Lucas Peltier/USA Today Network/Reuters
Brittney Griner takes the stage during player introductions ahead of the 2023 WNBA All-Star Game at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas.
Phoenix Mercury superstar Brittney Griner marked a successful return to the WNBA All-Star Game on Saturday, her first since her release from a Russian penal colony last December.
The nine-time WNBA All-Star Griner finished with 18 points, including scoring his team’s first six points and diving twice, in Team Stewart’s vengeful 143-127 victory over Team Wilson. during the 2023 All-Star Game in Las Vegas.
“It meant everything to me,” Griner said to a sold-out crowd after the game. “I honestly didn’t think I’d be here today, but everyone sends letters, sends love, posts. I still see it to this day everything everyone did. It really meant a lot for me, it gave me hope that it didn’t make me want to give it all up for anything, so it was this league that helped me.
Griner’s arrest last year in Russia sparked a diplomatic drama between the United States and the Kremlin that ran parallel to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison in early August and transferred to a penal colony before being released in a prisoner exchange in December.
“I love being here, I love competing, I love doing everything for the fans. They do everything for us. We wouldn’t be here without them,” Griner said. “I’m just honored to be on this ground.”
Team Stewart was led by New York Liberty’s Breanna Stewart, who finished with nine points and nine assists, while Team Wilson was led by reigning league MVP A’ja Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces. Wilson finished with 20 points in the loss.
Wilson’s team beat the Stewart-led team in last year’s All-Star Game in Chicago.
The WNBA’s leading scorer this season, Seattle Storm’s Jewell Loyd, earned MVP honors after scoring an All-Star Game record 31 points and 10 threes for Team Stewart, while adding four rebounds and six assists. in victory.
The 31 points in the “Gold Mamba” broke the previous record of 30 points held by Maya Moore and last year’s All-Star Game MVP Kelsey Plum.
“Three is more than two, I think I told Sabrina (Ionescu) I’m going to put in a lot of threes,” Loyd said after the game as he broke the record. “It’s a special moment honestly, it’s beautiful for the league and I’m glad I got to do it for my family.”
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced on Saturday that Phoenix will be the host city for the 2024 WNBA All-Star Game.