Sports Take: Brittney Griner’s jersey retirement overdue but well-deserved

The 6-foot-9 forward slams down one of her 18 career dunks during Baylor’s 85-47 win over Florida State in the second round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament in Waco. Lariat file photo

By Michael Haag | Sports Editor

The day is almost here.

Former Lady Bears legend Brittney Griner is getting her jersey retired, and boy is it a long time coming. Students on campus — including me — didn’t have the luxury of watching the 6-foot-9 forward feast on Baylor’s opposition, but it doesn’t take more than a simple Google search to know this honor is no shocker.

If someone put together a “Greatest Baylor Athletes Mount Rushmore,” Griner might have the biggest head. Sure, Heisman-Trophy-winning Robert Griffin III or four-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson are no slouches.

But let’s be real — Griner reached a level that even those greats may have not attained. It’s like playing a video game on rookie difficulty: She was simply unfair in her time at Baylor.

Let’s unpack just how dominant she was.

In four years with the then-Lady Bears, the Houston native totaled 3,283 career points and 1,305 rebounds. Griner was a two-time consensus National Player of the Year and was named to the All-Big 12 First Team and All-Defensive Team every single year in college.

Griner won the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award four times, as well as the Player of the Year trophy every year except her freshman year (2009-2010). Her nation-leading average of 6.4 blocks per game during her freshman year made everyone else’s numbers look like chump change.

She changed the game.

Griner holds conference records that no one may ever sniff, like Big 12 Player of the Week honors (21), points scored (3,283), field goals made (1,247), free throws made (787) and attempted (1,054) and blocks (748).

She also still holds the NCAA blocks record for a single season (223) and career.

A three-time All-American by five different outlets, Griner remains as the only player in NCAA women’s basketball history to have over 2,000 career points and 500 career blocks. There were only two games in her career in which she failed to reach double-digit points (148 career games). 146 games in double figures is the second most in NCAA history.

Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned Baylor’s 40-0 national championship team that Griner spearheaded in 2012, her junior season. Or the fact that the Lady Bears held a 135-15 record over her four-year career, including 40 consecutive Big 12 Conference regular-season wins to conclude her time in the green and gold.

What’s mind-blowing is that — with all that attached to her name at Baylor — people find a way to be nag on her on social media. A couple of scrolls through the comments of Baylor Athletics’ Facebook post on Jan. 31 regarding the announcement is all the proof you need.

Yeah, it’s probably about 50/50 between positive and negative reactions, but isn’t somewhere in the ballpark of a direct split still sad? Political beliefs or Griner’s comments about former head coach Kim Mulkey and Baylor on her way out of Waco shouldn’t hold Griner back from arguably the highest honor in collegiate athletics — having your jersey retired.

People keep clinging to the fact that she used to protest the national anthem, but it wasn’t because she didn’t love this country. In fact, she’s a two-time Olympic gold medalist in which she had no issue repping that “USA” across her chest.

Her dad also served in the Vietnam War, and she grew up wanting to be a cop. Are we really sure Griner was so gung-ho about disrespecting the nation and what it means?

Put all that nonsense to the side and appreciate Griner for what she did as a Lady Bear. A huge part of Baylor’s legacy and tradition of success can be attributed to both her and Mulkey.

But I’d be willing to bet Mulkey would’ve had to fight harder to land Lauren Cox, Kelani Brown or NaLyssa Smith in the wake of the Griner era, had the dominant center never been a Lady Bear.

Here’s a proposition — and let’s see how this sounds.

Maybe the Baylor Family should pack the Foster Pavilion and celebrate Griner’s return to Waco on Sunday. Don’t be the stickler that’s clinging to lazy, overblurbed narratives surrounding Griner’s name in the wake of her playing days.

She’s safe, she’s back with the Phoenix Mercury and she’ll finally get the honor she’s earned when the Bears host the Lady Raiders at 3 p.m. on Sunday. The pregame ceremony will take place at approximately 2:45 p.m., and every seat in the Pavilion will have a gold commemorative BG t-shirt.

Hey “BG,” go get your favorite Health Camp burger combo and remind us how big your smile is when that jersey is unveiled from the rafters — you deserve this.