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Explaining Kim Mulkey’s complicated relationship with Brittney Griner

Brittney Griner and coach Kim Mulkey address the media after Baylor’s 2012 national championship win. (Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports)

Since Brittney Griner was taken into Russian custody in February, basketball players and coaches around the world have offered their support for the WNBA star.

But one person has been absent from the outpouring of support: Kim Mulkey.

The conversation around Mulkey’s silence came to a head on Monday, after Cory Diaz, an LSU women’s basketball reporter for The Daily Advertiser, asked Mulkey to comment on Griner’s detainment in a press conference.

Diaz said that he had yet to hear Mulkey say anything about Griner.

“And you won’t,” the coach replied.

Griner was arrested in February in a Moscow-area airport for allegedly having hashish oil in her luggage. Since then, WNBA players such as Skylar Diggins-Smith and Breanna Stewart as well as coaches such as South Carolina’s Dawn Staley have spoken out and answered questions about Griner, emphasizing their desire to bring her home.

After Griner was convicted in August and sentenced to nine years in a penal colony for drug smuggling charges, Just Women’s Sports obtained a statement from Baylor, where Mulkey coached Griner from 2009-13.

“With the unsettling news of the verdict and sentencing of Brittney Griner, we continue to pray for her ongoing strength and safety throughout her detainment,” read the statement from the Baylor women’s basketball program. “We recognize the extraordinary complexity of this situation, yet we remain hopeful of the day she will again set foot on U.S. ground.”

JWS also reached out to LSU, but no comment was provided. An athletic department spokesperson said he would reach out if Mulkey decided to release a statement. She never did.

Though Mulkey said Monday that she wouldn’t comment on the ongoing situation, she did offer some insight to her silence on the Tiger Rag podcast back in June.

“Well I keep up with it, like you guys do as far as what’s in the National Media,” Mulkey said on the podcast. “I don’t make public comments. I think that is a personal issue. You just want everybody to come home safely, and I pray for Brittney. I want her home safely. I think there are lots of people speaking out on her behalf, and those of us who don’t necessarily speak publicly are praying for her.”

That is the only time Mulkey has offered any insight into her thought process on the Griner situation.

This isn’t the first time Mulkey has been embroiled in controversy regarding her statements about Griner. After Griner left Baylor in 2013 and was selected as the first overall pick by the Phoenix Mercury, information about the seemingly contentious relationship between the two came to light.

In a 2013 profile by ESPN’s Kate Fagan, Raymond Griner, Brittney’s father, stated that once Baylor lost to Louisville in the NCAA Tournament, Mulkey didn’t contact his daughter again.

“It’s about dollar signs,” Raymond told Fagan. “There’s nothing in it for Kim anymore, so she’s done with Brittney.”

Shakira Austin, current WNBA player and former Ole Miss standout, echoed that sentiment Monday in a tweet about the Mulkey press conference in which she declined to comment about Griner.

“It’s all business smh once you no longer benefit their lives watch how they move after. Recruits, idk what else to suggest besides just go overseas and be selfish,” she tweeted.

Queen Egbo, who played for Mukley from 2018-21, before Mulkey took the head coaching job at LSU, retweeted Austin’s statement, and she offered insight of her own with multiple tweets about Griner and Mulkey.

Perhaps the most pointed was a tweet in which she referenced the success Baylor and Mulkey had thanks to Griner.

“A player that built Baylor, 2 national titles & a 40-0 record,” Egbo wrote. “Yet her former coach refuses to say anything or simply just show any kind of support. Keep that in mind when choosing schools.”

Egbo, a 2022 WNBA All-Rookie selection of the Indiana Fever, later corrected her tweet to say “two Final Fours” rather than “two national titles,” as Baylor made the Final Four with Griner in 2010 and later won an NCAA championship with her in 2012.

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(Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports)

Fagan’s 2013 article revealed more tension between Griner and Mulkey, specifically in relation to Griner’s sexuality. Mulkey did not want Griner to talk about her sexuality while playing for the Bears, Griner said, though her being gay was an “open secret.”

During Griner’s playing career at Baylor, Mulkey was outwardly supportive of her star center. She even addressed the hate Griner received online during a 2012 NCAA Tournament press conference, stating that Griner was a “human being.”

Fagan’s article about Griner can be marked as the start of Mulkey choosing not to address controversy surrounding Griner.

