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‘I hope I left my mark on this league’: Spokane native Briann January reflects on career that saw a championship and league-wide friendships

Aug. 17, 2022 Updated Wed., Aug. 17, 2022 at 8:54 p.m.

Seattle Storm’s Jewell Loyd, left, and Briann January embrace during the fourth quarter of a WNBA game against the Minnesota Lynx at Climate Pledge Arena on Aug. 3 in Seattle.  (Getty Images)
Seattle Storm’s Jewell Loyd, left, and Briann January embrace during the fourth quarter of a WNBA game against the Minnesota Lynx at Climate Pledge Arena on Aug. 3 in Seattle. (Getty Images)
By W.G. Ramirez For The Spokesman-Review

Spokane native Briann January has never yearned for the spotlight, never called upon it when she deserved the glow.

As January has been in the arena to see home finale celebrations and tributes for also-retiring Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles and Seattle Storm teammate Sue Bird, she is just fine being known as a contributor without the fanfare or fuss, and any extra attention as she prepares to walk away from the game.

The Lewis and Clark High alum has a championship ring and brings into retirement one of the finest defensive resumes a player can ask for.

She’s been an All-Star, and she’s competed alongside some of the greatest who have played the game.

The same can be said for those players, in that they’ve had the chance to play alongside January.

Seattle assistant coach Pokey Chatman said in watching her execute in the roles she’s been asked to play at different times this season, she’s hard-pressed to comprehend January has been in the league for 14 years.

It’s a credit, Chatman said, to not only how hard she goes on the floor, but also how she’s evolved her game, and the strict regimen January has employed in taking care of her body so she can have an impact on both ends of the court.

“The trends of the game have changed … and she’s altered her play,” Chatman said. “But the thing that’s never changed is she’s always been a good defensive player. And that’s not the sexy side of the ball. They don’t get highlights on SportsCenter, but she’s committed to that, and she has a reputation for it. Just watching her growth, she’s a special player.”

And with that, January feels she’s left nothing on the table as she’s set to turn in her Nikes after an impressive career that has seen her get to play her final season close to home.

“I’m glad Seattle’s one of the options that I was able to do,” January said. “Being able to end at home has been kind of on my mind for a while. Just having the opportunity to come back and play in front of the people that are most important to me and the people that have been with me since I started this whole basketball journey, and really started me on that path.

“Everybody on our team has achieved so much in this game, and it’s been fun to just be on the court with great players and talk basketball. They’re not only good players, they’re great people. And so I’ve just really enjoyed my time and I think that’s one of the things that’s really hit me the hardest in kind of reflecting this year … on all of the great people that have been placed in my life through this game.”

Sorority sisters

After playing in Indiana, Phoenix, Connecticut and Seattle, the relationships January has created are what have been special for her. It stretches beyond having played with the likes of Tamika Catchings, Diana Taurasi, Jonquel Jones and – this year – Bird and Breanna Stewart, it’s the friendships she’s made across the league.

January said an extended career in the WNBA usually means you will see different rosters and have different teammates, knowing players get shuffled from team to team. Thus, you get to know many players along the way, as they’re opponents who become teammates, and then opponents again.

All the while, they’re friends.

“You come to respect them,” January said. “Going through things like the bubble, going through the day-by-day, just our profession, and traveling overseas. All of those things, we’re in it together. We respect each other and it is a sorority. It’s been amazing to see how my entire (2009) draft class has just come in and impacted the league and how younger players have followed and have brought different aspects and raised the level.

“And then you have the greats who have continued to lead the way. It is a special league, and I’m really excited to see what the future has in store for it, because we have a group of amazing women that are pushing forward and are super talented.”

One of the most special friendships she made and came to appreciate from her days in Phoenix has also hit her extremely hard this season, as she’s watched former Mercury teammate Brittney Griner detained for 181 days in Russia, as of Wednesday.

Not that it’s overshadowed her farewell tour, as she’s been appreciative of all the well-wishes and goodbyes throughout the regular season, but it’s weighed heavy on her heart.

“It’s something that I carry every day … and it’s heavy on everybody’s heart every day,” January said. “It’s just every time we step on the court, we know one of our sisters isn’t able to, and is overseas locked away. It’s hard and just knowing her and being able to create a relationship with her, it’s hard. It’s hard to think about because she’s such an amazing person, and she brought so much joy to everybody she’s around. Every room she stepped into – the energy was lifted. There was so much joy there.

“She’s in our thoughts and our prayers every day and I mean … me ending my career is whatever. I’ve had a long career, but this is happening right now, and this should be the focus for all of us, and it is.”

Bri and Bird

As January is set to make her 12th playoff appearance Thursday when Seattle hosts the Washington Mystics, much of the crowd inside Climate Pledge Arena will have their eyes on Bird, who has also enjoyed an exquisite basketball career.

But for someone who doesn’t necessarily like the spotlight, January has been just fine in sharing her farewell tour with Bird.

In fact, the feeling is mutual.

“It’s been really fun sharing this retirement tour with Bri, having someone else who’s going through the exact same things as you,” Bird said. “It’s been nice, because I’ll be honest, I don’t really like the spotlight like that.”

What Bird doesn’t realize though, is the impact she’s had on January long before the two knew one another.

Starting with her love for the game and flowing that through the passion she’s instilled for 14 years as a professional basketball player, January feels it’s an added bonus to play alongside Bird in both of their final seasons.

“Being from Washington, ever since I started really getting serious about this game of basketball, she’s been a part of it, and has been front and center for me,” January said.

“And so for me to be ending with somebody who I’ve watched since I was little, it’s been very special and just feeling all the emotions and going through it and enjoying all the moments, it’s nice to have somebody there who I know is going through the same thing. It helps you carry that a little bit better.”

Now, with a best-of-three series staring the Storm in the eye, January will take her moments during shootarounds and warmups.

She’ll soak in the energy during timeouts or when the crowd exalts, and she’ll enjoy the sisterhood moments in the locker room that will help her reflect on a career that has never lacked hard work and dedication.

“I hope I have left my mark on this league and will be remembered as just a hard-nosed player that makes the people around her better,” January said. “I couldn’t have imagined having such a fulfilled career in every sense of the word. The accomplishments (are) there, winning a championship, being an All Star, being on defensive teams, being able to play with the best – Tamika, Diana, Sue.

“If only I could have added Syl (Fowles) in there I would have been able to really say I played with all of the best. I couldn’t have asked for more. I’ve been surrounded by amazing people, amazing coaches, amazing teammates the entire time. Been a part of, you know, I think some of the best organizations in the league. I couldn’t have asked for more and so I feel at peace and happy stepping away.

“But that second championship definitely would be icing on the cake.”

W.G. Ramirez is a 35-year veteran covering sports in southern Nevada, and a resident of 50 years. He is a freelance reporter in Las Vegas and the southern Nevada correspondent for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @WillieGRamirez

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