Brittney Griner Plays Once More, 'Just Like Old Times'

Phoenix Mercury center's WNBA preseason game was her first game since her detention in Russia
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 13, 2023 7:45 AM CDT
Brittney Griner's First Game Back: 'Grateful to Be Here'
Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner, left, talks with Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi, far right, on the bench during the first half of a WNBA preseason basketball game against the Los Angeles Sparks on Friday in Phoenix.   (AP Photo/Matt York)

Brittney Griner strolled down the sideline about 1 1/2 hours before the Phoenix Mercury played Friday night, giving hugs and high-fiving her teammates, coaches, and opposing players. Then it was a little stretching, a little shooting, and a little agility work to prepare for a basketball game. Just like old times. "I'm grateful to be here, that's for sure," Griner said, per the AP. "I'm not going to take a day for granted." Griner returned to game action for the first time since a nearly 10-month detainment in Russia on drug-related charges ended with a prisoner swap in December. The seven-time All-Star, who missed the entire 2022 season because of the detainment, finished with 10 points and three rebounds in a WNBA preseason game against the Los Angeles Sparks.

The 6-foot-9-inch Griner looked good, especially considering the long layoff, casually throwing down a one-handed dunk during warmups. She stood with her teammates while the national anthem was played and received a loud ovation from the home crowd when she was introduced before tipoff. "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." She added: "Being here today ... it means a lot." Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard said the anthem and introductions were emotional for the entire team. "We looked at each other and we just had chills," Nygaard said. "I'm getting emotional about it now. Just to see her back out there—it's an absolute miracle. It was amazing."

Once the game started, the 32-year-old Griner immediately went to work, scoring on a turnaround jumper early in the first quarter. A few minutes later, she was fouled on another turnaround and sank both free throws. She even had a cameo with the medical staff in the third quarter. Teammate Sophie Cunningham went down with a knee injury and Griner helped carry her off the court so she didn't have to put weight 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."

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Griner’s return to the Mercury rekindles hope the franchise can make another run to the WNBA Finals. The former Baylor star helped the franchise win its third title in 2014 and has averaged 17.7 points and 7.6 rebounds during her nine-year career. She was runner-up for MVP in 2021, when the Mercury also played in the WNBA Finals but lost to the Chicago Sky. Griner said she was more rusty on the court than expected. But given the trials and emotions of the past 18 months, it was a pretty good night. "Not where I want it to be, but on the right track," Griner said. "We're making the right moves." Phoenix opens the regular season in Los Angeles next Friday.

(More Brittney Griner stories.)

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