From Russian detention to Team USA: Brittney Griner’s third Olympic selection marks return to international stage

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner speaks at a press conference after the announcement of her third Olympic Games selection. (Photo by Grace Hand/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Nearly two years ago, Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner was set to begin her court case following her detainment in Russia. Ultimately sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison, she only served 10 months before returning home to the United States in a high-profile prisoner exchange.

Today, Griner and two of her teammates, Diana Taurasi and Kahleah Copper, are preparing to represent Team USA at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.

“I guess we’ve got something special here in the Valley,” Griner said during a press conference following the June 11 announcement.

The 6-foot-9 center will make her third Olympic appearance. Taurasi will also make her return to the global stage for the sixth time.

Copper, one of three players making their Olympic debuts in Paris, brings valuable WNBA experience for the women’s national team. The Philadelphia native is having one of her best seasons with the Mercury, averaging a career-high 22.6 points per game.

Together, Copper, Griner, and Taurasi have led the Mercury to four victories in the team’s last five home games and an overall record of 8-8.

Griner recently returned to the court after suffering a fractured toe injury during the preseason, which kept her on the injured roster for eight regular-season games. Since coming back, Griner has averaged ​​19.5 points and shot 82.8 from the field. Last season, after an emotional return to the WNBA following her detainment, Griner averaged 17.5 points throughout the 2023 season.

“We’re all great in our teams back at home. But then when we come together (on Team USA), you have to figure out ways to work as a unit,” Griner said.

Following the roster announcement, Griner’s prior comments regarding the national anthem resurfaced. On X, women’s basketball fans criticized the All-Star for protesting the national anthem in 2020 as an argument for why Indiana Fever’s Caitlin Clark should have made the team in her place.

Phoenix Mercury veteran Diana Taurasi is heading to her sixth Olympic Games, a USA Olympic Basketball record. (Photo by Grace Hand/Cronkite News)

Phoenix Mercury veteran Diana Taurasi is heading to her sixth Olympic Games, a USA Olympic Basketball record. (Photo by Grace Hand/Cronkite News)

In an interview with the Arizona Republic, Griner stated her decision to protest the anthem was in response to racial injustices across the country. She explained her choice was not out of disrespect for her country but was to raise awareness regarding social justice issues.

One year after Griner’s remarks, at the Tokyo Olympics, she started all six games for the national team and averaged 16.5 points and 7.2 rebounds. During a final-round match against Japan in Tokyo, Griner made history after scoring 30 points during the game. Griner joined WNBA MVP and Olympian Lisa Leslie as the only USA Women’s National Team members to score 30 points in an Olympic game.

“It’s always nice when you get to go over there with teammates that you have a great rapport with,” said Taurasi, who has played together with Griner for 11 seasons.

This season, Taurasi celebrated her 20th year playing in the league. The UConn alum made her first Olympic appearance ​​in 2004 at the Helliniko Olympic Indoor Arena in Athens. Following her debut, Taurasi has scored 414 points over her five Olympic appearances, giving her the second-highest score for the women’s national team, trailing Leslie (488).

Griner and Taurasi are two of 12 players to win an Olympic gold medal, FIBA World Cup gold medal, WNBA title and NCAA title. Given their previous playing experience and decorated resumes, the team will lean on the pair for leadership in Paris.
The WNBA will pause its regular season following games on July 17 and return on Aug. 15 after the Olympics. Before the players head to Paris, they will participate in the WNBA All-Star Game on July 20 in Phoenix, as Team USA will take on the WNBA All-Stars not named to the Olympic team.

Following this year’s Women’s Olympic Qualifying tournaments, Team USA is ranked first ahead of Team China (second) and Team Australia (third). Team USA will be looking to score their eighth consecutive gold medal at this year’s Olympics.

“It’s just a different beast, when you put on that USA Jersey, and especially when you see to your teammates with you to put on that jersey. Definitely gonna cherish this time,” Griner said.

Sports Digital Reporter, Phoenix

Anne-Marie Iemmolo expects to graduate in December 2024 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. Iemmolo received her bachelor’s degree in journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, and has interned as a reporter for the Ottawa Citizen.

Grace Hand(she/her/hers)
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Grace Hand expects to graduate in August 2024 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. Hand attended Sacred Heart University for her bachelor’s degree in sports communication and media with a minor in digital marketing. Hand is pursuing a career in the NHL.