Griner Brings Unprecedented Talent, Excitement to WNBA

The new face of women's basketball, Brittney Griner is the presumed No. 1 pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft.
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BRISTOL, Conn. -- Consider this your final warning, basketball fans. There’s a new show in town.

With Baylor’s Brittney Griner – yes, the same Brittney Griner that’s been spotted above a rim near you – expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft presented by State Farm on Monday, night, she will be taking her gravity- and logic-defying act to Phoenix.

And it’ll be like nothing we’ve ever seen before.

Possessing an uncanny, fluid athleticism for a woman standing 6-foot-8, and blessed with improbable leaping ability, Griner’s talents render her beyond compare. With Griner, there's no point of reference. She is, plainly, the prototype. And it’s time for us to enjoy her now, for it might be a while before the next incarnation.

“She’s unlike any other player we’ve seen,” said ESPN Women’s Basketball Analyst and former WNBA player Rebecca Lobo. “We’re not going to see one like her because there’s not 6-foot-8 females with her athletic ability. It’s not like we’re going to see more of her. They don’t exist.”

What does exist is unprecedented hype for Griner’s ascension into the WNBA. The WNBA Draft Lottery was televised for the first time ever back in September and Monday’s draft will be broadcast on ESPN2 in prime time, another first.

“I think what Brittney Griner alone can bring and can do has never been done in women’s sports,” said WNBA legend Sheryl Swoopes. “I honestly don’t even know if you can put into words the excitement that this draft class is about to bring, not only to the WNBA, but to women’s sports.”

Griner is forcing us rethink our conceptions of female athletes, doing things on the basketball court that no female has ever done -- or may even ever thought to do. For example, during Sunday’s WNBA Fit Clinic in Bristol, Conn., Griner grabbed a ball from the free-throw line in the middle of a demonstration, took three steps and effortlessly elevated to throw down an emphatic two-handed dunk, hanging on the rim for a second or two, suspended in a display of equal parts power and grace.

The most remarkable thing? Nobody was shocked. Sure there were your ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ from her adoring fans, but this is just what we've come to expect from Griner. Greatness has become the norm. Boundaries blurred. The unexpected, routine.

Griner, who appears to be enjoying the heightened attention on her and this draft class as much as anyone, is not shy about her love for the game and the art of dunking. In her four years at Baylor, she dunked a record 18 times, far exceeding any of her predecessors. And Griner thinks that her aerial pursuits are just the beginning.


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“It’s definitely going above the rim,” said Griner of the WNBA game. She then went on to tell a story about Oklahoma State’s Toni Young, a projected first-round pick in this year’s draft, breaking her arm on the rim on a dunk attempt her sophomore year. “But there’s some other girls that can dunk too and I encourage all of them to start doing it. If you get a fast break, and you just feel it, go up. Even if you get hung, just the excitement of like, ‘yo, she just tried to dunk on her,’ is good.”

So what does this all mean?

The game is forever changed. There’s no coming back from Brittney Griner -- and that’s a good thing. Future success in this league, and in all of women’s basketball for that matter, may well be decided by teams being able to compete above the rim. To compete on Griner’s level. Or to change entirely.

Griner personifies the evolving women’s game and it’s no coincidence that the WNBA recently re-branded, changing its "Logowoman" to a more modern silhouette that better reflects the attributes of today’s player. This change came in response to the faster pace of the game in an era full of stronger, more athletic players. Griner, of course, is the textbook example.

“She’s a transcender. She’s just doing things that women have not been able to historically do,” said Chicago Sky center and 12-year veteran Ruth Riley. “It just shows how far this game has come. A lot of the critics have said that the game is below the rim and I think Brittney breaks that in many ways.”

Griner's WNBA debut has drawn references to when the 7-foot-2 Lew Alcindor entered the NBA in 1969. Alcindor, who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, could perform feats that that nobody else at that time could. There was no recipe to stop him. He was Superman with no Kryptonite. Sports Illustrated recently made the Griner-Alcindor comparison, and it appears Griner’s dominance and impact on the game could be even more profound than Alcindor’s.

“The difference is, after Lew Alcindor, there were more 7-foot guys who had his mobility and who could try to have that type of a game,” Lobo said. “That’s not the case on the women’s side. But in terms of trying to figure out how to stop her, I think it’s a similar comparison.”


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As a result, Griner figures to be an immediate impact player in the league, and the prevailing wisdom of the WNBA, which just extended its TV partnership with ESPN to 2022, is that the popularity of this year’s draft class – the “3 to See” of Griner, Delaware’s Elena Delle Donne and Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins specifically – will attract new fans and help make the WNBA an even more visible league.

“There’s so much potential for them to take the game to another level and a place that we’ve never been before,” Swoopes said.

And if you ask Griner, the key is getting fans to come out and witness these never-before-seen talents first hand.

“Everybody says we’re not exciting and then I ask them ‘how many games you been to?’ and they’re like, ‘uhhh’,” Griner said. “So we have to get them out there and get them in the stands and us doing all these crazy things on the court is definitely going to help us out.”

The potential on the court this season in Phoenix is virtually limitless. The Mercury are already loaded with stars – Diana Taurasi, Penny Taylor, DeWanna Bonner, Candice Dupree – and the addition of Griner makes the Mercury must-watch TV for any basketball fan, man or woman, boy or girl.

“It’s exciting not only to see how she is going to play against other top players,” Lobo said. “But what is it going to be like to watch Diana Taurasi playing on a court with Griner for a coach that already plays a brand of basketball that is already the most entertaining style in the game with the way they go up and down. It’s going to be great, great fun.”

Throughout the whole draft process, the 22-year-old Griner is already having fun. She is genuine with the media. She's famously sweet to her fans. She has an infectious smile and she can make those around her laugh.

She can also dunk.

“I’m ready to put on a show and give the crowd what they want,” Griner said.

And maybe more so than any other women’s basketball player in history -- she’ll have an audience.