Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner addressed her exit from the WNBA bubble in Bradenton, Florida, for “personal reasons” midway through the 2020 campaign and said she addressed her mental health in the time away.
Griner spoke of her leave for the first time on Thursday during a video call from Columbia, South Carolina, where she’s with USA Basketball teammates for a training camp. She said the counseling has “done wonders for me” and she used the time to rehab parts of her body as well.
Griner: Counseling after bubble beneficial
Griner left the “wubble” at IMG Academy after 13 of the team’s 22 regular-season games. The team cited personal reasons in a release and it was never directly discussed at length.
It was a hard decision to make in leaving, she said. Via Jeff Metcalfe at the Arizona Republic:
“I never thought I would be in that situation,” Griner said. “But with everything I was dealing with, I needed to take that leave. It took a lot for me to make that decision.
“I definitely used counseling a lot when I left. It’s helped me out tremendously. I think more people should be open to talking about mental health issues and finding that centerpiece with themselves. It's done wonders for me. I’m at a place now where I feel amazing. I took that time to work on my body as well, get rehab on my knees and other parts of my body. I'm feeling good and ready to go now.”
Griner said she spent time outdoors back home in Arizona and it helped her mindset. She went off-roading and camping and worked on her Jeep. Players from both the NBA and WNBA bubbles have spoken about the difficulty in being isolated in the bubble where they focused only on the job of basketball without respite.
Griner: We need to talk about mental health
Griner, 30, is the latest athlete to open up about counseling and advocate for a larger discussion and openness about an issue that impacts much of the world. The stigma of mental health counseling in Black communities is particularly large.
“One, just owning up to it and saying it,” Griner said, via ESPN. “We don’t talk about things, and in certain communities we really don’t talk about our feelings. It's just, ‘Put it in a box and forget about it, push it to the back.’ That's something I think has hurt us as a society. And it's something that's going to change with more athletes speaking up about it.”
Las Vegas Aces star Liz Cambage opened up about her mental health in a 2019 piece for The Players’ Tribune titled “DNP — Mental Health.” She said her mental health is why she wanted to be traded from Dallas to Vegas and it has kept her off the court at times. Kayla McBride, the former Aces star who signed with the Lynx in free agency, shared her story in October.
Chamique Holdsclaw, a six-time WNBA All-Star and Olympic gold medalist, and Kevin Love, a five-time NBA All-Star and championship winner, are advocates for mental health initiatives and reducing the stigma. Love wrote his own Tribune article in March 2018 about mental health and having a panic attack during a game.
It led to the NBA launching more access to mental health counselors for players. The WNBA Players Association made sure mental health was addressed in their 2020 collective bargaining agreement.
Mercury’s moves for 2021 title run
There were large expectations for the team in 2020 with the return of Diana Taurasi from a back injury and the addition of Skylar Diggins-Smith in the offseason.
The Mercury went 6-7 with Griner, the former defensive player of the year, in the “wubble” with them. She averaged 17.7 points per game, ranking sixth in the league, and 7.5 rebounds per game (eighth). Her efficiency rating was tied for fourth-best.
Phoenix finished 13-9, fifth overall in the standings, and reached the playoffs.
The team re-signed veteran Taurasi, 38, and have back Diggins-Smith, Bria Hartley and Brianna Turner. Griner, the former No. 1 pick out of Baylor, said she’s excited to have the GOAT stick around and seems ready to be back on the WNBA court. There was concern from fans she wouldn’t return after leaving the bubble.
As for the Tokyo Olympics, she’s “anxious” and “ready.”
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