By JOHN MARSHALL
AP Sports Writer
PHOENIX (AP) — WNBA star Brittney Griner’s 10-month imprisonment in Russia on drug charges came to an end on Thursday, spreading relief and joy across the sports world and beyond.
It’s unknown if and when she might return to a basketball court. But if she does, women’s basketball will get back a generational talent.
On the court, Griner was a dominant force in leading Baylor to the 2012 NCAA championship, then went onto stardom as a lanky anchor for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and as a two-time Olympic gold medalist with Team USA.
The 6-foot-9 center is known for her ability to dunk, once a rarity in the women’s game. Griner holds the NCAA record with 18 dunks and has 13 since joining the WNBA in 2014. She has five more in WNBA All-Star Games.
But Griner’s impact on the game goes far beyond her ability to throw the ball down from over the rim.
Defensively, she’s arguably the best women’s player ever.
Griner blocked more shots than eight teams as a WNBA rookie and has kept swatting shots throughout her nine-year pro career. She holds WNBA records for most blocks in a season (129) and a game (11).
Griner’s ability to block shots and her agility on the court helped her win the WNBA defensive player of the year in consecutive seasons (2014-15) and earned her a spot on the WNBA’s all-defensive team six times — three each on first and second teams.
Griner has been as much of a force at the offensive end. She became the first true center to lead the WNBA in scoring in 2017 and did it again in 2019, averaging more than 20 points each season.
Griner has averaged 17.7 points while shooting 56% from the floor and averages 7.6 rebounds per game in her career.
The combination of skills has earned Griner six WNBA All-Star Game appearances. She didn’t play in 2017 due to injury, and the games in 2016 and 2020 were not played.
Griner was a key part of the Mercury team that won the 2014 WNBA championship, won a gold medal with the U.S. team at the 2016 Rio Olympics and has been a part of two world championship gold medal teams.
A testament to Griner’s impact: the Mercury went 15-21 while she was detained during the 2022 season after reaching the WNBA finals the year before.
Now Griner is finally headed home. The 2023 WNBA season starts in May, when she will likely go back to dominating the game.
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