By: Mychael Ramirez
The west side of Footprint Center in downtown Phoenix features a mural depicting Black sports legends from the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury organizations that call the arena home.
These giants are represented not for their physical stature, but for the impact each have made in the community on and off the playing field.
At the front crouches the illustration of Brittney Griner, a portrayal of her iconic photo with a raised fist while she donned a reversed Mercury jersey with two names.
The Mercury center wore Taylor’s name across her back amidst the WNBA season that took place in Bradenton, Florida while the league, its athletes and the country grappled with the civil turmoil and police violence.
Representing her community on the court is who BG is. She is an anchor for the Mercury’s defense and team identity on the hardwood.
Off the court, she is a beacon of hope for those in need and those who need to be heard. A voice for the voiceless in the Phoenix community and beyond.
The mural is just a mirror into who Brittney Griner is – someone who leads with her soul and puts others first.
Since first arriving in the Valley in 2013, Griner has made it her mission to champion diversity, inclusion and equality. She has used her platform in the WNBA to give the ultimate assist to others, and has received the WNBA’s Community Assist Award on several occasions her efforts.
“BG is authentically herself and she leads with her heart – it’s why so many people care about her, love her, and why her absence right now is such a gut-punch to so many,” said Phoenix Mercury President Vince Kozar.”
“But it’s our responsibility as an organization, as people to whom she has given so much, to continue her work in the community until she gets back. We’re going to make the difference she would make if she were here and we’re going to do it in order to keep her top of mind every single day.”
On the court, BG is an anchor for the Mercury’s defense and team identity.
She’s raised money for COVID-19 relief and animal rescue shelters.
In 2017, she donated $5,000 to one-n-ten, a LGBTQ youth center that was impacted by criminal arson and burned down.
The list goes on.
That is just who Brittney Griner is at her core.
And while the Phoenix Mercury organization and concerned fans everywhere await her safe return, a staple of Brittney Griner’s work in the Phoenix community, BG’s Heart and Sole Shoe Drive, returns this season in partnership with Phoenix Rescue Mission.
Founded in 2016, the genesis of BG’s Heart and Sole Shoe Drive came while driving home after a practice and witnessed unhoused persons in the Arizona summer without shoes. Always one to lead with her heart but never one to ask much of others, BG’s request was simply to drive around with shoes in her trunk in case she saw someone in need. But that idea, and her willingness to accept help, led to the Phoenix Mercury organization establishing a shoe drive, engaging its X-Factor fan base and BG’s teammates, and partnering with local non-profit Phoenix Rescue Mission. The drive helped nearly 2,000 Phoenicians in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 (non-operation during COVID seasons in 2020 and 2021).
For the Phoenix Rescue Mission, Griner’s initiative continuing in her owner across the country is inspiring.
“This is hope. This is showing the individuals on the street that there are others who care for them,” said Rachel Dallmann, Organizational Partnerships Officer for Phoenix Rescue Mission. “We are humbled by the outpouring of support from the WNBA and Phoenix community wanting to honor Brittney’s mission in her absence.”
Starting with the Mercury’s first preseason game on April 28, fans can begin to donate new or gently used sneakers and contribute to the shoe drive while continuing to honor the woman who has done so much for her community
“We’re going to continue to uplift BG’s community engagement,” WNBA president and Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike told Good Morning America . “She was giving those affected by homelessness in Phoenix shoes out of her car. And so we’re going to continue to uplift that in true BG fashion.
“She’s our sister and as a league we do everything, we mobilize and energize each other. For us to be able to do that until she gets back, that’s top priority for us. We have to continue to be one and move as one.”
As the 2022 WNBA season approaches, there is no better time to be a little more like Brittney.