A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart are serving as captains at the WNBA All-Star Game for the second consecutive year, but the biggest spotlight of Saturday’s main event in Las Vegas undoubtedly will be on Brittney Griner.
This time last year, Griner was still on the other side of the world in a Russian prison, wrongfully detained on a drug charge, according to the U.S. State Department. With no way of knowing when -- or if -- Griner would be released back to the United States, the WNBA All-Star Game was a tribute to Griner. She was an honorary All-Star starter, and every player put a Griner No. 42 jersey on for the second half of the game.
This year, Griner earned her All-Star status the old-fashioned way. The Phoenix Mercury center is averaging 19.5 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game and was the first selection by Team Stewart in the All-Star draft. It is her eighth All-Star appearance.
“It’s a great feeling to be here,” Griner said. “Didn’t think I would be at All-Star, didn’t think I would be stateside right now.”
Griner, 32, said she is glad to have the ability to “turn (her) brain off” for a few days and catch up with friends around the league as the WNBA pauses for its All-Star break.
Stewart felt there was a “void in the WNBA” last year when Griner was in prison.
“Fast-forwarding to this year’s All-Star, it’s incredible to have her here, to have her sitting next to me, to have her on my team,” Stewart said. “That was my No. 1 -- I had to do some behind-the-scenes negotiations to make sure I got everything right and the way I wanted it.”
Stewart is also relishing the time off, but make no mistake, the New York Liberty star wants to win Saturday’s game. Team Wilson beat Team Stewart 134-112 in last year’s game in Chicago, as the Las Vegas Aces forward improved to 2-0 as an All-Star captain.
“Everyone loves a good rivalry,” Wilson said. “Everyone is kind of locked in always to our matchups, so it’s pretty cool that, even though we have those on-court matchups, we look at All-Star and it’s still a nice little thing where people kind of have a reason to go ‘back and forth’ at. That’s what gets eyes to our sport.”
Wilson drafted Las Vegas teammates Chelsea Gray and Jackie Young with her first two picks. Team Wilson also features Aces star Kelsey Plum, fellow South Carolina alum Aliyah Boston of the Indiana Fever and 2021 All-Star Game MVP Arike Ogunbowale of the Dallas Wings.
Stewart made sure to grab Liberty teammates Courtney Vandersloot and Sabrina Ionescu in the draft, plus former Seattle Storm teammate and league-leading scorer Jewell Loyd (25.7).
First introduced last year, the game will include two circles at each end of the court, 28 feet from the hoop, where shots would be worth four points.
“Once it comes to game time, we’ll be ready to compete, have fun, try to make some 4-pointers,” Stewart said. “But woo, that is far. That circle is far.”
- ICC Rankings: Bumrah becomes No. 1 Test bowler, Ashwin drops to third
- Vissel Kobe vs Inter Miami LIVE score: VSK v MIA; Lionel Messi on the bench, lineups announced, team news and more
- NBA roundup: Bulls charges back for OT win vs. Wolves
- Under-19 World Cup: Living up to name - Beed’s little Sachin lives his father’s dream
- Klinsmann vows not to quit after South Korea’s Asian Cup exit