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2022 ESPYS: Plight of detained WNBA star Britney Griner at center; host Steph Curry rakes in awards

LOS ANGELES — The Golden State Warriors were front and center at Wednesday night’s ESPYS, with host Stephen Curry taking home multiple awards and bringing attention to the plight of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who is being detained in Russia.

Curry, who won ESPYS for Best NBA Player and for Best Record-Breaking Performance, joined WNBA players Nneka Ogwumike and Skylar Diggins-Smith to address Griner’s status during the show. The United States considers Griner wrongfully detained.

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“It’s been 153 nights now that BG has been wrongfully detained thousands of miles away from home, away from her family, away from her friends, away from her team,” Diggins-Smith said at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. “All throughout that time, we’ve kept her in our thoughts and in our hearts even though we know that ain’t nearly enough to bring her home, y’all.”

Wearing Griner’s Phoenix Mercury jersey under his tracksuit, Curry noted the effort being made to free Griner.

“But as we hope for the best, we urge the entire global sports community to continue to stay energized on her behalf,” he said. “She’s one of us, the team of athletes in this room tonight and all over the world. A team that has nothing to do with politics or global conflict.”

They were applauded by Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, who was in the audience.

In accepting her ESPYS award for Best Play, U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe also drew attention to Griner.

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“I think honestly what we’ve witnessed tonight is the importance of sport and how much we can bring and how much we can get done in the world with our collective power,” Rapinoe said. “Every time we say her name, it puts pressure on everyone — puts pressure on the administration, puts pressure on Russia. The most striking thing is that BG isn’t here. BG deserves to be free.

“We can support her more and let her know that we love her so much.”

In addition to Curry’s two awards, his teammate Klay Thompson won the award for Best Comeback. Thompson made his triumphant return to action Jan. 9, after being sidelined for more than two years while rehabbing a pair of career-altering injuries.

“It’s just an incredible honor,” Thompson said.

The Warriors also took home the award for Best Team.

It was the 29th year of the ESPYS, an event that helps raise awareness and funds for the V Foundation for Cancer Research. That charity was founded by ESPN and the late basketball coach Jim Valvano at the first ESPYS in 1993.

Jimmy V Award for Perseverance

Iconic ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale, 83, was the recipient of this year’s award.

Last August, he announced he had undergone multiple surgeries to remove melanoma. In October, he announced he had been diagnosed with lymphoma. His chemotherapy treatment for lymphoma forced Vitale to step back from ESPN’s college basketball coverage.

Vitale announced in April that he is cancer-free.

“I sit here and tell you that, obviously, it’s been a tough eight months,” said Vitale, who thanked his wife, Lorraine, and his family. “If you know someone who is battling cancer, extend a message, send prayers. Those messages picked me up at the darkest moment. I hear Jimmy’s [Valvano] words in my head, ‘Don’t give up, don’t give up.’

“We are not going to stop chasing the dream. Jimmy’s dream was to beat cancer, and we must do it.”

Best Athlete, Women’s Sports

Swimming star Katie Ledecky took home the award, winning over gymnast Sunisa Lee, Chicago Sky star Candace Parker and Oksana Masters, a cross-country skier, cycler and biathlete.

At the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, Ledecky won two golds to increase her career individual gold medal count to six. At the FINA World Championships this summer, she won four golds to become the most decorated female swimmer at the event, with 22 career world medals.

In accepting her award, Ledecky implored young athletes to “find something you really love, that you’re good at, that can be a positive force in our world, something that can inspire somebody else, something that can help somebody else, anything that can change our world.”

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“I think there are so many heroes not just in sports but all around us,” she added. “Look to those people as role models and go for the gold.”

Best Athlete, Men’s Sports

Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani took home the award in this category, beating out Curry, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid.

Ohtani also won the Best MLB Player trophy over Bryce Harper of the Philadelphia Phillies, Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees and Jorge Soler of the Atlanta Braves.

Ohtani was the unanimous winner of the American League MVP award last fall, amassing 46 home runs and making 23 starts on the mound for the Angels.