The coach declined an interview for the story, though she later released a statement to Fagan through a spokesperson which said: “Brittney Griner represented Baylor University proudly on and off the basketball court, and she leaves behind an incredible legacy. I cannot comment on personal matters surrounding any of our student-athletes, but I can tell you Brittney will always be a celebrated member of the Baylor family.”

After the story was published, Fagan said Mulkey reached out to ESPN, her employer at the time, asking for Fagan to be fired. Mulkey allegedly claimed Fagan “forced” Griner into making statements for the article.

While several of Mulkey’s former players, including Egbo and NaLyssa Smith, have been critical of their former coach, current LSU player Alexis Morris was firm in her support of Mulkey on Twitter.

Morris tweeted that the “ball was in Russia’s court,” and “them people told us to be quiet or they won’t do the trade,” before later tweeting, “I’m saying God is in control and this is bigger than you, me and Kim.”

Morris also pinned a tweet in which she offered support for Griner, stating the following: “No matter what. It’s forever #FreeBG, until it’s backwards.”

Morris played for Mulkey at Baylor during the 2017-18 season, but was dismissed from the squad following an arrest for allegedly assaulting another woman. Morris was then arrested again in December of 2017 in Beaumont, Texas, for “marijuana possession and possession of a dangerous substance.”

Since then, Morris bounced around, playing at Rutgers and then Texas A&M before getting a second chance with her former coach. She transferred to LSU in 2021 after Mulkey took the helm for the Tigers.

Barcelona Beat Lyon to Win Back-to-Back Champions League Titles

Barcelona's Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas celebrating after beating Lyon at the 2024 Champions League final
Ballon d'Or winners Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas helped Barcelona to a second-straight UWCL title on Saturday. (Ramsey Cardy - Sportsfile/UEFA via Getty Images)

Barcelona was crowned champion of the Champions League on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Lyon in Bilbao.

Alexia "La Reina" Putellas, who recently re-signed with Barcelona, came off the bench to score the team's second goal. Fellow Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí provided the team’s first. After the game, defender Lucy Bronze said Putellas was nicknamed "the queen" for a reason.

"Alexia is the captain of the team and she's the queen of Barcelona for a reason,"  defender Lucy Bronze told DAZN. "She's got the quality to do that in the last minute of the Champions League final when we were up against it at the end and it just sealed the win for us. It was amazing."

The victory marked Barcelona's first win over Lyon in a UWCL final, having previously gone up against the French side at both the 2019 and 2022 Champions League finals. It's also Barcelona's second Champions League title in a row.

"It's hard to win it once, but to do it back-to-back, Lyon showed how difficult it is and this team has finally done that," Bronze said. "I think we go down in history as one of the best teams in Europe."

This season, the team also secured a quadruple for the first time in club history, having already won Liga F, the Copa de la Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. The win ensures that coach Jonatan Giráldez — who has officially departed the team to join the NWSL's Washington Spirit — leaves Europe a champion.

"It was an incredible game. I am really happy, it's one of the best days of my life for sure," Giráldez told broadcaster DAZN after the game. "We did an amazing job. I am very proud of all of them."

Following the win, Putellas said her team "can't ask for anything else."

"Our objective was to win four out of four," the Spain international told reporters. "We have achieved everything we wanted. Every minute of sacrifice has been worth the effort — and I'd say that not after the game, but before, just entering in the stadium, with all the support we had here, it was worth it."

2024 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Aitana Bonmatí said that the crowd support made it "feel like Camp Nou."

"I am on cloud nine right now," she said. "It is an historic day which we will remember forever."

Sun’s Alyssa Thomas Ejected After Flagrant 2 on Sky Rookie Angel Reese

Angel Reese said there were "no hard feelings" stemming from Alyssa Thomas's flagrant foul. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Angel Reese might have gotten knocked down on Saturday, but she got right back up again. 

Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas was ejected from the Sun’s 86-82 win over Chicago following a flagrant foul 2 on Reese — the first of her career. While the two were battling for a rebound, Reese took a clothesline hold around the neck courtesy of Thomas before hitting the ground.

After the game, Reese told reporters that there were "no hard feelings" and she appreciated Thomas for playing her hard beneath the basket.

"I know she purposely probably didn’t do it towards me," Reese said. "But just being able to come out there and just be strong and stand on two feet, it was going to be a tough game and that’s what I’m built for. And my teammates had my back throughout the whole game. So I was prepared for it."

She also didn’t buy into the idea that it was a "Welcome to the WNBA" moment, but thanked Thomas "sending a message" because it helped her get back up and "keep pushing."

