Mercury’s Brittney Griner returns — ‘It’s OK’ to take time for yourself

M.A. Voepel, ESPN.comAug 6, 2023, 02:27 AM ET

CloseM.A. Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner returned to action Saturday after missing the team’s past three games to focus on her mental health. She had 22 points, six rebounds and four assists in the Mercury’s 97-91 loss to the Seattle Storm at Footprint Center in Phoenix.

“You can’t plan for when you might need some time,” Griner said when asked if there had been a specific plan coming into the WNBA season for her to have a break. “I just want to shout out the Phoenix Mercury organization. From the jump, they were there for me, making sure I was good, letting me know that at any moment if I needed some time off, I could do that.”

Griner has played in 21 of the Mercury’s 27 games this season after missing all of the 2022 season while detained in Russia from February to December. She was out for the Mercury’s games at Chicago and Indiana last Sunday and Tuesday and Thursday’s game against Atlanta. She was present for the win over the Dream, though, watching as teammate Diana Taurasi reached the career 10,000-point mark.

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Griner acknowledged that “you’re going to feel it” physically when returning after taking some time away. But she still looked sharp Saturday, making 10-of-15 shots from the field and playing 24 minutes.

Griner said the support of the franchise, including owner Mat Ishbia, her coaches, teammates and family have helped with her mental health. She also referenced being inspired by gymnast Simone Biles, who sat out some events in the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 for her mental health. Biles, after a two-year layoff, returned to competition at the Core Hydration Classic in the Chicago area and won the all-around, balance beam and floor titles Saturday.

“You see [athletes] really take a moment for themselves,” Griner said. “The more people do that and make it normal, it’s OK. Before, no one dared even say it. You were looked upon as weak or not wanting to play or compete, which is completely the opposite mindset.”

Griner, the WNBA’s No. 1 draft pick in 2013, and Taurasi, who was the top pick in 2004, both addressed how the sports world has changed with a focus on mental health.

“Just the evolution of ‘It’s OK to take some time.’ To speak out about it,” Griner said. “There’s a lot more resources now as well.”

Taurasi, who followed her 42-point performance Thursday with a team-high 28 points Saturday, said that earlier in her career, it was evident at times that some players needed a break.

“And it just wasn’t there for the players, coaches, for anyone really,” Taurasi said. “I can think back on watching my parents, like, ‘They need a break.’ But there was no resources. Now, being a parent, that’s how you bridge the gap of acceptance and making sure that the generation that comes after us knows that this is a very important part of life.

“There’s nothing better than you feeling right to make sure that everything else is right. When BG does this, I’m like, ‘I really applaud you, because it’s not easy.'”

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