants to get back to fielding questions about wins and losses, the camaraderie with her teammates, how to beat the Las Vegas Aces and New York Libertys of the WNBA, the ebbs and flows of a season.

Griner’s return to basketball this season will be the story of the season. In previous seasons, we have seen farewell tours for retiring players – such as Tamika Catchings, Sue Bird, Sylvia Fowles, Lindsay Whalen, Rebekkah Brunson and Seimone Augustus. This year will be a welcome back tour for Griner as she will be greeted with raucous applause at every WNBA arena she plays in this season. 

That will include when the Mercury open the season on the road May 19 at the Los Angeles Sparks (Commissioner’s Cup game) and when Phoenix opens its home schedule vs. the Chicago Sky two days later. ESPN will carry the Sky-Mercury game. 

The 2023 season will not only be a celebration of the return of Brittney Griner the basketball player. It will also be a celebration of the return of Brittney Griner – Black woman. Her hoops accomplishments are sure to give “Comeback Player of the Year,” as Phoenix will get the physical and emotional lift they were sorely missing last season. 

But just seeing her healthy and in good spirits has to be enough to give any human being with a heart a much-needed emotional lift.