"It’s not just because I’m a rookie. I’m a player. I’m a basketball player. They don’t give a damn if I’m a rookie. I mean, I want them to come at me every day. I want them to come at everybody," she added. "I mean, they’re not supposed to be nice to me. I hope y’all know that. They’re not supposed to be nice to me or lay down because I’m Angel Reese or because I’m a rookie."

Reese finished the game with 13 points, five rebounds, and two assists over 33 minutes.

Barcelona to Face Lyon in Champions League Rematch This Weekend

UEFA Women's Champions League Final"Barcelona FC - Olympique Lyonnais"
Saturday's game will be the third UWCL final meeting for Barcelona and Lyon, having previously gone up against each other in 2019 and 2022. (ANP via Getty Images)

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off in Bilbao on Saturday, with a couple of familiar foes set to face off for the trophy.

Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, making its 11th final appearance since 2010, will go head to head with a Barcelona side making its fourth final appearance in a row.

This will be the third time these two teams meet in the UWCL title game, having previously appeared in the 2019 and 2022 finals. Lyon won both of those prior games against Barcelona, alongside a total of eight Champions League trophies. That’s double that of any other club, with Eintracht Frankfurt coming in a distant second with four. 

Should Barcelona win, this would be the team's third title — breaking a tie for the third in the UWCL total titles race. 

But as these teams return to the UWCL final, it also marks the end of an era for both clubs. The game will be the last for both club managers, as Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez and Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor depart for new jobs after the season's end.

Giráldez is set to leave for the NWSL's Washington Spirit, while Bompastor will take over for incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea. Both coaches have earned one UWCL trophy during their tenures, while Bompastor also brought two Champions League trophies to Lyon as a player. She was the first coach to win a UWCL trophy as both a coach and player.

This season, Barcelona is looking for its first quadruple, having won a fifth Liga F title alongside the Copa de La Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

"We hope he can go out with the four trophies because we know how competitive and ambitious he is," Barcelona midfielder Patri Guijarro told ESPN. "It has been a winning era with him in charge and for him to go out with all four trophies would be historic and incredible."

But Lyon's Damaris Egurrola is excited about her team's chances of overcoming Barcelona once again — and to do it in front of family and friends.

"Lyon have something special," she told Forbes ahead of the weekend's final. "We have a great team and we have the players with enough talent to win any match."

The game will be a homecoming for Egurrola, who began her professional career with Athletic Bilbao.

"I’ve been thinking of this day and night," she said. "I’ve been dreaming of playing this match. Having the opportunity to play in San Mames is amazing. This is where it all started for me."

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off Saturday, May 25th at 12 PM ET and is free to stream on DAZN.

World No. 1 Iga Swiatek Headlines a Stacked 2024 French Open

Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico
Iga Swiatek serves against Coco Gauff during the group stage of the 2023 WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico. (Robert Prange/Getty Images)

The 2024 French Open starts on Sunday, with a match schedule that promises to wrap the short clay court season up in style.

Looking for her fourth title at the major is three-time Roland Garros champion and World No. 1 Iga Swiatek, considered the favorite to win the whole Slam. Three of her four major titles have come at the French tournament. 

Swiatek's career record at the French Open is a dominating 28-2, and she's currently on a 16-game winning streak fueled by victories at tune-up tournaments in Madrid and Rome.

But that doesn't mean she won't face some serious challengers along the way. Get to know some of the Polish tennis champ's strongest competitors.

Aryna Sabalenka

Sabalenka is ranked No. 2 in the world and faced Swiatek in the finals at both Madrid and Rome. She lost in three sets in Madrid, which included a close third-set tiebreak, before losing in straight sets at the Italian Open. 

She enters the French Open having won the Australian Open in January, successfully defending her title in the first Slam of the season. At last year’s French Open, Sabalenka reached the semifinals — a career best — before being ousted by Karolina Muchová in three sets.

Season record: 25-7

Coco Gauff

Currently sitting at No. 3 in the world, the highest-ranked American on the schedule is none other than Coco Gauff. Gauff won her first major at the US Open last year, and reached the semifinals of this year’s Australian Open. She faced Swiatek in the semifinals of the Italian Open last week, losing in straight sets. 

But her first major final came at the French Open in 2022, before being ousted by Swiatek in the quarterfinals at last year’s French Open. The two are on a crash course for a meeting before the finals, as Gauff anchors the other quadrant on Swiatek’s side of the draw, should they both advance deep into the competition.

Season record: 25-8

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