Brittney Griner Plays in First WNBA Preseason Game Since Detainment in Russia – About 1 1/2 hours before the Phoenix Mercury’s Friday night game, Brittney Griner walked down the sideline, exchanging hugs and high-fives with her teammates, coaches, and even the opposing players. Afterward, she did some light stretching, shooting, and agility work in preparation for the basketball game. Just like old times. “I’m grateful to be here, that’s for sure,” Griner said. “I’m not going to take a day for granted.”
After being detained in Russia on drug-related charges for almost 10 months, Griner returned to the game for the first time in a preseason match against the Los Angeles Sparks. The seven-time All-Star missed the entire 2022 season due to the detainment but managed to score 10 points and grab three rebounds in her comeback game. Despite the long layoff, the 6-foot-9 Griner looked impressive, as she casually executed a one-handed dunk during warmups.
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She joined her teammates on the court for the national anthem and received a warm reception from the home crowd when she was introduced before the start of the game. “Hearing the national anthem, it definitely hit different,” Griner said. “It’s like when you go for the Olympics, you’re sitting there, about to get gold put on your neck, the flags are going up and the anthem is playing, it just hits different.” “Being here today, it means a lot.”
According to Vanessa Nygaard, the coach of the Mercury, the playing of the anthem and the introductions evoked strong emotions in the entire team. “We looked at each other and we just had chills,” Nygaard said. “We were here last year for all of it. I’m getting emotional about it now. Just to see her back out there — it’s an absolute miracle. It was amazing. It’s giving me chills again.” Once the game started, the 32-year-old Griner immediately went to work, scoring on a turnaround jumper early in the first quarter.
Shortly thereafter, she was fouled while executing another turnaround, and successfully made both free throws. Additionally, in the third quarter, Griner made an appearance with the medical staff when her teammate, Sophie Cunningham, suffered a knee injury and she assisted in carrying her off the court to prevent any further strain on her leg. “When one of us goes down, we’re always right there,” Griner said. “That’s one thing about this team — we’re always there for each other. We’ve got each others’ backs, big time.”
The re-entry of Griner into the Mercury team has reignited the hope of the franchise to make another attempt at the WNBA Finals. Having aided the team to win their third championship in 2014, the former Baylor player has a career average of 17.7 points and 7.6 rebounds. In 2021, she was the runner-up for Most Valuable Player, a season where the Mercury made it to the Finals, but lost to the Chicago Sky.
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Although Griner expressed feeling rustier than expected during her return to the court, considering the challenges and emotions of the last 18 months, it was a decent performance. Being detained in Russia for possessing vape cartridges that contained cannabis oil has given Griner a greater platform to advocate for other Americans who face detention abroad.
In April, Griner announced her collaboration with Bring Our Families Home, a campaign established by the relatives of American hostages and wrongfully detained individuals held overseas. She mentioned that her team has been communicating with the family of Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter who is currently detained in Russia on allegations of espionage.