The Golden State Warriors were the focus of Wednesday night’s ESPYS, with host Stephen Curry picking up multiple awards and drawing attention to the plight of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who is being held in custody in Russia.
Curry, who won ESPYS for Best NBA Player and Best All-Time Performance, joined WNBA players Nneka Ogwumike and Skylar Diggins-Smith in addressing Griner’s status during the show. The United States considers Griner wrongfully detained.
“BG has now been wrongfully detained thousands of miles from home for 153 nights, away from her family, away from her friends, away from her team,” Diggins-Smith said at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles. All this time, we’ve kept her in our thoughts and in our hearts, even though we know it’s not enough to bring her home, y’all.”
Wearing Griner’s Phoenix Mercury jersey under his tracksuit, Curry noted the efforts to free Griner.
“But while we hope for the best, we urge the entire global sporting community to continue to stay energized on their behalf,” he said. “She is 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 world strife.”
By accepting her ESPYS Award for Best Play, American football star Megan Rapinoe also brought Griner to the limelight.
“I honestly think what we witnessed tonight is the importance of sport and all that we can bring and all that we can do in the world with our collective power,” Rapinoe said. “Every time we say his name, it puts pressure on everyone — puts pressure on the administration, puts pressure on Russia. The most striking thing is that BG is not there. 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, teammate Klay Thompson took home the award for best comeback. Thompson made his triumphant return to action on January 9, after being sidelined for more than two years while nursing a pair of career-altering injuries.
“It’s just an incredible honor,” Thompson said.
The Warriors also won the best team award.
This was the 29th year of ESPYS, an event that helps raise awareness and funds for the V Foundation for Cancer Research. This charity was founded by ESPN and the late basketball coach Jim Valvano during the first ESPYS in 1993.
Jimmy V Award for Perseverance
Watch Dick Vitale’s full speech after accepting the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at ESPYS 2022.
Iconic ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale, 83, was the recipient of this year’s award.
Last August, he announced that he had undergone several surgeries to remove melanoma. In October, he announced that he had been diagnosed with lymphoma. His chemotherapy treatment for lymphoma forced Vitale to retire from ESPN’s college basketball coverage.
Vitale announced in April that he was cancer free.
“I’m sitting here and telling you, obviously, the eight months have been tough,” said Vitale, who thanked his wife, Lorraine, and family. “If you know someone who is battling cancer, send a message, send prayers. These messages have captured me at the darkest moment. I hear Jimmy [Valvano] words in my head, ‘Don’t give up, don’t give up.’
“We’re not going to stop chasing the dream. Jimmy’s dream was to beat cancer, and we have to do that.”
Best Athlete, Women’s Sports
Katie Ledecky sends an inspirational message to young athletes in her speech for Best Female Sports Athlete at ESPYS.
Swimming star Katie Ledecky won the award, beating gymnast Sunisa Lee, Chicago Sky star Candace Parker and Oksana Masters, a cross-country skier, cyclist and biathlete.
At the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, Ledecky won two gold medals to bring the number of individual gold medals in his career to six. At the FINA World Championships this summer, she won four gold medals to become the most decorated swimmer at the event, with 22 career world medals.
In accepting his award, Ledecky implored the young athletes to “find something that you really love, that you are good at, that can be a positive force in our world, something that can inspire someone else, something anything that can help someone else, anything that can change our world.”
“I think there are so many heroes not just in sport but all around us,” she added. “Look at these people as role models and go for the gold.”
Best Athlete, Men’s Sports
Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani won the award in that category, beating Curry, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid.
Ohtani also won the MLB Most Valuable Player trophy against 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 homers and making 23 starts on the mound for the Angels.
Arthur Ashe Prize for Courage
Vitali Klitschko, the Hall of Fame boxer and mayor of Kyiv, received the award.
Mayor of the Ukrainian capital since 2014, the former heavyweight champion has long been a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, Klitschko has been one of the faces of the resistance, along with his younger brother and 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 stars of the 2022 Winter Olympics, was rightfully awarded the ESPY. The prominent California-born freestyle skier, who represented China at the Games, won two golds (big air, halfpipe) and a silver (slopestyle) at a competition in her mother’s hometown , Beijing.
Juggling a grueling schedule and facing huge expectations, 18-year-old Gu became the first freeski athlete to medal in three events at a single Olympics.
“This is insane!” exclaimed a surprised Gu after winning. In her speech, she thanked her mother — who “shows me what it means to be a strong, empowered woman” — and her grandmother, as well as the “many pioneering women athletes” who came before her, many were in the same room.
Gu also hailed “the girls who will come after me” and take 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’s done all season: deliver when it matters most. He completed quarterback Matthew Stafford’s game-winning one-yard touchdown pass with 1:25 left to give the Rams their second Super Bowl championship and first title in Los Angeles since 1951.
Kupp, who also won the NFL’s triple receiving 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 own Rams SoFi Stadium.
Kupp thanked his wife, Anna, and their two sons – who were staying with their grandparents and whom Kupp promised “an extra dessert” for the evening. He called the ESPY a “team award” and praised the 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 top of their profession is truly an honor,” Kupp said as he concluded his speech.
Other winners announced:
Pat Tillman Award for Service: Gretchen Evans
Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award: Albert Pujols, Cardinals of Saint-Louis
Billie Jean King Youth Leadership Award: Noor Abukaram, Kendall Dudley, Sydney Moore, Alicia Serratos, Lucy Westlake
Best NWSL Player: Ashley Hatch, Spirit of Washington
Best MLS Player: Carlos Vela, Los Angeles Soccer Club
Best Disabled Athlete, Men’s Sports: Brad Snyder, paratriathlon
Best Disabled Athlete, Women’s Sports: Jessica Long, swimming
Top Athlete, Men’s Action Sports: Eli Tomac, Supercross
Best Athlete, Women’s Action Sports: Eileen Gu, skiing
Best Varsity Athlete, Men’s Sports: Bryce Young, Alabama footballer
Best Varsity Athlete, Women’s Sports: Jocelyn Alo, Oklahoma softball
Best International Athlete, Men’s Football: Kylian Mbappe, Paris Saint-Germain
Best International Athlete, Women’s Football: 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 ParkerChicago 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’s Troop
Best boxer: Tyson’s Fury
Best driver: Kyle Larson, NASCAR
Best game: Kansas City Chiefs beat Buffalo Bills in overtime
Best jockey: Jose Ortiz
Top Olympian, Men’s Sports: Caeleb Dressel, swimming
Top Olympian, Women’s Sports: Katie Ledecky, swimming
Best WWE Moment: Cody Rhodes returns to WWE at WrestleMania
The Associated Press contributed to this report.