Bizarre chapter plagues brilliant basketball career of Brittany Griner

Having always marched to the beat of her own drummer, Brittany Griner’s career has been defined by both accomplishment and controversy. From not suiting up for the US at the 2012 London Summer Games, to speculation over being selected for the 2013 NBA Draft, Griner always seemed to be maligned. While she may just be understood, her courage in revealing her same-sex preference early in her WNBA career showed tremendous courage.

While she has established herself as one of the elite competitors in the WNBA, another bizarre chapter in her career has unfolded. Griner and her fiancée, Tulsa Shock forward Glory Johnson were both arrested for domestic violence under charges related to suspicion of assault and disorderly conduct.

Johnson’s sister summoned the police after the engaged couple became involved in a heated dispute (with objects being thrown at each other) at their new home in suburban Phoenix. Of note, there were minor injuries suffered by both, including a bite mark on Griner’s finger, although medical treatment was not necessary.

Although Griner did end up pleading guilty to the disorderly conduct charge, it remains held on the condition that she can successfully complete 26 weeks of domestic violence counseling. Upon completion, all charges shall be dismissed. While Griner issued an apology through her lawyer, this is not the first incident in her career. During her freshman season at Baylor, she punched Jordan Barncastle, a player for Texas Tech.

Scheduled to marry next month, before the 2015 WNBA season starts, Griner disclosed to local members of the media that the couple endured stress over wedding plans and the purchase of their home. Last season, Griner helped lead the Phoenix Mercury to a 2014 title, while setting a WNBA single season record for most blocks (129) in one season. Griner may likely face more questions from media about the arrest as the season starts, possibly making this her most difficult season, which may damper the Mercury’s hopes of repeating as champions.

In the wake of all the problems that the NFL has faced with domestic violence, the WNBA is suddenly dealing with such a grim reality. Said reality is that such an incident is a black eye on the game. Considering that the fallout has generated more publicity than most other WNBA-related events, it is a very sad reflection on the attention shown towards the fledgling league.

Although same-sex relationships are a much more public reality in women’s sports, one aspect that has never been given discussion is domestic violence among same-sex couples (men and women). Suddenly, the saga between Griner and Johnson brings this much hidden topic into the forefront, forcing awareness of the matter. In a time when many athletes are just looking to summon the courage to come out,

Taking into account that it is very rare for female athletes to be the victims of bad press, this is obviously new territory for the WNBA. It is up to the WNBA to show strong leadership and speak out on the matter. When Magic Johnson was diagnosed with HIV, then-commissioner David Stern stood behind him at the press conference, showing his support.
Although this is a very different situation, the WNBA commissioner should have flown to Phoenix, met with team officials and hold a press conference discussing what transpired and working towards solutions. Going forward, the WNBA must not ignore this issue, as it would only tarnish its reputation. As a side note, there was not even any news on the WNBA site about the arrest.

The time is now for the WNBA to emerge and establish a program to work on awareness of same-sex domestic violence, through the availability of educational programs and counseling services. It would also set a very important precedent as other sports, including hockey and tackle football, consist of athletes that have publicly discussed their orientation. While it would be hopeful that such an incident never repeats itself, other sports now have to face the reality that such same-sex domestic violence issues could occur one day. Should awareness of domestic violence among same-sex couples increase over this incident, it would be the only silver lining in this otherwise very dark cloud.

Riquana Williams provides performance of the year in 2013 WNBA season

As the Tulsa Shock finished their season missing the playoffs for the fourth consecutive time, Riquana Williams provides hope for the franchise. A September 10 contest in San Antonio Silver Starz set the stage for the second-year guard to break the WNBA record for most points in a game.

With both franchises out of the postseason picture, pride was on the line as neither wanted to finish in last place in their division. Williams would lead the way for Tulsa with a record breaking 51 point effort that had San Antonio fans cheering. Although she admitted afterwards that she had no idea she was close to breaking the record, she accumulated a remarkable 20 points in the third quarter as Tulsa proceeded to prevail by a 98-65 tally. She would log 35 total points in the second half of the contest to go with her 16 from the previous half.

Heading into the contest, the previous record was 47 points. Said record was shared between two WNBA legends; the Phoenix Mercury’s Diana Taurasi (set on August 10, 2006 against Houston) and Aussie Lauren Jackson of the Seattle Storm (versus Washington on July 24, 2007).

A layup with 1:22 remaining in the contest tied the record as San Antonio fans at the AT&T Center kept cheering for her to get the ball. With 58 seconds left, she would surpass the record to a roar of approval from the 6,500 fans in attendance. In the second half, Tulsa outscored San Antonio by a 59-22 mark Ironically, one of her former teammates from the Miami Hurricanes was donning the silver and black of the Silver Starz; Shenise Johnson. Together at Miami, they were nicknamed “Fire and Ice”.

From the field, she was 17 for 28, while she accumulated a WNBA record eight three-pointers in the game. One of her three pointers was scored over 6’2” Shameka Christon (eight inches taller than Williams) with 1.9 seconds in the third quarter. After the game, her teammates were asking her to autograph the final box scores of the game before taking a group photo to commemorate the record breaking event.

Of note, Williams once had a better performance; a 55-point effort in high school in which she did not score any three-pointers, while accumulating the points in only three quarters.

Should Williams continue to post such strong performances, she could emerge as the steal of the 2012 WNBA Draft. With disciplinary problems in high school and at the NCAA level with the Miami Hurricanes (where she scored 2,148 career points), her draft stock slipped, leaving her available for Tulsa to claim in the second round.

The 51-point performance may be the first step in redeeming herself while staking a claim as part of the next generation of WNBA stars. Joining her on the rebuilding Shock is third overall pick in the 2013 Draft, Skylar Diggins. Having carved her legend at Notre Dame, she would add 20 points in the victory at San Antonio, providing Shock fans with hope for the future. Should anyone break Williams’ record one day, it could be the first pick of the 2013 Draft, center Brittany Griner.

Although Wililams played fewer games in 2013, she managed to start more of them. Compared to her rookie campaign, she averaged more minutes per game (22.7 compared to 20.3), while her point totals increased. Improvement was also shown in three specific percentages: field goal, free throw and three point, respectively.

Should the record one day fall, Williams can only hope it is not at the AT&T Center. Of note, it is the most points ever scored in the history of the arena, which also houses the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. With the Shock looking to recapture the championship years from their years based in Detroit, a focused Williams may become a key piece of the rebuilding puzzle.