“We were making sure we’re understanding the difference between courage and stupidity,” Reeve said. “We haven’t seen this in women’s basketball. The control of the body in a player that size, the ability to run the floor, stop, change direction.”
Griner has played only two pro games — both losses — and she already is being called a game-changer.
“I guess you could say that,” Griner said. “By playing above the rim, people say I’m changing the game, just playing like that. … But I really feel like I’m just adding onto it. I’m adding onto the game, bringing in something new.”
So where should we place Griner on the game’s evolutionary scale? Lynx assistant coach Jim Petersen, a 6-10 forward/center who had an eight-year NBA career, has some strong opinions.
“It’s a step that is almost beyond game-changing,” he said. “Because the women’s game has never seen anything like this before. A woman this physically gifted, with that size, strength and speed. … I think Lisa Leslie is the Mikan [of the women’s game]. She changed the game for post players and ‘bigs’ and brought a lot of panache to the game. I think Griner is more the Abdul-Jabbar of the game. Or Wilt Chamberlain. I mean, completely dominant.”
That’s a lot of pressure. During training camp, Abdul-Jabbar came to Phoenix and worked with Griner on the sky hook. He developed the unstoppable shot in part because the NCAA took away his ability to dunk. Most agree that if Griner can master the move, it would be borderline unfair.
“She does things that we’ve not seen before in women’s basketball,” said Carolyn Peck, a former college and WNBA coach and now an ESPN analyst. “No one else makes warm-ups exciting, but she does because she goes up and dunks. I think she’ll bring a different fan to the WNBA.”
Said Rebecca Lobo, former league player: “She will change every game she plays, but she won’t change the game of women’s basketball because there aren’t any other 6-8 women out there who have her athletic abilities.’’
For now, Griner knows she will have to get stronger to deal with physical inside play. She knows she’ll need to diversify her offensive game, though many believe the three-second rule will be just as advantageous to her on the offensive side as it is limiting on defense.
“I have a lot to learn,” she said. “I see that every day, with everything I do.”
Mercury veterans Diana Taurasi and Alexis Hornbuckle have helped her transition to the pro level, but it shouldn’t take long. Griner said she doesn’t bother looking at records for things such as scoring or rebounding, though she did admit she might have peeked at Margo Dydek’s all-time block record of 877.
Of course, there are some who aren’t ready to go overboard yet. New York Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer, a productive big man during his NBA career, is one of them.
“While players come and go that can change the face of how the game is played, most of them are guards,” he insisted. “Even Wilt, though he may have scored a hundred zillion points, won only one championship [two, actually] when he was older and playing with good guards like Jerry West.”
Laimbeer, though, appears to be in the minority. As for Leslie’s nickname?
“That’s a great compliment,” Griner said.
“I feel like I can,” Griner added, when asked if she would change the game. “I have the opportunity to. I hope I can do that. And you know, I can’t wait to see how it unfolds, throughout my career.”