Brittney Griner picked for WNBA All-Star game for ninth time

The 32-year-old US player was arrested in February 2022 in Russia against a backdrop of soaring tensions over Ukraine.

Mercury center Brittney Griner (42) is introduced before a game
Phoenix Mercury centre Brittney Griner has been named as a starter for the upcoming WNBA All-Star game [File: Rick Scuteri, USA Today Sports via Reuters]

Phoenix Mercury centre Brittney Griner has been selected for the WNBA All-Star game for the ninth time, just a little over six months after being released from a Russian prison.

Griner, who had missed all of the last US basketball season while behind bars in Russia, was named Sunday as a starter for the WNBA All-Star game on July 15 in Las Vegas.

Last year, she was named an honourary All-Star by Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) Commissioner Cathy Engelbert.

The 32-year-old LGBTQ trailblazer was arrested in February 2022 in Russia for having cannabis oil in her luggage, against a backdrop of soaring tensions over the war in Ukraine.

United States President Joe Biden’s administration had said, early on, that she had been “wrongfully detained”.

At the time of her arrest, Griner had been playing for a professional team in Russia, as a number of WNBA players do in the off season.

She was accused of possessing vape cartridges with a small quantity of cannabis oil and sentenced in August to nine years in prison on drugs charges.

Griner pleaded guilty to the charges, but said she did not intend to break the law or use the banned substance in Russia.

She was eventually released as part of a deal that saw her swapped for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout – known as the “Merchant of Death” – in December.

Bout, a 55-year-old former Soviet army lieutenant colonel, was accused of arming rebel groups in some of the world’s bloodiest conflicts.

Griner made her first appearance in a WNBA game in 579 days as the Phoenix Mercury faced the Los Angeles Sparks in a season opener in California.

US Vice President Kamala Harris was among the well-wishers at the Arena in central Los Angeles as the WNBA superstar finally returned to action.

During the pre-season, Griner warned that she would need time to regain her full abilities after the 10 months she spent in Russian custody. But she has blown away her own expectations and was ninth in the league in average points per game as of Sunday.

Griner had missed three games with a hip injury before returning on Saturday in a 97-74 loss to Seattle.

Griner is in her 10th WNBA season. She helped Phoenix to the 2014 league title and has played for two US Olympic gold medal teams.

She has averaged 19.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists and a league-best 2.4 blocks per game this season for a struggling Mercury, who are last in the Western Conference with two wins and 10 losses.

The Mercury’s centre was chosen by fans, media and players for the All-Star game. Last season all the players wore Griner number 42 jerseys for the second half of the game that was played in Chicago.

Fan balloting accounts for 50 percent of the vote to determine starters for the game. WNBA players and a media panel account for 25 percent each. Players’ scores were calculated by averaging their weighted rank from the three groups.

Twice MVP A’ja Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces and 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart of the New York Liberty were named the captains for the All-Star game next month.

Source: News Agencies