Griner’s WNBA return kicks off ESPN, ABC slate

Griner’s WNBA return kicks off ESPN, ABC slate

Brittney Griner‘s return to the WNBA with the Phoenix Mercury will be the first of 25 regular-season broadcasts on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 this season, it was announced Wednesday.

The networks will also air playoff games, and the WNBA All-Star Game will make its ABC primetime debut July 15 in Las Vegas (8:30 p.m. ET).

Griner, who missed last season after she was detained for 10 months in Russia before her release in a high-profile prisoner swap, will make her return with the Phoenix Mercury as they visit the Los Angeles Sparks when the season tips off May 19 (11 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App).

Griner, who also played pro basketball in Russia, was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February 2022 after Russian authorities said she was carrying vape canisters with cannabis oil. The U.S. State Department had declared Griner to be “wrongfully detained.” She returned to the United States in December and signed in February with the Mercury, who drafted her No. 1 in 2013.

As part of the broadcast coverage, there also is “WNBA Countdown presented by Google,” an ESPN-produced pregame show that will air before at least 10 regular-season broadcasts and during the postseason.

“As we get set to tip off our 27th season, ESPN is once again stepping up as an incredibly engaged broadcast partner for the WNBA,” league commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement. “We are grateful that ESPN will provide significant opportunities to tell the stories of the incredible players across the league in 2023.

“From tip-off weekend through the highly anticipated postseason, ESPN and Google will continue to serve our growing fan base and deliver a robust national platform for WNBA players with game broadcasts and new, regular-season pregame shows.”

Opening weekend also includes an ABC doubleheader on May 20 that features the Atlanta Dream visiting the Dallas Wings (1 p.m. ET) and the Seattle Storm hosting the defending WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces.

The Dream acquired guard Allisha Gray, the 2017 WNBA Rookie of the Year, from Dallas via a trade in January. On Tuesday, the Dream extended Gray’s contract through 2025, a source told ESPN.

Seattle lost coveted free agent Breanna Stewart to the New York Liberty and Sue Bird to retirement, but the team returns All-Star Jewell Loyd. The Aces are led by WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson and fellow standouts Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young, and they also added free agent Candace Parker.

Two of Stewart’s games against her former team will also air on the ABC/ESPN/ESPN2 platform when the Liberty and the Storm clash in Seattle on May 30 (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET), and in New York on July 8 (ESPN, 1:30 p.m. ET).

The opening weekend concludes May 21, when the Mercury host the Chicago Sky in a rematch of the 2021 WNBA Finals (4 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Star guard Courtney Vandersloot left the Sky in free agency and joined Stewart in New York. The Liberty, who also added 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones in a trade, will have nine regular-season games shown on ESPN platforms. The Aces will appear seven times.

New York and Las Vegas meet on ABC on Aug. 6 (3 p.m. ET).

Six teams will be showcased four times: Dallas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Seattle, the Washington Mystics and the Connecticut Sun.

“As ESPN enters its 27th season with the WNBA, we continue to elevate our coverage of this exceptional league with premier broadcast windows, expanded studio programming and best-in-class storytelling,” said Matt Kenny, ESPN’s vice president of programming and acquisitions. “Our ongoing collaboration with the WNBA resulted in unprecedented growth and success last year and we have a marquee schedule that will once again showcase the league’s best players and teams across ESPN platforms.”

The WNBA’s complete television and streaming schedule for all networks will be announced at a later date.

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