Brittney Griner’s Jersey Retired at Baylor in an Overdue Homecoming Fitting of Her Greatness

Feature image of Brittney Griner at her Baylor University jersey retirement ceremony by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

The day Brittney Griner was slated to arrive on campus at Baylor University, she couldn’t get there quickly enough. She’d chosen Baylor intentionally — its campus in Waco, Texas was just three hours away from her family’s home in Houston — but on this particular day, the drive seemed to take considerably longer. The college freshman couldn’t wait to start this new chapter of her life and to embrace all the independence that college offered.

Four years later, after a national championship, a slew of individual accolades, and turning Baylor into a women’s basketball powerhouse, Griner couldn’t wait to leave.

She’d built a life for herself in Waco, she even found a chosen family there (including her future wife, Cherelle), but she was ready to go. And, as Griner describes it in her 2014 memoir, In My Skin, the feeling seemed mutual. Almost immediately after their NCAA loss to Louisville, Griner was pushed out the door of the program she helped build.

“I felt abandoned, like I was no longer important because I was out of eligibility,” she wrote.

What’s more, Griner longed for a life outside the rigidity imposed by Baylor’s program. She was one of the most well-known female athletes in the world but she felt like no one really knew her. Griner admitted, she “wanted to live openly and express myself freely.” She wanted to be seen.

Last Sunday, a dream that Griner dared not dream more than a decade earlier was finally realized. The university that once made her hide who she was, gave her its biggest embrace: ahead of a nationally televised game, they took her jersey and hung it from the rafters. Griner is now immortalized at Foster Pavilion; never again will another Baylor Bear wear the No. 42.

“It means everything. I feel seen,” Griner said. “You give so much to the organization, to the school. And then, for them to honor you and appreciate who you… you just feel seen.”

From the day that Nicki Collen was hired at Baylor in 2021, this was always the plan. She’d coached against Griner as a head coach and assistant in the WNBA. When she arrived in Waco, Collen was adamant about restoring ties with the program’s most decorated alum. On Sunday, Collen wore a gold blazer with No. 42 affixed to the back and Griner’s accomplishments stitched on the sleeves. Baylor’s celebration of Griner isn’t over yet: later this month, Baylor+, the official content platform for Baylor Athletics, will debut an original documentary about Griner called “Bigger Than Life.”

“All I wanted was Brittney to feel loved by our team, by our university, by our community,” Collen acknowledged in the post-game presser. “Whether this is healing or whatever, I just think she’s a part of our family, and I’m so grateful that we were able to get this done.”

It’s clear BG felt the love. Every outtake from the weekend, every interview, showcased Griner flashing her mega-watt smile and her eyes shining brightly. The emotion and the joy were palpable. Former teammates and past and present coaches turned out to fête one of basketball’s greats. And, as a fitting tribute to the three time Defensive Player of the Year, the Baylor Bears put on a defensive clinic: holding Texas Tech to 29.5% shooting, out-rebounding them 42-26, and forcing 29 turnovers. Griner stood on the sidelines, cheering, throughout the game.

It felt like an amends was made: the place that Griner had once loved, the place that she found love, would finally feel like home again.

“I want to say this: I know there were a lot of years that I was not around but I never forgot any of y’all,” Griner told Baylor alumni on Saturday. “Never once did I forget anybody that was here, supported me, helped me, gave me advice, showed up to the games. This was really a home. This was my home. I love the fact that I am here right now and I love the fact that y’all are here right now with me at this moment. I wish I could just go back in time to be back here again but I will promise you this: you will see me more. I will be on campus more, I will be at games more, and I will be here.”

Here is a place she always should’ve been. Griner is the most decorated player to ever suit up for the Baylor Bears. That she was denied this opportunity, that she was robbed of this home, for even a day longer than was necessary is a stain on the legacy of Baylor’s past leadership. But perhaps it is, as Griner posited during an in-game interview, a part of some cosmic plan: maybe she was supposed to be here at precisely this moment.

And it’s hard to argue with Griner because the truth is awing: two years ago — almost to the day — Brittney Griner was detained at a Russian airport and today, she has reclaimed her home.

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Natalie

A black biracial, bisexual girl raised in the South, working hard to restore North Carolina's good name. Lover of sports, politics, good TV and Sonia Sotomayor. You can follow her latest rants on Twitter.

Natalie has written 396 articles for us.

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