What’s the world coming to when a brawl breaks out in a WNBA game that results in the ejection of six players?
The Phoenix Mercury and Dallas Stars were midway through the fourth quarter in Phoenix on Saturday, the Mercury up by six, when 6-foot-9 center Brittney Griner tangled under the basket with Stars rookie Kristine Anigwe, who had just been acquired from the Connecticut Sun.
Obviously upset with the way she was being treated, Griner, a WNBA All-Star and USA Olympian, cocked her elbow, swung it at Anigwe and then charged at her along the sideline near the scorer’s table between the benches.
That led to both benches emptying, the players and coaches locked in a scrum, pushing and shoving to the point Dallas’ coach Brian Agler was almost knocked to the floor.
“Unfortunate about the fight,” said Agler. “Didn’t help either team, but you know those things are going to happen.”
The tension lasted almost two minutes before things finally calmed down. The officials then gathered around a monitor and decided Griner and Anigwe, along with Diana Taurasi and Briann January of Phoenix and Kayla Thornton and Kaela Davis of the Wings should be ejected.
“I went on the court to make sure my teammate didn’t get jumped,” said Taurasi, a four-time Olympic gold medalist and the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer. “(Griner) got punched in the face and then someone ran on her back and threw punches at her face. I would do that 100 times out of 100 times.”
It had already been a chippy game and neither team was happy with the way it was being officiated. You know, the WNBA has the same problems the NBA has in terms of inconsistent officiating although things rarely, if ever, get out of hand.
Aniqwe, originally a 2019 first-round pick of the Sun, already had an issue with Griner, one of the greatest players in league history. When the Sun and Mercury played on August 1, the two engaged, shoving and elbowing each other on numerous occasions.
Aniqwe isn’t the only post player who has tried to play it tough with Griner in the effort to minimize her impact. And Griner – and her teammates – have become increasingly frustrated with the way it’s all been seemingly been overlooked.
“When you have referees that can’t handle situations and let situations get to that point — I mean, BG pretty much gets beat up every single game,” said Taurasi. “The minute she steps on the floor, she basically gets physically abused and a person can just take so much. I think she’s been doing a great job of being poised and just playing her game, (but) when you get hit in the face and the refs aren’t willing to protect you night in and night out, you’ve got to protect yourself.”
Taurasi, who had back surgery before the season, did not play in Sunday’s game, but was ejected for leaving the bench.
“They definitely don’t pay you enough money (in the WNBA) to not protect yourself and BG has a lot at stake playing all around the world and if this league feels like it shouldn’t protect their players by letting a lot of things go during the game,” said Taurasi. “I’ve obviously watched a lot of games this year because I haven’t been playing and this is the most physical (the league has) been in a long time, and when you say you want things to be free-flowing and you want freedom of movement and then you see people just physically hitting each other the whole game throughout the year, things like this will keep happening.”
Griner’s point of view would have been interesting. But the Mercury did not make her available to the media after the game.
“Anigwe was doing the same thing to BG a couple of weeks ago when were we in Connecticut,” Mercury guard Leilani Mitchell told The Athletic. “We just watched the replay and she punched BG first, so of course you can’t be mad at BG. She’s gonna protect herself. It got out of hand. That’s on the refs. They have to stop that earlier.
“I think BG has been doing a good job (of controlling her emotions). People foul her all the time. Today, I think it’s fine for her to retaliate. They’re not just being physical. (Anigwe) actually swung and hit her in the face so BG should go after her and (Anigwe) knew too because she swung at BG and she ran, trying to get a cheap shot in.”
The WNBA is investigating the incident.
“We are already following and activated our usual protocol around events like this,” WNBA president Cathy Engelbert told The Associated Press on Sunday. “It’s an emotional game and these women are elite athletes trying their hardest to win. Now that we’re at the back half of the year, we’re getting to that time where really every game counts from here on in.
“There’s a lot of parity in the league this year when you look at 1-12. We’ll deal with that protocol and deal with it and hopefully have something to conclude upon. We’re looking at all the video and talking to all the folks. We have people on planes today. We’re all here. We’re on it.”
League rules call for a minimum one-game suspension if a player throws a punch or leaves the bench area during an altercation.
According to the AP, there has been only one incident in WNBA history that mirrors what happened this week. Los Angeles and Detroit got into it in 2008 which led to the suspension of 10 players and an assistant coach.