Arthur Ashe Award for Courage

Vitali Klitschko, the Hall of Fame boxer and mayor of Kyiv, was honored with the award.

The mayor of Ukraine’s capital since 2014, the former heavyweight champion is a longtime outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, Klitschko has served as one of the faces of the resistance, along with his younger brother and fellow Hall of Famer, Wladimir. The Klitschkos took up arms in a territorial defense battalion in Kyiv; fellow boxers Vasiliy Lomachenko and Oleksandr Usyk followed suit in other parts of Ukraine.

Best Breakthrough Athlete

Eileen Gu, one of the breakout stars of the 2022 Winter Olympics, was fittingly awarded the ESPY. The standout California-born freestyle skier, who represented China in the Games, won two gold medals (big air, halfpipe) and one silver (slopestyle) while competing in her mother’s hometown of Beijing.

Juggling an exhausting schedule and facing enormous expectations, the 18-year-old Gu become the first freeski athlete to medal in three events in a single Olympics.

“This is insane!” a surprised Gu exclaimed after winning. In her speech, she thanked her mom — who “shows me what it means to be a strong, empowered woman” — and grandmother, along with the “many pioneering women athletes” who came before her, many of whom were in the same room.

Gu also gave a shoutout to “the girls who come after me” and who will push the sport of freestyle skiing forward.

Best Championship Performance

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver and Super Bowl MVP Cooper Kupp won the ESPY for doing exactly what he had done all season long: delivering when it mattered most. He hauled in the game-winning 1-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matthew Stafford with 1:25 remaining to give the Rams their second Super Bowl championship and first title in Los Angeles since 1951.

Kupp, who also won the NFL’s receiving triple crown by leading the league in catches, yards and touchdowns, finished the Super Bowl with eight receptions for 92 yards and two scores against the Cincinnati Bengals in the Rams’ own SoFi Stadium.

Kupp thanked his wife, Anna, and their two sons — who were staying with their grandparents and to whom Kupp promised “extra dessert” for the evening. He called the ESPY “a team award” and gave a shoutout to Rams D-tackle and three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, who was in attendance.

“Just to be in this room with so many people playing at the peak of their professions, this is truly an honor,” Kupp said in concluding his speech.

Other winners announced:

Pat Tillman Award for Service: Gretchen Evans

Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals

Billie Jean King Youth Leadership Award: Noor Abukaram, Kendall Dudley, Sydney Moore, Alicia Serratos, Lucy Westlake

Best NWSL Player: Ashley Hatch, Washington Spirit

Best MLS Player: Carlos Vela, Los Angeles Football Club

Best Athlete with a Disability, Men’s Sports: Brad Snyder, paratriathlon

Best Athlete with a Disability, Women’s Sports: Jessica Long, swimming

Best Athlete, Men’s Action Sports: Eli Tomac, Supercross

Best Athlete, Women’s Action Sports: Eileen Gu, skiing

Best College Athlete, Men’s Sports: Bryce Young, Alabama football

Best College Athlete, Women’s Sports: Jocelyn Alo, Oklahoma softball

Best International Athlete, Men’s Soccer: Kylian Mbappe, Paris Saint-Germain

Best International Athlete, Women’s Soccer: Sam Kerr, Chelsea

Best MLB Player: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels

Best MMA Fighter: Charles Oliveira

Best NBA Player: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Best NFL Player: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

Best WNBA Player: Candace Parker, Chicago Sky

Best NHL Player: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

Best Athlete, Men’s Golf: Justin Thomas

Best Athlete, Women’s Golf: Nelly Korda

Best Athlete, Men’s Tennis: Rafael Nadal

Best Athlete, Women’s Tennis: Emma Raducanu

Best Bowler: Kyle Troup

Best Boxer: Tyson Fury

Best Driver: Kyle Larson, NASCAR

Best Game: Kansas City Chiefs defeat the Buffalo Bills in overtime

Best Jockey: Jose Ortiz

Best Olympian, Men’s Sports: Caeleb Dressel, swimming

Best Olympian, Women’s Sports: Katie Ledecky, swimming

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